At the start of my phone interview with filmmaker Tony D'Annunzio, I asked him how he was doing. He replied that he's living the dream. He said it without a trace of irony or sarcasm. And why not?
He's a successful sound producer turned documentary filmmaker. His very first film, Louder Than Love, won at the Las Vegas Film Festival for Best Documentary Michael Moore picked it for the Traverse City Film Festival and has been championing it on public radio and in interviews. After four years of working on the film whenever he could spare a few moments, getting help and getting people excited about the project, he's got a really solid film on his hands.
Louder Than Love tells the story of the Grande Ballroom. The Grande was a seriously cool, badass spot for live music from 1966 to 1972 and it was in Detroit. The rest of the country was touting peace and love. At the Grande, they came to something else completely.
If you had entered the doors of the Grande on July 13, 1968 for the late show, you would have caught The Who, Pink Floyd and The Psychedelic Stooges. It would have cost you about five bucks to see the show. Cut to July 1969, you've got MC5, The Stooges, and The Tate Blues Band sharing the bill in a benefit for the John Sinclair Defense Fund. The poster for this show includes a photo of a little kid with a bowl cut saying "Help keep my daddy out of jail!" There's a bird with a peace sign for its body and two jungle cats at the bottom looking fierce and ready to pounce.
Detroit's resilience and work ethic are echoed through a number of interviews in the film. Tom Wright was manager of the Grande Ballroom during its heyday. He had this to say about the music:
"The music had to be strong enough to keep everything else at bay. There were a whole bunch of industrial type problems in Detroit that gave birth to industrial strength rock and roll."
Henry Rollins said that of the music that came out of the Grande -- "only songs that can take a beating survive." D'Annunzio's starting point for the film was the music, but he said that it soon expanded to include art, politics, race, war, sex and history. D'Annunzio has a strong appreciation for the key role the poster artists played in that memorable time when the Grande was open. Before heading off to the Traverse City Film Festival, D'Annunzio was on hand at the Lido Art Gallery in Birmingham, MI for a Q & A about rock poster artist, Gary Grimshaw and his work. Other artists such as Donnie Dope and Carl Lundgren were making posters for the Grande. D'Annunzio had this to say about the role of the artwork at the Grande:
There were people who weren't musicians, but were in that mix [of the Grande] and found themselves making posters. This era of poster art came in. Gary Grimshaw, Carl Lundgren, all their works come from the great music. These works are collectible today. They're considered iconic rock posters. These guys, they weren't doing the posters to try to get rich. They were doing it because it was part of the culture. They were on the vanguard.
Louder Than Love isn't a super smooth, slick film. Some of the music competes with the interviews, but the interviews are deep, funny and you get the sense from each person D'Annunzio talked to that the Grande was, is and will forever be special. Here's a partial list of the people D'Annunzio interviews -- Wayne Kramer, Ted Nugent, BB King, Don Was and Roger Daltrey.
If you're in Michigan over the next week, you can try to get a ticket to one of the screenings. For the rest of the country, you'll have to follow the progress of the film and look for it to come to a city near you. D'Annunzio is a really nice guy. I bet with the right venue and a little bit of funding help, you could get the film to a theater near you. But do yourself a favor. On the night you see the film, plan to go listen to some live music afterward. Make sure it's loud. Hopefully it'll be good. This is what Louder Than Love does best. It makes you want to get out, hear some music and be part of a gritty, happening, one in a lifetime scene.
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