Directed by Anton Corbijn | Written by Trish D Chetty | 101 min | ▲▲▲△△ | On Digital and VOD
This is a stylish, gritty documentary from a renowned Dutch photographer and filmmaker (Control, The American, A Most Wanted Man) who made his name capturing rock stars of the 1980s and 1990s in stylish, gritty black and white imagery — maybe best known is that shot of U2 on the cover of The Joshua Tree.
This new doc takes an interesting, alternate look at the creatives in the orbits of those rock stars. It explores the history of Hipgnosis, the London design team made up of Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell. They were the go-to fellas for rock stars looking for brilliant, mysterious imagery for the covers of their grand opuses. Consider Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side Of The Moon, Wish You Were Here, and the one with the pig flying over Battersea Power Station, Led Zeppelin’s Houses Of The Holy and Presence, or Wings’ Venus and Mars, amongst dozens of others.
If you always thought there was a certain odd sameness in the imagery that’s likely because they were all produced by two imaginations, two guys who had a box full of ideas and would pitch them around town. If one band didn’t go for it, they’d move on to another.
Thorgerson has passed away since the glory days, but Powell is on hand to talk about how they found their niche, specifically with Floyd, which opened the door to a host of classic rock acts of the era, with Paul McCartney, Robert Plant, and David Gilmour also here to connect the dots. Naturally, the documentary chooses many of the most well-known albums to focus in on — disappointingly they didn’t go ahead and own a few of the album covers that haven’t aged as well, like The Scorpions’ Lovedrive.
I enjoyed the doc for how it explores a subject I care about — how the musicians and the designers collaborated on visual concepts to represent the concept. At the same time, I don’t think it’s remarkably different from half a dozen docs on streaming services right now mythologizing bands like Floyd and Zeppelin.
And herein we have the difference between the good and great in documentary filmmaking. A good one tells its story well and appeals to an audience already interested in the subject matter. A great one gets you interested in a subject matter you may have known nothing about prior to dialing it up. This one likely won’t appeal beyond the committed faithful, but if you’re a fan of 50-year-old rock and roll, there’s a lot here to enjoy.