History of the Eagles
Directed by Alison Ellwood
Alison Ellwood’s intimate, meticulously crafted patchwork of rare archival material, concert footage, and unseen home movies explores the evolution and enduring popularity of one of America’s truly defining bands.
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★★★½ review by Matt Singer on Letterboxd
Good as the story of a band, better as the story of narcissism run amok. Take note, whoever plans on writing the next THIS IS SPINAL TAP. These are your raw materials.
(Also: "One of these Nights" is an amazing song.)
★★★★½ review by onthewall2983 on Letterboxd
"Rockumentaries" are something of a sure thing with me. In even the bad ones, I find entertainment value because I usually love the music enough to tolerate it. There are loads of good ones, of which I would say this was very good. The truly great ones from a cinematic point of view are few and far between, mostly just the early ones which laid the groundwork.
Good as this is, it's hardly Gimme Shelter, that's way too raw. It's not The Kids Are Alright, not nearly as self-deprecating and no jaw-dropping performances. You can't really put it's quality in terms of movies, despite the pedigree of it's director and producer. It's more like listening to one of their greatest hits albums.
It tells basically the same story an episode of Behind the Music would cram into 45 minutes, over 3 hours. The difference being that it's told through mostly thick rose-colored glasses. And features some of the best American Rock music of the 20th century. Thorny issues such as drug addiction and personal turmoil within aren't avoided at all, but done from arms length it seems. Some issues are clearly avoided, but the movie's long enough and focuses more on the music anyway.
And that's where it really shines for me, hearing Don Henley and Glenn Frey talk about writing those songs. Watching Joe Walsh play the "Life in the Fast Lane" riff on an acoustic 12-string, and Frey's story about how the title came to him in a rather frantic moment, out of the lips of his cocaine dealer speeding down the highway on their way to a poker game. And of course the story of "Hotel California", quite literally the highlight of their career and this movie. There's also tons of live footage, a lot of which (particularly footage from the Hell Freezes Over tour) probably never saw the light of day until this.
The personalities come through clear as day. Frey is every bit the alpha male, Henley the more introspective but witty Texas guy, and Walsh the most lovable of them all. The way in which they present themselves is kind of no-nonsense and with no apologies to who they are. You may not like or agree with what they (particularly Frey and Henley) say, but to me it didn't feel like they sugarcoated it except for possibly the sake of nostalgia as I pointed out earlier.
Other and former members seem pretty docile and passive in comparison, with possibly the exception of former guitarist Bernie Leadon, who on top of being a little assertive looks quite burly in his interview. Bassists Randy Meisner and Timothy B. Schmit both fulfill the cliche of "the quiet one", and aren't as compelling in interviews as they were on record. Don Felder, particularly towards the end of the film, seemed quite resentful towards his place in the band (and this is much talked about in his book), and possibly feeling entitled about things his talent couldn't rise to.
Beyond the band, there's also interviews with peers (and occasional collaborators) like Jackson Browne, Bob Seger and J.D. Souther. Legendary producers (in and out of the band) Glyn Johns and Bill Szymczyk, and equally legendary photographer Henry Diltz round out the story with stories of their contributions to the group's artistry. Fortunately it's all interviews with people within the inner circle, no critics and "rock historians" to be seen.
The band is seen in some circles as divisive, but the numbers don't lie, the Eagles are (for better or worse) one of America's greatest rock bands. This gives their legacy a nice cherry on top, as well as being a snapshot of the times they lived in and sang about. I would say if you love even just one or two of their songs, this would be well worth your time.
★★★★½ review by TheGiantClaw on Letterboxd
Recommended by Andy Swart
So my history with The Eagles isn't anything fascinating to read about, but I guess it is worth telling for the sake of this review. So I actually got into The Eagles, as I did with a lot of my music, through my dad. He's been an Eagles fan since Hotel California and has been constantly blaring some of his favorites and telling stories about their greatness ever since.
Now I didn't get into The Eagles until much later in life when I was able to fully appreciate the kind of band they were. After listening to almost their entire discography I can now say that I understand why the Eagles are the highest selling American group of all time. Their mixture of raw rock and roll, bluegrass, country and slow ballads made them palatable for a more easy listening audience while still appealing to the hard rock junkies in a time when The Who and Led Zeppelin were the biggest artists in the world. Also their flawless harmony and talents as individuals aided in their ability to become successful.
So after seeing Hoop Dreams, a two hour and fifty five minute long documentary, I never thought I'd see something longer than that. But at three hours and seven minutes, The History of the Eagles takes the gold for the most unfathomably long documentary I've ever seen. And honestly it could have gone on for five hours and I wouldn't have cared. Okay so this isn't exactly three plus hours, it's actually two documentaries stitched together for some odd reason (they even kept the credits from the first part in).
Part one concerns the history of the band, specifically from the point of view of founding members and writers of the majority of hits, Don Henley and Glen Frey. It showed how Henley's life in a small town in Texas and Frey's life in Michigan helped shape the talented writers and musicians they became and how their close bond was what really held the band together. Even after two original members left the group they continued on stronger than ever and even with all of the tension among the band members they were still able to create some timeless classics of the seventies.
Part two deals with their 1994 reunion tour and life after. Fourteen years after the band called it quits they reunited thanks to, oddly enough, Travis Tritt, and realized that even after fourteen hours of silence they still had a strong fan base and their talents hadn't rusted. It showed the strong bond friends hold even after a falling out. And the best part was that it didn't even feel like anything had changed. Their passion for entertaining and their sharp skills were still overflowing.
Now obviously this movie isn't a glowing view of the band's career, because as with all musical documentaries it shows the less glamorous side to the music. It shows the clashes between Frey and members Bernie Leadon and Don Felder, Joe Walsh's decline into a life of cocaine and alcohol, the stress of fame and success and the looming dread of failure. It humanizes them and shows us the true colors of the members as they reflect on the mistakes they made when they were riding high on their success.
Now while I am a music nut, I don't analyze music. So I can't tell why certain types of music continue on for generations and why some doesn't. But I can say fairly confidently that the reason the Eagles have endured for over forty years is because their sound is timeless. If you listen to James Taylor or Parliament/Funkadelic, you can easily place the timeline they were the most popular in because they were products of the time. But the Eagles hit this sweet spot that balanced that 70's sound with a collection of their eclectic tastes that made their music endure for as long as it has.
If you aren't an Eagles fan, I can't say this will persuade you to listen to their music, and if you are an Eagles fan, then you've probably already seen this. But if you are one of those people in the middle, who doesn't love nor hate them, but who has a passion for music, then I'd recommend this. It's the ultimate band documentary.
P.S.-My favorite Eagles song is Desperado
If you want to recommend a new review, head over to my Netflix recommendation list and scream at me to check out your favorite pick here: Let's Delve Into the Madness That Is My Netflix Queue
So what is your favorite Eagles song and what introduced you to their music?
★★★½ review by Deckard on Letterboxd
Caught this one on Showtime and was delighted to enjoy this. Usually most band documentaries sometimes play out the same way for me, but here with The Eagles, it was quite insightful looking at the complete history of the band for nearly the forty plus years they have been around. It's a really well made documentary and if you're a fan of the band, check it out.
★★★½ review by Flash Stabone on Letterboxd
Very solid Documentary.
Very cool to see how this band was formed-Frey's and Henley's upbringing and how they got into music-their immediate popularity-the stories of how some songs came together-very cool stuff if you like the Eagles.
The telling of their downfall is the most interesting thing about this film. Having that type of success and how it becomes more difficult to maintain it-bands are like families and it was gripping to see this family break apart.
Unfortunately the telling of their reunion was not as interesting. There really wasn't much to it-they didn't record an actual full length album until close to 10 years after they reunited-the last 45 minutes to an hour is not that strong.
Overall this is a very good Documentary-for die hard fans I'm sure it's wonderful. For me it was great to see how it all started and how it crumbled-not so much putting it all back together.
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