Video may have killed the radio star, but the rise of MTV also signaled the decline of the concert film. From the late 1960s through the early 1980s, the big screen was rich with artistically conceived filmed records of iconic concert productions featuring the most innovative talents of the era.
Occasionally, there is an attempt to slap together a concert film to satisfy today’s audience. However, these efforts have very limited appeal – mostly aimed at pre-teen girls that can’t get enough of the dubious charms of One Direction and other pre-packaged pop stars.
And this is why Pete Bell’s short film featuring Phil Cook and the Guitarheels’ 2013 concert tribute to Ry Cooder’s iconic 1972 “Boomer’s Story” album is so special. Granted, many people under a certain age may not be familiar with Ry Cooder, and even more people of any age are probably unaware of Phil Cook and the Guitarheels. But that’s fine – once the music starts, the performers and the music becomes irresistible.
Cook, with his geek-chic persona and undiluted enthusiasm for Cooder’s classic music, is a wonderful presence, and it is impossible not to share the fun he has in covering “Boomer’s Story.” And while Cook and his band are limited to a tight stage space – the Haw River Ballroom in Saxapahaw, N.C. – Bell’s camera finds an infinite number of angles to highlight both the ensemble and the individual members during their solo turns.
Bell’s film offers a wonderful reminder of the joy of live performances and the emotionally visceral excitement that only the indie music scene can generate. And for those that don’t know Cooder, this can be a great launching point for rediscovering his groundbreaking work. The one complaint would be that the film is not a feature – it would be a thrill to see more of Cook and company, as captured by Bell’s highly accomplished direction.