' ' Cinema Romantico: The Wrecking Crew

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Wrecking Crew

The Wrecking Crew was a term bestowed upon a collective of stellar session musicians who through the 1960’s played on some of the most seminal records of all time. Like, the instrumentation on the note-perfect “By My Baby”? That was them. And their most famous contributions are heard and discussed throughout this 2008 finished documentary that was comprised of footage shot over 12 years beginning in 1996 and only earned theatrical release earlier this year with aid from a Kickstarter campaign. The film was directed and produced by Denny Tedesco, son of the late Tommy Tedesco, lauded guitarist savant of The Wrecking Crew. While this allows for some genuinely heartfelt passages of son cosmically communicating with Dad, it also wraps the film in a gauzy nostalgia. This isn’t a serious-minded examination so much as a cheerful remembrance.

Tedesco the director uses footage of his father along with three other defining members of the unofficial group as the film’s backbone. The quartet sits around a table, like it’s a family reunion, swapping stories, laughing, having a great time. And interviews with other members strike the same chord. “I’ll tell you a funny story about your dad,” says Glen Campbell to the director just off camera, implicitly capturing an intimate feel that also comes across unwieldy. Relayed in segments, the entire film feels off the top of the head, as if invented on the fly. With somewhere around thirty total members contributing to the ensemble over the years, Tedesco struggles to keep a grip on who’s who as well on the abundance of information, prompting intermittent bursts of surprising joy between repetition.

It’s an heir of sorts to “20 Feet From Stardom”, the exemplary 2013 documentary chronicling the story of so many backup singers whose limitless contributions were often relegated to the shadows. But whereas that film plunged deeper than surface, focusing on a group of enormously talented women struggling to make peace with their particular place in the world, “The Wrecking Crew”, ironically, never gets below that surface, as if its emulating the surface-level pop groups for whom The Wrecking Crew did so much legwork.

So many members of The Wrecking Crew reference the incredibly long hours, sometimes manifesting themselves as impossible-sounding 24 hour days in which they would essentially cut an entire album across the spectrum of different L.A. recording studios, and they all express remorse at time spent away from family. “I was a better grandfather than I was a father,” says saxophonist Plas Johnson. There is serious regret detected in these voices, yet Tedesco the director never goes digging for it, preferring to let it hang in the air and then dissolve like mist.

More than anything, “The Wrecking Crew” simply wants to give its titular collective the due it has long deserved. It occasionally romanticizes its subjects out of proportion, as if the entirety of the music industry subsisted solely on their talent. They were integral, no doubt, yet a band such as The Byrds proved themselves incredibly talented and influential musicians, much more so than this documentary might lead you to believe. Still, Roger McGuinn turns up on camera to confirm that of the band only he played on “Mr. Tambourine Man”, and to pay proper homage to its real players, Tedesco the director imposes black & white stills of them on the screen while the song soars on the soundtrack, an incredibly moving reminder that every song we cherish is only as deep and true as every single person involved in its rendering.


Anonymous said...

This sounds pretty intriguing...I'll need to check it out.

Unknown said...

Great post! Love your film blog :)