Reel Music: A marriage of mediums

For music obsessives, it’s not enough to just like a band or an album—we want to know every possible detail, every weird story, every near failure and secret triumph.

For music obsessives, it’s not enough to just like a band or an album—we want to know every possible detail, every weird story, every near failure and secret triumph.

The Reel Music Film Festival at the Northwest Film Center is for people obsessed with music, and through its manifold documentaries and features, it delivers the goods on everyone from James Brown to Nerdcore rappers. If you’re a fan of any genre of music, no matter how arcane, this fest holds something of interest.

The Night James Brown Saved Boston [film clip]
Reviewer rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
Monday, Jan. 19, 7 p.m., Whitsell Auditorium

There’s no doubting the cathartic power of music, not after this documentary.

Consider this: It’s 1968, America’s inner cities are places of turmoil, riots are common and everything is ablaze in self-destructive anger. Then, Martin Luther King Jr. gets shot, igniting rage in Black America like few events could. And as cities such as Washington, D.C., and Detroit burned, Boston appeared to be next, except for one thing: The Godfather of Soul was set to bring the house down with a Saturday night show.

City officials weren’t sure what to do; James Brown was a man of power to be sure. Should they cancel the show? Should they let it continue, adding a flaming match to a pile of dynamite?

A compromise was struck without Brown’s knowledge—the city would broadcast the show live from Boston Garden, encouraging people to stay at home and out of trouble. It worked. While most of America’s inner cities burned, Boston let loose with a huge helping of soul. And that, in a nutshell, is the power of music.

The Night James Brown Saved Boston quickly and thoroughly chronicles the events leading up to that fateful night. Interviews with the people in charge and the people on the ground generously supply the details, but the film’s best moments are the clips of James Brown performing. In a lifetime of great shows, April 6, 1968, might have been his most important, and Brown easily rises to the occasion.

After recounting the events of the night, the documentary goes on to explain how Brown became a powerful man, even politically. I’d never thought of Brown as politically important, but like with the best of films, my eyes were opened wide. This moment was important. It’s hard to think of a better tribute to the late, great, Godfather of Soul.

The Wrecking Crew [interview]
Reviewer rating: 3 star out of 5
Saturday, Jan. 24, 7 p.m., Whitsell Auditorium

As music consumers, we tend to think of the authorship behind songs and albums in pretty simple terms. Whoever’s name is on the song, that’s the person, the only person, who should get credit. But the pop idiom changed this.

Pop is about creating the best product—not about communicating the soul of the performer—and in the ’60s, the studio musicians of The Wrecking Crew created the best product.

The crew, a loose association of highly skilled players, worked on hundreds of songs, including those by The Beach Boys, The Monkees and much of Phil Spector’s early productions. (They were the “wall of sound.”)

The Wrecking Crew describes their unheralded story in simple yet fascinating interviews. It’s weird to think that so many songs—all of Pet Sounds, “River Deep, Mountain High” by Ike and Tina Turner—were played by the same people. But they were.

I wish the director, a son of one of the musicians in The Wrecking Crew, had taken a more analytical approach to the creation of this music. As is, the film describes their story but not really their process. I wanted to know how, exactly, they worked with the artists in question. Tellingly, the best part of the film is when the artists, such as Brian Wilson, describe how these musicians affected their work.

Still, for a glimpse into the pop process of the ’60s and an interesting story to boot, The Wrecking Crew is a must see.