Care to enjoy a revelatory and tuneful visit with a collection of enormously skilled but largely unheralded musicians who played on many of the most memorable pop records ever; or take an intimate look at an icon of motion picture history? Got you covered.
‘THE WRECKING CREW’
Believe it or not, a troupe of 20 or so musicians were the key players behind the majority of Top 40 hits (and more than a few beloved movie and television show themes) that emerged from Los Angeles recording studios between the years of 1962 and 1971. We usually know the names of the artists on the records — Nat “King” Cole, the Ronettes, Frank Sinatra, the Beach Boys, the Monkees, Sonny & Cher, and so forth. But only three or four of the prolific musicians that provided most of the instrumental backing are familiar to the public at large, and only because they became distinguished recording artists in their own right: Glen Campbell, Leon Russell, and Mac “Dr. John” Rebennack.
The Wrecking Crew is titled after the nickname these studio virtuosos embraced for themselves. It’s a cinematic love letter and an ensemble memoir produced and directed by Denny Tedesco, son of the late Wrecking Crew guitarist Tommy Tedesco. The story is told through vintage and recent interviews of the Crew members and many of the stars they backed, movie and TV clips, and rare film shot at some of the celebrated sessions that defined the “West Coast” sound of the 1960s. It’s gratifying to watch the likes of super sax-man Steve Douglas, Elvis Presley’s go-to guitarist James Burton, and the quintessential drummer Hal Blaine at work and to hear some of their recollections. And what a treat to meet a woman who held her own with these giants and is considered by many (among them Paul McCartney) to have revolutionized the way the electric bass is played: the legendary Carol Kaye. But it’s the constant parade of chart-topping tracks — including six Grammy Records of the Year — that will amaze you.
These guys (and gal) played on virtually all of the hits produced by Phil Spector; Sam Cooke’s “Twistin’ the Night Away”; The Mamas and Papas’ singles, from “California Dreaming” on; Johnny Rivers’s “Secret Agent Man”; The Associations’s “Never My Love” and “Windy”; The Monkees’s first couple of albums; Sinatra’s “That’s Life,” his duet with daughter Nancy on “Something Stupid,” and Nancy’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin'”; Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson”; Harry Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin'”; and the entirety of an album considered to be one of the greatest in the history of American pop music, the Beach Boys’s Pet Sounds. Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass? The Wrecking Crew. They were the musicians on the themes to “The Pink Panther,” and the TV shows “Mission: Impossible,” “Batman,” and “Hawaii Five-O.” Behind the scenes, they cranked out a series of quintessential surf-music instrumentals as, variously, the Routers, the Marketts, and the T-Bones.
That’s just a small percentage of what they created. You come away dazzled by the artistry and the sheer scope of their output. Hearing the four-CD box set issued in conjunction with the movie’s release is like having access to a time machine that’s also the world’s greatest jukebox, where the Righteous Brothers’s sweeping “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” pops up alongside Crew guitar man Glen Campbell’s melancholy “Wichita Lineman” and the 5th Dimension’s jubilant “Up Up and Away.”
They worked long hours, sometimes going from studio to studio, from morning to night. And though some were well paid for their time and they thrived, eventually the gigs began to dry up. Although a few still play today, too many of them are gone now. On the up side, The Wrecking Crew gives them their due. And the music they made lives on.
The Wrecking Crew opens March 27 at the Opera Plaza Cinema.
‘MAGICIAN: THE ASTONISHING LIFE AND WORK OF ORSON WELLES’
The masterful, larger-than-life filmmaker-actor-director-writer Orson Welles is given the archival footage and interview treatment by director Chuck Workman, who made his mark over the years with his series of memorable, kinetic movie montages at the Academy Awards. Now, Workman has cobbled together Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles, which turns out to be an excellent look at a Hollywood colossus. Welles’s prodigious physical presence and personality would make for compelling viewing, even if his relatively small filmography didn’t include a handful of truly important movies, led by his bracing, innovative and incredibly influential debut feature Citizen Kane — still considered among the greatest movies of all time.
Workman gives us access to rare stuff like a peek at Welles’s first use of film in a stage performance and precious segments from unreleased projects, plus many bits from interviews with Welles himself, and insights from Welles expert and acclaimed British actor Simon Callow.
Despite his auspicious beginning as the creative force behind the Mercury Theater and the man who brought the world Citizen Kane, Welles’s career in the movie business went off the rails after he made the under-appreciated classic The Magnificent Ambersons. Even if major American studios would eventually refuse to bankroll his projects, he still left us a fascinating string of performances such as his sly and sinister role in The Third Man and a minimal number of relatively obscure, independently produced wonders he directed and headlined — most notably Chimes at Midnight, centering on his interpretation of Shakespeare’s character Falstaff. Those triumphs and others, as well as his failures, are covered in Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles — a deep dive into the sometimes maddening, always compelling story of a brilliant, idiosyncratic, and seemingly heedless man and his oeuvre.
Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles opens March 13 at the Opera Plaza Cinema.