Just out via Chrome
Dreams, it’s a career-spanning documentary that, though unauthorized, still
manages to get the subject himself on camera.
By Lee Zimmerman
At 2 ½ hours in duration, Robert Plant’s Blue Note seems long. Very long in fact. It takes 45 minutes before Led Zeppelin even
enters the picture, for gosh sakes. Then again, considering the fact that this
narrative, which covers the evolution of Bobby Plant’s musical journey, sets
out to survey nearly 50 years of the tawny-haired singer’s stylistic evolution,
155 minutes could otherwise seem like a somewhat scant compendium. Better to
have spread it out over a multi-disc set, one to cover each decade of his
As the creators of this epic have envisioned it, Plant’s
coming of age parallels the evolution of pop music itself. Indeed, at times
especially early on, the viewer forgets that it’s Plant’s tale being told.
Rather, it could be lesson 101 on Rock’s Evolution in the 20th Century. There’s Elvis, wiggling his hips and driving America’s teens into a frenzy.
There’s the giants of the Blues, with Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howlin’
Wolf and Son House bringing the voices of the Mississippi
delta and Chicago’s
urban environs to white audiences who were previously unawares. The ‘60s are
represented in the sounds of West Coast rock… and folk rock… and British Blues,
all part of the palette from which the young Plant would glean his influences.
Zep of course gets some screen time, but with its singer’s ambitious
explorations of Arabic and North African tradition, the film offers the inevitable
conclusion that Plant is indeed a musical chameleon, one whose eagerness to
embrace the fickle dictates of his nomadic instincts make him every bit as much
an iconoclast as Bowie, Byrne, Eno or the other artistic adventurers who earned
that distinction years before.
“Robert just bends to every trend,” Jimmy Page is quoted as
saying, and indeed, of all the talking heads gathered to comment on the course
of Plant’s career – journalists and fellow musicians alike — it would seem
he’d know best. Fortunately, Plant himself is given ample opportunity to weigh
in, and while the cover sleeve points out that this is an unauthorized documentary, clearly someone managed to coax him to
the camera in order to speak for himself. It’s nice after all, to have the
subject’s own input. Trivia buffs will relish the occasional factoid tossed in
at infrequent intervals – the fact that singer Terry Reid was Page’s first
choice to helm Zeppelin and that even after their eponymous debut, Plant’s
future with the band was far from certain. The archival footage is also
intriguing – Messers. Wolf, Waters and House captured in full blazing glory, a
clip of Buffalo Springfield performing “For What It’s Worth,” even a rare
fragment of a latter day Arthur Lee and Love concert appearance. Less
mesmerizing are the promotional videos of Plant parlaying his ‘80s wares, given
that his blow-dried coif and a dapper outfit that looks as if it was lifted
from Don Johnson’s wardrobe locker find him looking helplessly dated. Likewise,
the cursory glance at Plant’s solo outings seems to go by in a blur, up-staged,
as it were, by Plant’s increasing pilgrimages to areas that would later become
the ignition points of the recent Arab spring.
It’s remarkable then, that by the time Plant alights in
Nashville and reaches ground zero in his musical quest – or at least the
geographical juncture for all the disparate influences that informed his
initial progression – his shift towards Americana becomes almost a seamless
segue way. His union with Alison Krauss and the resurrection of his Band of Joy
branding (which fell into disuse after he and John Bonham abandoned it in favor
of Led Zeppelin) is made to seem inevitable, although when it initially
transpired, many diehard Zep fans found it somewhat perplexing. Likewise, those
who follow the film from start to finish may find themselves shaking their head
at the amount of enthusiasm Plant’s able to muster for each and every
indulgence. Yet, it’s also hard not to appreciate the dedication he devotes to
straddling his music with his muses, many though they may be. Now it seems
Bob’s come full circle, but it’s been a long time indeed.