RICHARD THOMPSON: A Solitary Life
Directed by Paul Bernays
Great Britain 2003
Seen at the NW Film Center, Portland, OR 10/13/2011

Every once in a while, you see something, that you want more of. The hard part? ... you can't get it! And you end up leaving unsatisfied and this reviewer couldn't help thinking that ... something is missing here. And it isn't the music, for this film has a lot of very nice and far out things and the hard part is ... you want more, and it isn't there.

It begins rather nice and the film kind of goes in historical pieces, and a large amount of detail is dedicated to the work he helped define and create with the group Fairport Convention. And although the film, being about Richard, concentrates on Richard, it does touch on the elements that brought Fairport Convention together like the house was called "Fairport" and it became "Convention" because it was where they all met and rehearsed and played themselves silly.

And then the film really starts and you can really get into it. Joe Boyd, whose name was synonimopus with Pink Floyd, and many other out there bands way back when says "And there was this group of very nice Muswell Hill grammar school boys and a girl playing American music. Leonard Cohen songs, and Richard Farina songs, and Bob Dylan songs, all being done in a kind of West-Coasty rock style. And then came the guitar solo, and Richard just played the most amazing solo.... " and from this point on you know what Fairport Convention was about with one exception that the film is not discussing, but probably requires its own film, that has not been made yet. The name is Sandy Denny, and she was also one of the founders of this group and was their singer. And she was the one that was into Cohen, Farina and Dylan full blast and continued to do them on her own albums, whereas Fairport Convention might have made the decision to become an electric version of the old stuff, with new material. And they did very well, with one exception ... Richard was no longer there by the time that happened, but while he was there he helped define the music, by his ability to work his own guitar.

And the highlight is "Meet on the Ledge", and a bit later, one of the firebrand pieces that had Richard and Violinist David Swarbrick from the album "Liege & Lief".

And it is here that the piece shifts immediately to Richard's solo work and the largest segment of the film which is about Richard and Linda, and it is a very fine one at that, specially with Linda's forthrightness, directness and honesty. She's up front and then some. But it shows something about their music, and the work they were doing, which they obviously knew about, but did it anyway, because no one else could! Some of the pieces are quite emotional and strong, and it is difficult at times to see Richard so stoic on the stage, but his fingers are walking ... and walking ... and playing! And it goes thorough a bit of his catalogue at that time, until Linda is no longer on the albums and then we meet Nancy ... and she talks about 20 years. Years that are still creative and still bring out work from this artist.

A lot is made of the "darkness" and the "emotional" strain and involvement that Richard has and shows in his work, which is something that a lot of people don't like about his work, however, in the end, this is no different than something like a Rimbaud, or any other Existentialist writer or artist out there through out Europe, but it also shows that his work was not about an idea ... like "rock'n'roll", and he clarifies right off the bat in the beginning of the film, from a moment that comes much later, that it is all quite spiritual in the end.

And if there is something this man knows about in music and its expression is just that.

While I had already heard Fairport Convention with "Unhalfbricking" and "What We Did On Our Holidays", at that time in 1969, in the end the album that brought this "band" and Richard, home for me, was "Liege & Lief" later that year, where "Reynardine" and "Matty Groves" were played a lot in the early FM radio stations ... 1) because "Reynardine" was written by an American, and the version was unbelievably incredible and had such a beautiful style of guitar and voice and ... 2) because "Matty Groves", which helped bring about a lot of the bluegrass and folk/rock scene in California that was not quite visible ... no one ever heard of the Farina's, for example! ... but all of a sudden, there is a beauty in it all, that only the electric rock instrument could bring to it, that was not there before. And this is probably one of its greatest affects in the "electric folk/rock thing that took off in both sides of the ocean. Even Europe was not immune to it.

The last part, which deserves its own film, and I would rather think that Richard did not wish to upstage her own name, or not concentrate on hers, which I am sure he would be one of the major folks talking about her, other than her eventual mate that also was in Fairport Convention when she died. The immediately haunting and totally far out "Reynardine", is almost a discussion that is impossible to start and end with ... you can only listen to it ... and it never goes away ... but Sandy Denny, had the pipes, and she had the inspirations, and it was her attitudes that helped define a lot of the work that was done here, for the songs she chose, or the group chose with her ability to sing them, became what this band was about ... and became, which they promptly stopped doing as soon as "Lieg & Lief" was done, and both Richard and Sandy were also gone.

There are some magnificent moments and hearing Bonnie Raitt, or Harry Shearer and both Linda Thompson and Nancy Covey (2nd Mrs Thompson), is quite a treat ... and Connolly's massive quote is the treat of the film, with one problem ... it doesn't have sub-titles and you have no idea what he said ... so Richard Thompson like and his music, wouldn't you say?

“He’s a quiet guy. He’s almost an anorak, our Richard—you wouldn’t think he’s the guy with the guitar shaking the town!”—Billy Connolly.

A magnificent film and peek at the time. It does not feel "complete" for this reviewer, but the music is lovely and inspiring and seeing this happen is ... what art is all about ... it's not just "music" ... it's the life and how you respond to it! The rest is meaningless.
 

5.5 GIBLOONS

 

   

      

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