By Tom Platt. I remember sitting at the dining room table as aunts and uncles settled their shoulders into the backs of chairs, unbuttoning their pants for the sake an overstuffed belly. Someone would let out an innocuous line that would spark a smile, lighting a fire in that certain someone’s heart and soon enough the room would be alive with an excited recounting of ‘that one time when…’. It always began quietly and ended with a roar of laughter. The good times rolled back in, and all of a sudden every teenage beer or plummet from a tree was made all the sweeter as our continued appreciation for life grew. The stories weren’t great because of what happened, they were great because we loved the people who were involved (also, these stories seemed to vindicate our own behavior with their professed recklessness).
A sweet looking man takes the screen and is proclaimed as Russ Solomon, founder of the once billion dollar music retailer Tower Records. Recounting the facts of history surrounding the unconventional reprioritizing of the once humble family corner store, Russ sits casually amongst the empty shelves of a store long since empty but very recently tidied. Soon we are joined by over 55 folks, each presented in “talking head” format, and every one of them relating their experience of discovering Tower Records as young adults, and sticking with the company all the way, through crazy times, immense profits, and its ultimate liquidation.
Tower Records was a national phenomenon that was primarily grounded in California from the early Sixties through the late Nineties, finally closing its doors in the USA in 2006. Truly a corporate giant, Tower Records exploded onto the music scene as a high surplus record shop that was meant to be welcoming and competently curated due to its comfort in hiring inexperienced kids who were both excessively casual and terribly committed. After feeling as if their ‘do what feels right’ business model could do no wrong, Tower Records expanded at a tremendous rate in the 90’s, finding itself struggling to find a market in Mexico amidst a new era of over-priced CDs and this crazy new thing called “file sharing”.
While the storyline of the documentary is the rise and fall of Tower Records as a business, it takes a clear backseat to the true purpose of the film: nostalgia. The information shared by founder Russ and his friends-turned former executives is no more groundbreaking than a well-cited Wikipedia article. However, the impassioned stories about their experiences as Tower Records employees (expensing copious amounts of “hand truck fuel” [re: cocaine]) are endearing to say the very least.
Appealing to those who hold a certain amount of reverence for the company, All Things Must Pass isn’t trying to compare Tower to other record stores or movements during that time period; instead it seeks to solidify the place of Tower Records among other iconic music happenings of the past 40 years. Those without a deep soft spot for nostalgia may appreciate the anecdotes the documentary provides, but they will likely wonder why they just paid fifteen dollars for something that they could easily find at home on VH1.
With his feature debut as director, Colin Hanks shows a level of understanding that is expected coming from a man who comes from an industry family. Landing a limited release in theaters is still impressive considering the miniscule subject at play here (however, the narrow target audience alone makes any sort of mass theatrical release unlikely).
Throughout its 94 minute runtime, All Things Must Pass offers dozens of talking heads, all of which do little else but reiterate stories we’ve only heard moments before. Boasting a solitary Rolling Stone magazine editor who can softball dates and facts about the industry as a whole, the documentary’s overtly biased information lacks any sort of drama, relying entirely on interviews at the cost of visual storytelling.
All Things Must Pass becomes the perfect allegory for the justification of self for which Los Angeles is notorious. It’s a presentation of already well-documented information that nobody exactly needed (let alone asked for), yet finds its way onto a marquee on Sunset Blvd due to its clout instead of actual purpose. Nice guys in charge aside, the film strives for little and accomplishes even less. By bombarding us with overtly biased firsthand accounts and a smattering of very confusing edits, Hanks fails to offer any poignant perspective, instead giving us a filmic curio that was only ever going to end up on VH1.