Monday, October 13, 2014

Foo Fighters: Back and Forth - 2011

"Foo Fighters: Back and Forth" - 2011
Dir. by James Moll - 1 hr. 41 min.


by Clayton Hollifield

There's a big part of me that's a huge Foo Fighters fan; I saw them play on their very first tour, and I've got the t-shirt to prove it.  I would have been to one of their first couple of gigs, if I had only been over 21 at the time.  So I was pretty thrilled to finally sit down and watch "Foo Fighters: Back and Forth," to try to glean some insight into the things that have happened to the various band personnel over the years.  Although they're pretty much the face of alt rock for the last couple of decades (!), it hasn't been an entirely smooth ride.  I'd assume that's the case with any long-running creative endeavor, though.  I'm not sure you could find half a dozen people and expect that any fifteen year run would yield no problems over that span of time.

Plot recap?  Well...  The Foo Fighters were initially born out of the ashes of a pair of influential bands from the early 1990s (although the two bands were not equally popular), Dave Grohl and Pat Smear from Nirvana, and William Goldsmith and Nate Mendel of Sunny Day Real Estate.  They were an immediate success, band members came and went (Grohl and Mendel are the only two members who started and are currently with the Foo Fighters), and the band steadily grew to the point of playing sold-out shows at Wembley Stadium.  The last third or so of the film is devoted to the recording process of their seventh LP, "Wasting Light," which was notable for being produced by Butch Vig (who produced that Nirvana album that everyone knows), having former Nirvana bass player Krist Novoselic guesting on a song (as well as former Husker Du/Sugar frontman Bob Mould).

The big question all music documentaries must face is whether or not this could have been covered on an episode of "Behind the Music."  "Foo Fighters: Back and Forth" passes that test in a couple of regards.  First, there are no tearful reunions with jilted ex-Foos, although they are interviewed and have the opportunity to say their peace.  There's no ridiculous on-stage jam with all the Foos, past and present, no hugs, no tears.  Although there is a bit of a bow placed on the story by Grohl at the end, saying that he wouldn't change anything that had happened, the film is also honest about what happened with each of the members, even when it's not particularly complimentary to Grohl.  A prime example of this was Grohl's choice to re-record Goldsmith's drum parts for what would be the Foo Fighter's second album, without Goldsmith's knowledge.  That's the sort of thing that you can't really go back on; even though Grohl is considered one of the all-time great rock drummers, it's a pretty aggressive statement that someone's work isn't good enough.  The situation probably could have been handled better, but it still would have been extremely difficult to stay in a band when you've been deemed insufficient.

Another way in which "Back and Forth" passes expectations is in it's soundtrack, and use of performance footage.  Although I can't remember any instances of a full-song being performed by the Foo Fighters, the live footage is used very well.  One great example of this is, during a point where Pat Smear is talking about the drudgery of touring and playing the same material every night, there's a montage of Dave Grohl introducing the same song in the same way, probably a dozen times in a dozen different places.  Beyond the Foo's material, there is also a lot of their then-contemporaries featured, and there's actually examples of the other bands when they're being talked about.  All of this might seem minor, but I assure you it's not.  It adds up to a well-rounded musical picture of not only where the Foo Fighters' members come from (both in terms of the scenes that they came from, and the actual bands themselves), but what was going on around them at the time.

The Foo Fighters fan in me loved the movie, but the last third (and what's come after, for the band) had me shaking my head in admiration at the shrewdness of Dave Grohl.  It's important to know that with the specific personnel assembled for the making of "Wasting Light," expectations were extremely high.  The Foo Fighters have evolved into a very good arena rock band, drawing huge crowds wherever they go.  But when you get all available hands on deck from an album that changed the course of popular music, at least for a few years, that's a whole other deal.  The glimpse at the recording of "Wasting Light," which ended up being a very successful album for the band, both critically and popularly, trumps the usual mid-career magazine cover-article interview, but hits all the same points.  The band is in a good place, stronger than ever, and this is the best work of their career.  So you should buy it.  But watching what's come after for the Foo Fighters, like the "Sound City" documentary/soundtrack, and the upcoming HBO series "Sonic Highways," which documents the recording of the Foo Fighters' upcoming eighth album of the same name, Grohl has turned documentary film-making into a way to promote his albums, in a way that other bands haven't.

Obviously, one's enjoyment of a music documentary is going to hinge on how much someone likes the band in question (unless it's something like "Searching for Sugar Man"), so only you know if you care about the Foo Fighters.  For me, it's a no-brainer.  This isn't exactly re-inventing the wheel, but more like putting a wheel in an unexpected place, like those three-wheeled motorcycle things that kind of look like Transformers.

"Foo Fighters: Back and Forth" is a good documentary that doesn't ignore the rough patches for the band, but doesn't really wallow in them in pornographic detail, either.  There's no simple answers, other than that the Foo Fighters keep chugging along, and it seems to keep working for them.  This adds up to something that's worth your time, so long as you've got a favorable view of the band.

3.5 / 5 - TV

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