All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records
Cert: 15 / 93 mins / Dir. Colin Hanks / Trailer
Ah, Tower Records. As a kid raised on HMV and Our Price, the red and yellow signage of America's most successful music-retail empire was still like a magnet to me the first time I visited That London. As I recall, it was that day which resulted in my much cherished (and still archived) cassette versions of Metallica's Kill 'Em All and Ride The Lightning. Alas, by the time I started dropping into the capital on a regular basis, Tower's name was fondly remembered dust and its Piccadilly Circus unit let out to some gift-store or other (although HMV on Oxford street still has a place in my heart. And wallet). Back in the days of physical-media, there was an idea among music fans - particularly if you had to travel out of your home-town to visit the iconic stores - that this wouldn't just be a copy of the record like your friends had, this would be a copy from Tower Records. It was like becoming part of the extended family, somehow.
And it's that family-aesthetic which runs through Colin Hanks' documentary following Tower Records, from its founding in 1960 by Russell Solomon in his father's drugstore in Sacremento, California, all the way through to the company's insolvency in 2006. The film's principal 'cast' are the core staff and management over the years, as they speak candidly about their time with Solomon. As you'd expect, there are very few bad words spoken about the company internally, but it's also pleasantly surprising that everyone involved still has such an emotional connection to the business and their ex-colleagues.
On a wider scope, the documentary serves as a barometer of the music-retail busines in general, with popular-culture trends being reflected directly in the boom (and bust) of the record store. Throughout all the tales of sex, drugs and sleeping overnight in the stockroom, it's clear that Solomon ran it as a business first-and-foremost, and a party second. But what a party. Ultimately though, the documentary doesn't shy away from the fact that the consumer-market moved on towards the end of the twentieth century, while Tower's business-model didn't. The talking-heads seem a little bitter once the film reaches the MP3 revolution and how the industry reacted to it, but a documentary is only going to be as objective as the people it interviews.
Because of the historical context of the film, there's a large amount of archive-footage, but it's accompanied almost entirely by the ongoing interviews and voiceovers. While it's always fascinating, the film covers forty six years in ninety minutes, so often feels a little rushed, particularly in the first half hour during the initial creation and expansion of Tower. Colin Hanks has created a touching cinematic monument to a business which was a commercial behemoth. Music fans of a certain age and above will look upon it fondly, but I've got a feeling that those who weren't around for at least some of the company's lifespan will view with the same raised eyebrow as they do the cassette player.
Thanks for everything you've done, Russ. And thanks to Colin Hanks for reminding me that some people managed to dedicate their lives to music without being musicians, loving each day in their jobs. Which served to remind me that I'm wasting my life in an office…
All Things Must Pass is available now in digital and hard-copy formats, depending on which generation you're a part of ;)
As you know, I've not got a huge frame of reference when it comes to documentary films, but if you enjoyed A Band Called Death, give this a whirl.
Level 2: Director Colin Hanks starred in Band of Brothers, as did Mr Marc Warren, who was Obi-Wan Kenobi's stunt stand-in for The Phantom Menace. No, seriously, you get to see him in the behind-the-scenes vids on the DVD. Sure, it's a tenuous link, but it's as good as any for a documentary about the music business...
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
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