All Things Must Pass
Directed by Colin Hanks
Established in 1960, Tower Records was once a retail powerhouse with two hundred stores, in thirty countries, on five continents. From humble beginnings in a small-town drugstore, Tower Records eventually became the heart and soul of the music world, and a powerful force in the music industry. In 1999, Tower Records made $1 billion. In 2006, the company filed for bankruptcy. What went wrong? Everyone thinks they know what killed Tower Records: The Internet. But that's not the story. All Things Must Pass is a feature documentary film examining this iconic company's explosive trajectory, tragic demise, and legacy forged by its rebellious founder, Russ Solomon.
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★★★½ review by Vanina on Letterboxd
One of my favourite family activities when I was little was when we would go and get videos and watch films together. My parents, but my Dad especially (a huge classical music aficionado), always encouraged this consumption of culture. By the time I was 12, my main interest had switched from film to music, and this was also the year my Dad took me to London for the first time.
My sister and oldest brother had gotten to go with him when my brother was 12, and so I was excited to have my chance. We first went in May 1999, and Tower Records in Piccadilly was our main navigational landmark for all of our next four visits to the city. I was big into Kula Shaker on that first trip (obsessively into Bernard Butler on consecutive trips), and I would spend hours (or what felt like hours) in their singles bins to get all of the different single formats, then I'd go into the book department and get awful "illustrated biographies" on my favourite Britpop bands (who needs a book on the Charlatans? Apparently I did), and then I'd go over to the classical section and sit on the floor as my Dad browsed, and I would read my NMEs, or Melody Makers, or Selects, or Qs...
Tower Records was heaven on earth for me because it seemed to stock everything, and while later I preferred HMV (never took to Virgin Records), my first visits to London are filled with happy memories of Tower on Piccadilly. My family and I were lucky enough to travel to the States in my first few summer holidays of secondary school, and Tower Records was always a must. My first ever solo expedition in New York, at 13, was to walk from the hotel to Tower on Broadway to buy a Richard Ashcroft album - I was terrified the entire time, ha.
This film will be a treat for anyone who has memories like that of record stores themselves, be they big chain stores or small independent ones. The film is an overly positive account, almost a love letter, which perhaps lets the film down, but it also makes for a lovely nostalgic 90 minutes.
The trailer to this film relies heavily on celebrity endorsements by Bruce, Elton and Dave Grohl (who actually did work at a Tower Records), which is misleading because what makes this film so great, and what was special to the store's history, is that the story of Tower Records is the story of the people who worked there - a chain with a heart and soul. The film consists of many great interviews with Russ Solomon (89-years-old!) and many of his most important employees, those who were with him from very early on.
The set-up of the film is beautifully simple, just interviews and photographs that tell the chronological story of the rise and fall. The "rise" is a bit too superlative, leaving out any mention of competition to make it seem like Tower Records was the only record shop in all of California, but I'll let that slide. More difficult to let slide is that the everyday sexism in Tower Records management is celebrated more than it is condemned - I wish just one of the interviewees would have gone, "yikes, that was kind of douche-y."
The "fall" lets the film down a bit, as the employees are too eager to blame Napster, while a Rolling Stone journalist notes that in the mid-90s Tower stopped selling singles, essentially forcing people to buy full albums instead, and shops like Best Buy and Target were starting to sell CDs for 10 dollars, the same CDs Tower sold for 20. These are valid points that the film does not engage with.
The film also fails to mention how hugely ironic it is that Tower Records and its competitors put a lot of smaller stores out of business, and yet here were are mourning the loss of a chain of stores. There's no mention of the strain Tower put on others, which is a weakness. However, through interviews it becomes clear how Tower Records felt like family for a lot of people, and the film does show how heart-breaking it was for people to see that go.
I got weirdly emotional towards the end to see Solomon walk around in Japan, where Tower Records shops still operate as we know them, although owned by a different company. It functioned as a kind of time machine - a pretty magical ending.
★★★½ review by Marianna Neal on Letterboxd
This one totally made me nostalgic! There was a Tower Records store right next to the University I went to, so my friends and I actually shopped there all the time. The documentary is exactly what you expect it to be - it probably won't blow your mind, but it's interesting to see the evolution of this business through the years, and the interviews were great.
★★★★ review by Wood on Letterboxd
As a dumb idiot who still buys vinyl in 2017, this Colin Hanks documentary on the mythical Tower Records is an interesting overview of it's empire. I never visited a Tower Records myself but they do have a great story and now I'm super jealous of all those LPs i'll never own.
★★★★ review by Jordan Rowe on Letterboxd
Thoroughly entertaining, insightful, and heartbreaking, "All Things Must Pass" wonderfully documents the rise, fall, and cultural significance of Tower Records in a consistently engaging, energetic fashion.
★★★★½ review by Jessie on Letterboxd
I was lucky enough to see the premiere in the original Tower Records with Colin Hanks, Russ Solomon, and much of the cast present last night. My mother worked at three Tower locations in the 80's, so this really meant a lot to her, though I had little knowledge of it.
A very well made documentary by Mr. Hanks, and I must say it was quite extraordinary seeing it in the presence of so many people whose lives were directly effected by Tower, as pretty much the entire audience had a personal connection with Tower, and it was a very emotional experience for many of them there. Now knowing more about Tower Records, I can appreciate the significance of it in musics history and fully comprehend how awesome it really must have been once upon a time. Though mine is the generation of iPods and digital music, I'll never forget its roots.
It was an experience I won't soon forget, with a Q&A afterward, and meeting Colin Hanks (a very genuine guy). Definitely a must see for all fans of music, whether or not you had been to the store.
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