Saturday, October 27, 2012

Rocktober: 'The Song Remains the Same' (1976)

I'm a big Led Zeppelin fan, but even I got a little bored during some of the shapeless jamming in the band's concert film The Song Remains the Same. The footage of the band performing at Madison Square Garden in 1973 is often powerful, and certainly the band members are strong enough musicians to warrant extended solos, but when "Dazed and Confused" extends to nearly half an hour all on its own, it's hard not to get a little restless. So many of the songs ended up being long, drawn-out jams that by the final third of the movie I was really hoping the band would play something short and punchy. Even so, solos by guitarist Jimmy Page and drummer John Bonham are often fascinating to watch, and it's exciting to see the band at the height of its creativity.

There's more to The Song Remains the Same than just a straightforward concert documentary, though: The performance footage is broken up by silly fantasy sequences meant to represent the inner lives of the band members, and while it's smart for director Joe Massot not to call on the band members to speak any dialogue, the wordless music video-style interludes feel superfluous without an overall narrative tying them together. The Song Remains the Same isn't a rock opera, and so the fantasies don't have much meaning other than the band members goofing off. It is a little amusing to see how grandiose John Paul Jones, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page's segments are (Jones is a masked hero of some sort; Plant is a knight saving a damsel in distress; Page climbs a mountain and meets a mysterious hooded figure who turns out to be his older self) compared to Bonham's, which involves him working around the house, spending time with his family and racing cars.

I was more amused by the backstage footage (which, as a disclaimer notes at the end, was not shot at Madison Square Garden), including band manager Peter Grant berating a promoter for not cracking down hard enough on bootleg merchandise. It would have been nice to see more of that, maybe a more varied documentary on Zeppelin's tour, but the performance footage is still worthwhile for fans, even if the fantasy stuff doesn't really add anything to it.

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