Hi. Me Imbecile. Me dumb. You smart. Me try to learn from you.
Sound City (Dave Grohl, 2013) - Review
(Foreword: I know that this review is a little late since the film was released in March, but better late than never. I actually wrote this when the film came out for a film blog that my friend was going to start, but he found that he couldn’t fit it into to his already busy schedule so this has just been sitting in my documents folder for the past few months. I thought I might as well post it here since I don’t use this blog for anything else, and who knows, maybe I’ll start posting regularly. Or this might be a once off and I’ll go back to occupying my time with looking at gifs of kittens.)
I should start with a disclaimer: I WORSHIP DAVE GROHL! Therefore, I may not be the best person to objectively review his directorial debut, but I’ll do my best.
Split into two parts, Sound City documents the history of Sound City Studios, a recording studio established in 1969 in Van Nuys, Los Angeles California, and the iconic sound board used there: the Neve 8028 console.
The first part takes the audience through the story of the studio: the owners’ initial struggle to establish Sound City; early successes in the ’70s with bands like Fleetwood Mac and The Grateful Dead; the studio’s peak in the first half of the ’80s; its subsequent decline and then resurgence in the ’90s; and finally, its total collapse by 2011. The second depicts how Grohl, saddened by the studio’s closure, purchased the Neve console, set it up in his own recording studio (Studio 606) and then began to record a new album, Real to Reel, in collaboration with many of the artists that appear in the film.
Icons of classic rock like Neil Young, Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty appear alongside the likes of Lee Ving and Lars Ulrich, as well as giants of modern rock, such as Josh Homme, Trent Reznor, Corey Taylor, Grohl himself, even Barry bloody Manilow shows up! One might worry that, with such a host of stars, a little too much attention would be paid to their story, but the film never deviates from its course.
The story of Sound City is told mostly by the owners and staff of the studio; the people whose blood, sweat and tears went into creating the studio and everything it represented. The musicians only appear to talk about their experiences of working in the studio when it fits into the context of the film, producing a narrative driven by emotion and personal experience.
Grohl does a fantastic job of capturing the emotions of the interviewees, and indeed the film is imbued with much of his own sentiment, as Sound City was the studio where Nevermind (Grohl’s first album with Nirvana) was recorded.
In the opening monologue, over footage of a fleeting American landscape as he drives the film crew to the studio, mimicking the route he and his Nirvana cohorts took from Seattle to L.A. in 1991, Grohl states solemnly that he was ‘playing music with people who could disappear at any moment’, referring to the death of Kurt Cobain and the end of Nirvana.
This fragility is present throughout as it shows the changing faces of the studio staff and the varying levels of success they had in the four decades it was operating.
Fortunately, the tone of the film isn’t always so depressing, and one thing that stood out was the unrelenting and infectious enthusiasm all the musicians, producers, studio techs and suchlike had, and still have, for creating music.
The score captures this enthusiasm and raw emotion incredibly, as well as creating a sense of attachment to the film for any viewer who’s a fan of the music. Contemporary footage is paired with archival footage and photos in perfect synchronisation with the score, and the flawless rhythm of the film is undoubtedly aided by the direction of one of the greatest drummers in the world. It’s unsurprising that the editing would be one of the film’s strongest elements considering the editorial team was headed by Paul Crowder.
There’s only one thing to take issue with in the film. It takes a fairly elitist tone when comparing analogue, tape-based recording to modern digital recording, and laments the transition that has taken place over the past couple decades. This stems from the film being about how analogue recording, which was the livelihood of those who worked at Sound City, has been made redundant by digital technology.
The argument is that true music comes from experience, hard work, and interaction with fellow music lovers, while suggesting that this isn’t possible with digital recording because much of the ‘human element’ is lost when recorded digitally. While I enjoy music with a rougher quality and a few mistakes here and there, the idea that anything recorded digitally requires less effort than analogue recordings is very objectionable.
Sound City is a fascinating and hugely entertaining insight into the world of Sound City Studios. Grohl set out with the intention of capturing the ‘human element’ of making music, that spark that he believes Sound City nurtured in all the musicians that worked there, and he does it superbly. The film depicts the musicians whom many of us have come to revere as super-humans with an intangible genius as ordinary people with a passion for playing music.
Anyone who can relate to this love of music will find this documentary interesting, even if they aren’t a fan of the particular artists or genres depicted. The film is technically impressive as well as emotionally evocative, and there isn’t a single element that has been made half-heartedly.
Some may find the tone of the film somewhat condescending, but honestly, everyone should watch this, if for no other reason than to see Dave Grohl and Sir Paul McCartney hugging at the end. Seriously, it’s adorable. In slow motion and everything.
Check out the trailer here.
GIVEAWAY! 2 SIGNED PRINTS OF YOUR CHOOSING
I’d like to give one of you, two prints of your choosing. Just like/reblog the image and I’ll select a winner at random on Monday, then ship it out (worldwide) right after.
Pictured: Gilded I and II, Study in Scotch, United States of Swanson, Curious Night, Louis CK, and Katniss. Also available (not pictured but also available for choosing are Golden Age, Eaten, Gilded III, and Ian Mckellen). All prints are 13”x19” on velvet archival paper. Visitwww.samspratt.com if you’d like to see them in more detail.
Well, now I HAVE to make an effort. THANKS, meimbecile. THANKS. You make my life so hard
EDIT: I also now get to read Persepolis, finally. First doodle with the brush pens:
Well I apologise for making your life hard, but really you should be apologising to me because at the very moment when I had the idea to get these pens for your birthday I was literally just about to place an order for one of these:
Granted this present probably would have been more for me than for you, but nevertheless our flat must now go without a R2-D2 cookie jar. Where am I to keep my cookies Xander? Where am I to keep them? (Other than in my mouth)
P.S. I’m at least glad to see that the pens are going to good use.