Sundance 2013 Review: ‘History of the Eagles Part One’ Doesn’t Quite Soar But Shines an Interesting Light on a “Long Run” Band
History of the Eagles, Part One starts off with backstage footage of the band before a concert in 1977 as they warm up in perfect harmony, reminding you from the forefront there is a reason this band was as successful as it was, for as long as it was – this group had a distinct and catchy sound. On the heels of one of the Eagles’ founders, Glenn Frey, stating, “We made it, and it ate us,” the film flashes forward to present day as key members of the band, in all its different incarnations, reminisce on their time as members of the Eagles.
The origin story of the Eagles is not unlike most band origin stories, with Frey and fellow founding member Don Henley each getting into music with the hopes that it would get them girls (particularly after watching girls’ reactions to The Beatles). With Frey hailing from Detroit and Henley from Texas, the two eventually made their separate ways out to Los Angeles and became part of Linda Rondstadt’s backing band. The experience of performing every night had Rondstadt’s people hoping to make a “super band” to back their singer, but Frey and Henley had a different idea and decided to start their own band instead, forming what would eventually become the Eagles.
Despite initial success, the Eagles found themselves having creative differences, not just with each other but with their original producer, Glyn Johns, and they eventually moved on to work with Bill Szymczyk. But producers were not the only moving parts when it came to the band as they also brought on guitarist Don Felder, lost original member Bernie Leadon, who was replaced by Joe Walsh, and then lost another original member, Randy Mesiner, who they replaced with Timothy B. Schmit. The band continued to have conflicts and creative differences, which Walsh explains was inevitable as almost everyone in the band saw themselves as the alpha, but Walsh never worried about it since he believed conflict was what lead to creativity. However, long term success for any band is not easily come by, especially for those new to the business who are learning as they go, and inevitably the band decided to part ways for good. What happens next is teased for Part 2.
History of the Eagles, Part One does a good job of showing the music industry through the eyes of artists trying to find their creative voices while also making a living at being full-time musicians thanks to director Alison Ellwood’s comprehensive vision, but it may alienate those who are not fans of the band or who do not have an interest in the inner workings of the music industry at that time. It is interesting listening to the band members look back on decisions and fights with the luxury of hindsight, but more fascinating is the feeling that they would not change a thing. It is like catching lightning in a bottle when you are able to have a group of creative people come together and form a band, something that Henley muses during an interview in 1977 is, “not something you can do forever,” but which one of the photographers of the Eagles’ first album cover sums up by saying, “How cool that it even happens at all.”
The Upside: Interesting juxtaposition between footage of the band in their heyday versus where they are now paints a compelling picture of what fame and success really mean; successfully encapsulates a band as they find success and admit they did not know what to do with it.
The Downside: Seeing as this is merely part one of History of the Eagles, the film goes into great depth about roots of the band’s main players, how the band came together, and how they dealt with their success making it a must-see for fans of the band (and an interesting watch for those interested in the inner workings of the music industry at that time from an artist’s perspective), but it will probably not be appealing to a universal audience.
On the Side: Frey learned how to write songs from listening to Jackson Browne while Frey was living above Browne and realized that songwriting is based in patience and repetition. And apparently lots of cups of tea (at least for Browne).