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Wendy Block

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The Eagles Through Gibney's Lens

Posted: 02/13/2013 11:58 am

If you love(d) the Eagles in any or all of their configurations, and/or contemporaries like Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, and Joni Mitchell; if you love California or the '70s (or wish you remembered the '70s!), see History of the Eagles -- The Story of an American Band.

This iconic American band convinced fearless Oscar- and Grammy-winning documentarian Alex Gibney -- who directed Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Taxi to the Dark Side, Casino Jack and the United States of Money, and Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson -- to produce its story. Alison Ellwood, Gibney's editor/production colleague on earlier docs, directed. They did not promise a Valentine.

After premiering at Sundance last month with Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Timothy B. Schmit and Joe Walsh appearing live, Part 1 (of two) screened in Los Angeles at the ArcLight Hollywood (no band members, but their long-standing manager, Irving Azoff was there to intro the doc), whose THX audio system served Eagles songs from the '70s through 1980 wonderfully, though not better than they sounded at top car stereo volume, thrilling along the wild coastal cliffs of Marin County in the late '70s.

Or from the distant stage of the L.A. Forum in 1980, or from much closer up at the Nokia in 2007.
(Showtime will air Part 1 starting Friday. Part 2 begins Saturday and both will play on demand for subscribers.)

The film draws on extraordinary footage (much of which goes public for the first time), including the teenage music-making of key members Henley and Frey, as well as work by legendary cinematographer Haskell Wexler. He produced a seven-camera shoot of the Eagles' 1977 Washington DC concert (for a documentary that was never released), which takes you all over the stage with the musicians, and out into the audience.

During back-stage interviews at that concert and beyond, you see the band members as regular guys disbelieving the miracle as they live it, while evolving into superstars who relish the rush -- for the most part. And you see them as they are now, speaking as individual historians -- some easier to recognize than others.

Each tells his story. The viewpoints differ at times, but nobody throws grenades.

The film does not judge how well each Eagle weathered the fame, the substances and the forced togetherness that accompanied membership in America's favorite band. They are all still alive and talking, though. How many bands can claim that?

No one likes a spoiler who reveals the great stuff from a film before most people see it. You won't find pithy lines here or learn what happens in the most remarkable scenes -- and there are plenty of both, some featuring a '70s-era Linda Ronstadt, some a contemporary Jackson Browne. And that kooky Joe Walsh...

At the ArcLight entrance was the poster for History of the Eagles Part 1. I laughed at first, thinking it was a joke, because what rock doc needs more than one part? When I realized there actually was a second installment, I suspended judgment.

Glad I did. The first two hours zipped by (though would another song or two have killed them? No it would not).

It's simultaneously impossible and true that the Eagles released their first single, "Take It Easy," nearly 41 years ago; and it's been nearly 20 years since they reunited. There's a lot to catch up on. And no better team than Gibney/Ellwood to tell the rest of the story.

 

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