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Wrecking Crew, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Long in limbo, but worth the wait."
3 stars

"The Wrecking Crew" has had a long time on the path to release - it played the festival circuit back in 2008, but it started shooting in 1996, meaning that it took director Denny Tedesco nearly two decades to shoot, edit, and secure the ability to use the music and video necessary to tell the story of Los Angeles studio musicians in the 1960s. As an audience member, it's worth it, but it's a good thing that this was a labor of love on Tedesco's part.

Tedesco comes by this love naturally; his father, who passed away in 1997, was Tommy Tedesco, one of the guitarists in this group of a couple dozen musicians who started getting work in the 1950s when the session players working for the studios considered rock & roll beneath them, often talking about how this next generation was wrecking the business. Tommy is one of four who sat around a table to talk about old times in an interview that serves as the spine of the film, with segments given to all for participants (Tedesco, bass player Carol Kaye, saxophonist Plas Johnson, drummer Hal Blaine), but much time is also spent interviewing other folks, from Dick Clark to Glen Campbell (part of the crew before becoming a successful solo artist), Cher, and Brian Wilson.

The stories are often the expected ones - you hear how big stars didn't want them credited, some comments about how the job is demanding enough to destroy one's family life (although, in other cases, the stability of studio work seems much less taxing than being on the road), and how a change in the industry can suddenly end a run as quickly as it seemed to start. Aside from being familiar, these stories are in many ways much less dramatic than those in similar documentaries like Standing in the Shadows of Motown and 20 Feet from Stardom; as much as Denny Tedesco starts from a position of feeling his father and similar people being overlooked is an injustice, it's not the stunning, crushing ones that those other films related.

What it lacks in drama, though, it makes up in thoroughness - I have no idea how much time between 1996 and 2008 Tedesco actually spent shooting and researching, but he is able to talk to a lot of interesting people, many of whom are either no longer with us or nearly so articulate as they were. Everybody seems at ease and willing to point out things that this group did well, even if they are not always totally happy with how things turned out (a few would really have preferred to be known for jazz, for instance). Certain topics are avoided - Phil Spector is treated as just sort of conventionally difficult, for instance - but almost everybody seems to know of what they speak, whether it's a round-table, one-on-one interview, or archive footage.

As a passion project from a man whose prior experience was in far less prominent roles that has been in process for some time, The Wrecking Crew does look kind of rough at times; the squarish shape of the frame suggests it was being shot for pre-high-definition television at first with only a few sequences using newer equipment (compare the interviews with Leon Russell to the rest of the film). It can feel a bit unfocused at times, like Tedesco never refined his original idea into something more specific. And while there really wasn't any other choice for the soundtrack - it had to be popular studio recordings - the effort to get all the licensing fees lined up seldom results in the perfect song for the moment, even if it does mean there is always something good playing.

That's not so bad; a documentary where you can learn a thing or two, hear some good music, and generally enjoy the experience because most everybody involved is enthusiastic and engaged is a pretty decent night at the movies. For all that it must have been a lot of effort for Denny Tedesco, it goes down quite easily for the audience.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=17222&reviewer=371
originally posted: 03/28/15 06:08:45
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2008 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Florida Film Festival For more in the 2009 Florida Film Festival series, click here.

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USA
  13-Mar-2015 (PG)
  DVD: 16-Jun-2015

UK
  N/A

Australia
  13-Mar-2015


Directed by
  Denny Tedesco

Written by
  N/A

Cast
  (documentary)



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