History Of The Eagles Part One

History Of The Eagles Part One


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Alison Ellwood may not be breaking new ground in the documentary form for her debut solo film but she handles the familiar workings of the rock doc with aplomb. Her history of editing Alex Gibney films (she co-directed Magic Trip) means she has a good handle on the large amount of archive material that comes with tackling a career such as that of country rock superstars the Eagles.

Mixing still photography and concert and backstage footage from the band's early career with interviews with the main players and some of those who knew them and influenced them, Ellwood crafts a picture that while it is unlikely to tell fans much that they didn't know offers a satisfyingly in depth assessment of what drew Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner together and what, ultimately, would break them apart. Input from Don Felder, who joined the band in 1974, Joe Walsh, who replaced Leadon in 1975, and Timothy B Schmit, who would join after Randy Meisner left in 1977, is also included.

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The opening minutes set the tone for both this and the Part Two sister documentary, which charts the band members post 1980, as we instantly get the sense of Frey as the band's resident charmer and Henley as the pragmatic sort.

The 1970s hirsuit Henley says: "It's not something we can do forever. This is not a lifetime's career." "It's not?!" asks Frey.

Ellwood's approach is comprehensive, although somewhat inevitably she gives prominence to Henley and Frey, who undoubtedly remain the twin forces driving the band. She outlines the pair's childhoods and how they came together after a series of collaborations with other artists that culminated in them playing in the backing band for Linda Ronstadt. Excellent archive footage evokes the era, along with strong input from fellow musicians including JD Souther, Jackson Browne and Bob Seger, who give a sense of what the men were like when they were starting out.

There is a certain amount of gloss being applied, however, with references to drugs kept to an absolute minimum and mostly laid at the feet of Walsh - who suffered most at the hands of drink and drugs and has always been very open in his talk of addiction since he got clean. Although they mention that "We did a lot of stupid things" and that it was "The 70s, there were drugs all over the place", what Ellwood mainly shows is the impact that this sort of thing had on the band, rather than outlining their excesses in detail.

Alongside a thorough consideration of the band's key hits - many of which are intercut with interviews explaining aspects of how they were created - a second narrative emerges, concerning the alpha male tensions that arose between the band members as their star was in the ascendency.

Sometimes Ellwood's reliance on illustrations goes into overdrive - talk of London, for example, is accompanied by a quick blast of archive footage of soldiers in dress uniform and bearskins - but she should be praised for the painstaking way she and co-editor Ben Sozanski often marry a recollection to the perfect piece of archive footage and for the way she has secured such candid interviews from all the band members, past and present. Watching the flip between the young, energetic band and the older, more thoughtful men they have become, inevitably brings with it the tick-tock of mortality but the music and their passion for it remain undimmed.

Reviewed on: 26 May 2013
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History Of The Eagles Part One packshot
Story of the rock band from inception to their 1980 split.
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Sundance 2013

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If you like this, try:

History Of The Eagles Part Two