Friday, January 29, 2010

Gram Parsons: Fallen Angel - documentary review

At times I go to great lengths to try and report on bands or albums or other items that are either “news” or at least relatively obscure, of course trying to be a tiny little cog in the 24-hour news machine. Other times I review albums or books from a year ago or five years ago, or talk about artists from 35 years ago. In all honesty, sometimes both endeavors seem quite useless, but all the same, I guess you don’t have to read any of it if you don’t want.

What does all of that have to do with what I am discussing now? Virtually nothing, other than the fact that this one can be filed away in the “5 years old” category. Upon a recommendation from an internet faux-friend (or IFFs, as I like to call them), I was compelled to find a copy of the Gram Parsons documentary Fallen Angel, having taken a recent increased interest in Parsons’ various musical endeavors as a parallel to some of my searching for people who were involved with A&M Records and John Braden at that time.

Sometimes I find it preferable not to subject friends and family to the documentaries and such that I enjoy, so I chose to watch the DVD early one Saturday morning. By about halfway through, it was so good that I had largely decided it would be worth starting over so that H. could watch it with me.

What Gandulf Hennig and Sid Griffin put together with this DVD is a work that captured a short, but quite notable, piece of music history at just the right point in time. That is, over 30 years after Parsons’ death, each year that passes inevitably leaves us with a few less people who personally knew him. Likely at great effort and expense, they tracked down numerous people from various periods of Gram Parsons’ life, and from those individual accounts they construct a detailed and cohesive story that is compelling and quite well-rounded.

The film follows a progression of countless personal narratives from Gram’s friends, family, and fellow musicians in a quite tasteful manner, and the mixture of many personal anecdotes keeps the story intriguing throughout. At the very end, the film falls victim to a bit of sensationalism regarding the events surrounding Parsons’ death, and why this event breaks rank from the format of the earlier parts, I don’t know.

However, the value of the accounts throughout the film is priceless from a music historian’s perspective, as no amount of archival footage or periodicals can substitute for the personal memories of those involved. I note the timeliness of this documentary most particularly because some of those interviewed for the film, who are quite vital to its completeness, have passed on in the 5 years since it was filmed. Thus, no matter whether or not you buy into Gram Parsons’ recent resurgence in popularity, this film provides a well organized and detailed account of not only his life, but also gives us a portrait of the lives of those in the music business some 40 years ago. The style of this documentary is similar to Be Here to Love Me, which covered the life of Townes Van Zandt a number of years ago. Although still not a widely known documentary, Fallen Angel is an essential for anyone with an interest in Gram Parsons or the Flying Burrito Brothers. So if you’ve got your recruits and your green mohair suits, show your ID at the local video store and check out this documentary. Ironically, my previous sentence is about as cliché and unnecessary as the ending to the documentary, so consider yourself warned in that regard.

(Image source Speakeasy PR)

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