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Sound City - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Sound City
Directing: B
Writing: B
Cinematography: B
Editing: B-

There's a moment in Sound City, a new documentary about the life and times of a legendary L.A. recording studio directed by the Foo Fighters's Dave Grohl, when Grohl is interviewing a somewhat stuffy British man who is talking about the "Neve board" that we are told made Sound City what it is. Actually the man turns out to be Rubert Neve himself, talking about how the board works, and Grohl smiles and nods politely as a subtitle states, He must know I am a high school dropout.

The joke, of course, is that talking too technically about this equipment is easily lost on people not smart enough -- or who are too cool -- too understand it. The thing is, depending on who is watching, the same could be said of audiences at this very movie: Sound City, with its firm placement in the world of recording studios, at times gets a tad esoteric. It kind of lost me a few times. I almost felt compelled to do some of my own smiling and nodding, right at the screen.

Still, this movie is a generally interesting history of rock music as seen through the portal of this studio since the early seventies. As a massive Fleetwood Mac fan myself, my attention was easily gained by the fact that the Buckingham Nicks album was the first ever recorded on the Neve board -- and it was the Fleetwood Mac and Rumours albums recorded there just a few years later that launched the first phase of the studio's success. It's a treat to see Grohl having sit-downs with the likes of Mick Fleetwood, Lindsey Buckingham, and Stevie Nicks.

And there must be something to this Neve board, giving the sheer number of musicians evidently happy to talk about it, from Niel Young to Paul McCartney to Tom Petty to Trent Reznor and countless others. Unsurprisingly, the direction of the film's narrative shifts to the apparent glories of analog recording in the face of the digital revolution started in the eighties -- which was what caused Sound City's first downturn. The grunge movement saved the studio temporarily in the early nineties, with Nirvana recording Nevermind there. Even that was twenty years ago now, though.

There's been a bit of a resurgence in analog appreciation -- even pop artists are releasing albums on vinyl -- but there's no real discussion about that in this film. A lot of it feels like aging rockers acting like grumpy grandpas because no one records on analog anymore. Only Trent Reznor is presented as a guy with a balanced understanding of how analog recording and modern technology can work together.

I think how much audiences respond to Sound City has less to do with the quality of the Neve board than with how much people enjoy the music of the artists who recorded there. There's a lot of music played on the soundtrack by these artists, and it's somewhat diverse (Rick Springfield, Barry Manilow, Rage Against the Machine), but I honestly can't say I was that thrilled by the bombardment of loud early-nineties rock that sounds just like noise to me -- an noise recorded on exceptional equipment is still just noise. But of course plenty of people will disagree with me. I'm just not sure those same people, the ones who spent the last two decades either in mosh pits or reminiscing about them, are all that inclined to sit down and watch documentary films.

And then, the movie ends with a lot of footage of many of these artists recording new tracks with Grohl and other musicians with the same board, which Grohl snatched up after Sound City closed. Indeed, it's a little surreal to see a version of Nirvana where all members are present except Kurt Kobain -- and he's replaced by Paul McCartney. Still, I personally had enough of it before it was done, and felt the movie could have benefited from being ten or fifteen minutes shorter.

There is a fascinating "if these walls could talk" element to the history of Sound City, and much of it is indeed compelling. I can't say it's worth a trip out to the theatre, though. I suggest ordering it digitally on iTunes, just to be ironic.

An inanimate music legend: the Neve board in Dave Grohl's SOUND CITY.

Overall: B
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