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When I was thirteen, my father bought me a book that changed my life. Music had always been a big part of my childhood; I memorized the Beatles catalog early, blasted The Who's "Going Mobile" in the summer on the highway, and found my Dark Side of the Moon tape melted on the dashboard the next day. I was given a book that ranked the 1000 greatest albums in rock history, and from that point on I pretty much knew what I was going to be doing with my life. Many of the artists in the book I was already familiar with - Radiohead, Bob Dylan, R.E.M., The Beatles, of course, - but half a dozen or so of the highest-ranking artists I had never heard of. The Smiths? The Stone Roses? Who? What?
It was in discovering and researching these artists that the portion of my soul that is now dedicated to music was born, and while many of these albums took months and years to have a profound affect on me, one album's impact was immediate. Love's Forever Changes completely changed the game for me - it was timeless while firmly rooted in a drug-addled, psychadelic environment far removed from my own; beautiful and terrifying, peaceful and unsettling.
Despite having just barely achieved gold status in the forty years since its release, in 1967, Forever Changes has rightfully earned a place as one of the all-time great classics in the history of rock music. Love Story, Chris Hall and Mike Kerry's documentary on the band, newly released to DVD after a few seasons on the film festival circuit, attempts to sort the truth from the legend behind one of rock's most mysterious and enigmatic groups. It is an ambitious project to undertake in a little over ninety minutes, and while any information is good information - I am delighted that the film even exists given the group's lack of commercial success - it unfortunately ends without delivering a sense of satisfaction.
Culled from a series of recent interviews with the members of the band, as well as producers, orchestral arrangers, notable colleagues such as John Desmore of The Doors, and featuring the last interviews with Arthur Lee before his passing in 2006, the documentary guides us from the day Arthur Lee moved to Los Angeles as a five year-old child from Memphis, Tennessee, to the Forever Changes 35th anniversary concerts at the turn of the century. With the nearly mythic status of that album and the man behind it, Love Story is ostensibly built around two attractions that would make it indispensable for any serious rock collector: The last words of Arthur Lee and the story behind the album that made him a legend. The first is present in spades; the second is regrettably fleeting.
No one should doubt that Arthur Lee had some incredible stories to tell, and Love Story is at it's most engaging when he is on the screen - whether it be in his final interviews or in the short amount of stock footage from his 1960s heyday, featuring Lee donning the coolest pair of sunglasses anyone is ever likely to see. (You'll know them when you see them.) However, while it does have its fascinating insights - members of the band apparently took incredibly high doses of hallucinogens before going to military recruitment centers in hopes of appearing insane and thus avoiding the draft, and the trumpet solo in "Alone Again Or" was played by a man with only three fingers - the directors don't make up for the lack of footage from the actual time period that the film spends its length describing. There is an understandably small amount of surviving footage from the period, but the key to effectively relating a story on film lies in showing it, not telling it. There are methods of working around such obstacles in documentary filmmaking (see Ken Burns' seminal treatment of The Civil War), but in the end Love Story falls prey to too much telling and not enough showing.
In addition, of the film's one hour and forty-five minute running time, just over ten minutes are devoted to the making of Forever Changes, the centerpiece of the band's existence. Approaching the DVD, I had dreams of finally unearthing the mysteries behind such a legendary album, hearing detailed discussions about the arrangement of each of the songs, their lyrical meaning and construction, and Lee's thoughts and feelings during the writing and recording of the record. Love Story provides a few assorted pieces to the puzzle, but leaves many, many holes in the big picture.
It is possible that this inconclusiveness was Hall and Kerry's intention - to keep the aura and the mystery surrounding the album intact - but ultimately it feels like getting a baseball signed by the entire 1927 Yankees team, only to find it without the signature of Babe Ruth. Love's story is an engaging one, however, and Love Story tells it in a faithful and charismatic way. If only it wasn't such a tease.
TRAILER: www.dailymotion.com/video/x2nbcv_love-story-trailer_shortfilms SEE ALSO: www.myspace.com/lovestorydocumentary
SEE ALSO: www.lovearthurlee.com
SEE ALSO: www.startproductions.co.uk
Introduced to music in the womb with a pair of headphones on his mother's stomach, Dave Toropov has yet to recover the experience. A writer based in Boston and New York, he has also written for Prefix Magazine and What Was It Anyway, and is the maintainer of the "Middleclass Haunt" blog.
See other articles by Dave Toropov.
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