I was so looking forward to seeing ‘Sound City’ that I rented it twice from iTunes. I rented it the day it came out, but ran out of time to watch it, then knew I had 7 hours to waste on a flight to New York so paid a second time around. I must say that up until now ‘Sound City’ has an amazing 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so I’m breaking ranks with real film critics, if you love the film, or indeed want to love it then I advise you stop reading now, you might just hate me.
Where to start? I feel like I’ve just watched 90 minutes of HD porn. If you’re one of the 99% of people who have looked at a porn movie and admit it, or even the other 1% who want to pretend they haven’t, then you should know what I mean. It all looks very nice, and promises so much, yet at the end you can’t help think you shouldn’t have bothered.
First: the beautiful. The film is beautifully shot, lit, graded and edited and that can’t be taken away from this effort - it’s a tour de force in production values. I spent half my time wondering which camera was been used and the other half my time thinking about what lenses were used on each shot. I was seduced. So the production, cinematography, lighting and editing should be commended; utterly stunning and inspiring.
Second: the confusion. The film doesn’t seem to know what it’s saying. Toward the end Dave Grohl takes a moment to camera and states what the motivation of the movie was - and even after hearing that I wasn’t convinced he had achieved it. The film stumbles from the story of Sound City to the Neve board (let me take a moment to genuflect), then digital production, then back to how the studio closed. Keeping up? We then move to a polemic against Pro Tools and how it was the cause of the closure of the studio; how it wreaked a surrogate family and ruined the recording industry. We are then on to what ‘feel’ is; Trent Reznor makes a case for how good technology is in the right hands, back to the Neve board and on to what makes good music - featuring a jam session with no other than Sir Macca himself.
You might think by now that I hated the film, but I’m not sure if that is how I feel. Dave Grohl is a talented guy, I like him. I’ve even been out drinking with him on several occasions. Well to be honest I mean Chris from Gobbler, but Chris is so often confused for Dave in public that I’ll let you believe otherwise, even I think he is Dave Grohl.
So do I hate Sound City? No, I just think it has so much unfulfilled promise. If nothing else I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many talented and bright people say such silly things in one film. There are too many to mention but, as we are a Pro Tools blog, I will mention the Pro Tools stuff. To blame Pro Tools for the closure of Sound City is as silly as blaming CNN for the Iraq War, there is simply no correlation apart from a tenuous link on a dateline in history. One could argue that musicians having Pro Tools at home means big studios are no longer needed but big studios are closing because record companies don’t have the budgets to spend in them anymore. If Pro Tools were the demise of great classic studios then how come Abbey Road has 14 Pro Tools HDX systems and is still open for business? In the early part of the film Dave narrates ‘when you’re young you are not afraid of what comes next, you’re excited by it’ obviously that sentiment does not extend to Pro Tools for Dave and those who rail against it in this movie, or perhaps they are just showing their age?
Lastly: the irony. This is a beautiful film, made possible because technology has put cameras, lights and editing gear in the hands of any would-be film maker. However, as this film goes to prove, it takes more than access to creative technology, or even megastars, to make a great film. So Dave I agree with you, it takes talent to make great music just as it does to make a great film. The medium is irrelevant.
Should you see it? Without a doubt, it’s a Chinese buffet of great talent and amazing gear all seasoned with a generous helping of MSG nostalgia. But it’s a moment soon forgotten. My only hope is that it wasn’t authentic enough to be shot on film, that would be such a waste.
Bearing in mind how much it reminded me of HD porn then perhaps it should have been called ‘Dave Does Digital’?
PS: I also watched ‘Searching For Sugar Man’ on the same flight. I’d sell my Neve desk if it was the price of a ticket for this film. Watch it.