BECOMING LED ZEPPELIN: Documentary

Posted: September 11, 2021 in MUSIC

“Becoming Led Zeppelin”, the authorised first ever documentary on the British band about the legendary rock group, was premiered this week at the Venice Film Festival. Soon after, the first official clip from the upcoming film was uploaded online.

The minute-long teaser features pristine archival footage of the group performing “Good Times Bad Times” alongside black-and-white stock footage of a zeppelin hovering in the sky.

Play close attention to that title, though, because fair warning: The documentary stops at 1970, right when Led Zeppelin II comes out and the band has only begun to establish itself as a rock & roll juggernaut. It’s an authorized doc, with full songs and new interviews from the surviving members — and the crown jewel of MacMahon’s archival work, a rare uncovered audio interview from ’71 that Bonham gave to an Australian reporter and took him a year to track down — that go into great detail about their childhoods, their early musical heroes, their first few rock groups. But you can’t say it’s the definitive documentary on them.

Jimmy Page was on hand for the documentary’s premiere, with the guitarist also discussing the film, Page said the band had received many offers for an authorized documentary, but “they were pretty miserable. Miserable and also to the point where they would want to be concentrating on anything but the music.”

However, Page said of Becoming Led Zeppelin, “This one, it’s everything about the music, and what made the music tick. It’s not just a sample of it with a talking head. This is something in a totally different genre.”

The first authorized doc on the band, Becoming Led Zeppelin works best if you’re the sort of diehard Zep-head who’s really, really curious about Page’s first appearance on British TV with his skiffle quartet (on the talent show All Your Own, in 1957). Or the session work he and Jones would do on Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger.” Or how James Brown influenced Bonham’s straight-ahead, four-on-the-floor drumming for the Senators’ hit “She’s a Mod.” Want to take a deep-dive into the original “Dazed and Confused,” as sung by Keith Relf during Page’s psychedelic Yardbirds 2.0 phase, and hear what went through Page’s head when he discovered the Les Paul Gibson Black Beauty? (He may or may not compare the axe to Excalibur!) If the answer to “how many more times can you hear Plant and Page discuss that fateful day when all four of them ran through ‘Train Kept a Rollin” and discovered that explosive sound” is “infinity plus one,” then this movie is for you.

Producers Bernard MacMahon and Allison McGourty also talked about the lengths they went to obtain the rare footage seen in the film, including a year spent tracking down the original audio from an interview that John Bonham did with an Australian journalist.

Bernard MacMahon assumes we know a lot about Led Zeppelin. He’d guess that most fans have listened to the riffs and record sides thousands of times, tracked down the bootlegs, scoured YouTube for clips, read Hammer of the Gods and can recite the anecdotes of backstage debauchery (whether or not they involve deep-sea predators and/or the occult), concur that the stairways to heaven have now all been bought. The documentarian takes it for granted that even those who don’t know that words sometimes have two meanings are aware of how Zep’s doors had all closed. What the director of Becoming Led Zeppelin and producer/cowriter Allison McGourty wonder is: But does everyone know what Jimmy Page Robert Plant John Paul Jones and John Bonham did before they found each other? And what those first few years were like, when this newly formed band were playing shows just a month after they’d formed and playing underground clubs in the States?

In addition to the footage, much of it never-before-seen, the documentary also features new interviews with the band’s surviving members, Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones.

“When we first met we were probably a little nervous of each other. But the conduit was the storyboard,” Page said. “And I thought they’ve really got it, they really understand what it was about.”

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