Dave Grohl is a great musician. Dave Grohl is not a great filmmaker.
"When you're young, you're not afraid of what comes next. You're excited by it," he says at the beginning of his first foray into film, "Sound City." It's a unpromising beginning to what turns out to be a fascinating documentary. The Foo Fighters frontman (and Nirvana drummer) might not have a way with words himself. But he's a friendly face, one able to get a lot of cool people to say very interesting things on film. Which is why "Sound City" proves to be a great documentary.
The subject of the film is a San Fernando Valley recording studio that, before it closed a couple of years ago, was the stuff of legend.
|3 out of 4 stars|
|Stars: Dave Grohl, Butch Vig, Neil Young|
|Director: Dave Grohl|
|Rating: Not rated|
|Running time: 108 minutes|
"I remember pulling into the parking lot and thinking, Really? This is Sound City?" Grohl recalls. Butch Vig, a producer and a member of Garbage, says, "It's kind of dumpy." One producer remembers the brown shag carpet on the wall. "That's something you could do to your van," he jokes.
But on that wall also hung a lot of platinum records, by Neil Young, Tom Petty, Johnny Cash, Nine Inch Nails and Pat Benatar among others.
The names Vincent Price and Telly Savalas are also mentioned -- Sound City was a business, and they'd let anyone who could pay record there. In fact, there's an undercurrent throughout the film of money, something with which the business wouldn't be a business without, but which some musicians, of course, find uncomfortable.
"Sound City" ends up being an exciting look at the making of music. The middle of the film features a section on the making of "Nevermind," the 1991 album that made Nirvana famous -- for good and for ill. "To us, it was most important there was honesty and truth to what we were doing," Grohl says. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Vig, who produced the album, offers some better commentary about what he and the band wanted to accomplish, talking about viscerally hearing "sweat in the tracks."
Lots of other great musicians make appearances in "Sound City." Neil Young drove up to the studio in the valley with a smoking car and two cops behind him. "I didn't have a license because I was Canadian," Young admits. "I wasn't even supposed to be there." Five minutes and the cops were gone, leaving Young to record the great album "After the Gold Rush."
This isn't just a trip down memory lane. New music is made, too. Grohl gets the now-defunct studio's console and enlists some greats to record a sort of tribute to the place. Grohl is lucky enough to be able to call Paul McCartney and make some music with him. Lucky for us, Grohl decided to put it on film and let us watch.