I have been a huge fan of the progressive rock band King Crimson for over 45 years and I have seen them over 10 times since 1981. The film In The Court of the Crimson King: King Crimson at 50 got glowing reviews after it premiered at the South By Southwest Festival back in March. So, when the film had its worldwide theatrical and stream release on October 22, I was ready to check it out.
Although it’s always great to see everyone in the band, as a filmmaker I found that the documentary lacked continuity and at times seemed tedious. I know this film was not supposed to play as the standard historical rock doc, but it was hard to figure out its narrative trajectory. The opening credit sequence, featuring various empty concert venues with band founder Robert Fripp speaking about silence and the sacredness of the performance space, was quite strong. However, the archival clips and animation that follow are cut together in a way that doesn’t make much sense. Moreover, the history of the band is completely glossed over, and a novice would be unable to make heads or tails of it. The animation sequence reminded me a bit of Terry Gilliam’s Monty Python animations but it seemed out of place as did the sequence of the couples dancing in the rain. These were the weakest moments of the film for me.
In turn, the members of the band are introduced rather haphazardly and are not given equal screen time. For one, why is drummer extraordinaire Gavin Harrison granted only a minute of individual screen time? Likewise, former members John Wetton, David Cross, Ian Wallace and a few others go unmentioned. It seemed obvious that this film was being dedicated to drummer/keyboard player Bill Rieflin (he passed away during the making of the film) even before you see the dedication at the end. I read Rieflin’s final-years diary entries, that Iona Singleton co-wrote and published last year, so it was good to see him share his thoughts on life and death with the viewers. His reflections were very moving to watch. Of course, most of the film focuses on band leader and guitarist Fripp. I wonder how much editorial control Fripp had over the film since it is produced by his production company. Perhaps the film’s director Toby Amies was hampered by this but given what we see in the film, I am not so sure.
The film did have quite a few wonderful moments. Some of these were: watching Fripp practice on his guitar in his home in front of that lovely P.J. Crook painting; the Nun fan elevator scene; the sequence where guitarist/singer Jakko Jakszyk is aware of Fripp listening to film director Toby Amies’ questions; the Brits vs the Americans section that former drummer Bill Bruford talks about; the scene where we find out that Jakszyk is going through a divorce during the making of the film; the fan from Seattle who was thrown out of a show for taking pictures during the concert ( a big no, no for Fripp) yet who, despite this, traveled to Europe to watch them play again; former keyboard and flutist Ian Mcdonald’s apology to Fripp; the female fan who says she loves bassist Tony Levin; shots of fans moving to the music; and Fripp’s teary remembrance of his guru J.G. Bennett.
Overall, the film was enjoyable but it lacks a narrative thread that would have made it more engaging. It certainly is not chronological. Being messy and chaotic seems to go counter to what Fripp is all about which is order and discipline. I don’t want to be too harsh on the film as I love King Crimson and think it is definitely worth watching. Perhaps it is for true fans, like me, who already know the band’s history. As a side note: I highly recommend Sid Smith’s amazing biography of the band In the Court of King Crimson if you want to know more about this amazing band.
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