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Sound City: Real to Reel

2013 | 108 min | Not rated | 1.78:1

Sound City: Real to Reel


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Theatrical release date

 31 January, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

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Screenshots from Sound City Blu-ray

Sound City: Real to Reel Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, February 7, 2013

“Sound City” is more of a rabid appreciation for the life and times of Sound City Studios (located in Los Angeles) than a crisp documentary of its history. However, the raw energy works in the movie’s favor, zipping along at top speed as its worships iconic music created sparingly, preferring talent over touch-ups. It’s a fan film from musician Dave Grohl, who directs and appears in the effort, straining to impart his enthusiasm for the essentials of musical recording, fetishizing a dumpy studio located in an industrial park that gave the world sonic booms delivered by bands such as Fleetwood Mac, Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and Metallica.

Sound City truly began life in 1969, where founder Joe Gottfried decided to build his own temple to the art of recorded music, eventually buying a custom Neve 8028 Console that managed to capture sound in a unique way, bringing individuality to the business. Acting as ground zero for the rise of Fleetwood Mac, Sound City Studios found fame and fortune, welcoming all types of bands and musicians into a claustrophobic workspace that was rarely cleaned, was prone to flooding, and refused upkeep. But the sound was perfect, with little fuss necessary to make a live performance stand up and shout on tape --acting as holy ground for those with an ear for such details, especially drummers on the hunt for the perfect bounce to their beats.

“Sound City” tracks the rise and fall of the studio, with numerous musical trends crashing into the tranquility of the space, with a particular irritant found in the digital revolution. In the 1980s, music was moved to computers for easier manipulation, and while Sound City Studios survived the initial rush of technology, the rise of Pro Tools eventually came to conquer tape-based recording methods, transferring Neve polish and its pleasant bulkiness (adorned with hundreds of knobs and buttons) to the comfort of a laptop, allowing anyone the opportunity to make music. The documentary seeks to understand this transition and the dedication of some (including Grohl) to the original methods of recording, where mistakes bled into the fabric of the music and rawness of spirit translated to heaviness of sound. It’s a convincing argument, shared by the likes of Tom Petty, Mick Fleetwood, Joshua Homme, Rick Rubin, Lee Ving, and Butch Vig, who wax rhapsodic about Sound City Studio ambiance and its magic touch with certain artists, including Grohl himself, who recalls the 16 bustling days of activity necessary for Nirvana to assemble their 1991 masterpiece, “Nevermind.”

The documentary also makes time to meet and greet the behind-the-scenes players, including Shivaun O’Brien, who restored life into Sound City Studios after its initial fall in the1980s, while various technicians and support staff share their memories of the golden years, where the whole gang became a family of sorts. Also touched by the business is Rick Springfield, who was groomed to become one of the first Sound City Studio artists, shaping hits like “Jessie’s Girl” while becoming a soap opera star. Springfield actually provides an enormous amount of emotion to the picture, tearfully recalling a time when fame led him astray, ditching his Sound City Studio representation for industry titans.

The second half of the picture takes an unusual turn, wrapping up the informational portion of the program to soak up some time at Grohl’s home studio, where he’s transferred the Neve to recreate the Sound City Studio experience, calling in a few favors to make a tribute album. With Nicks, Springfield, Homme, and Trent Reznor working their magic, Grohl rolls around the warm laundry pile of memories and musicianship; however, it’s a collaboration with Paul McCartney and Krist Novoselic on the tune “Cut Me Some Slack” that really gets his juices flowing. Observing the creative process in motion, “Sound City” hits a giddy high note of performance, using the Neve to its full potential.

“Sound City” is a total blast to watch, even when it dips into intricate discussions of music engineering (even Grohl can’t follow the complexity), sustaining momentum with a sharp admiration for the thrilling highs and lows of the complex and its rich history with some of the biggest artists around. Grohl proves himself to be a most enthused filmmaker, and I hope he finds another subject dear to his heart worth inspecting soon.

Director: Dave Grohl

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