This week we watched Sound City, a documentary about the history of Sound City Studios, produced and directed by Dave Grohl.
The structure of this documentary clearly falls into three acts, a concept that Rossi (2012) puts forward.
In the first, the audience gets a nostalgic look-back at the iconic albums made at the studios, featuring anecdotes from the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Rick Springfield and a whole host of rock legends.
The second act undergoes a change of tone as the documentary takes us through Sound City’s struggles in the 1980s as their Neve soundboard becomes increasingly outdated by digital technology. The interviewees featured increasingly reminisce on analogue recording, exploring the impact of computer-manipulated music. Grohl is a musical preservationist, so it no surprise that the second and third acts seemingly lament on the loss of the analogue era, however Grohl does introduce some degree of balance by featuring Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails who makes a case for digital technology as a creative tool.
The third act brings a stylistic and tonal change – Grohl buys Sound City’s Neve board and installs it into his own studio (which we are shown through a time-lapse) and we see him and others putting it to use to make a new album, and so the arc is resolved.
Ultimately, for a film so heavily reliant on the history of the studios, Grohl is creative in the combination of interviews with music, archive material and still photography to bring the past to life. It could too easily have been a sequence of talking heads with the rock stars in question, but the interviews are intercut with music and archive material, keeping the pace fast and almost breathless. Even the photographs retain a dynamic quality, as parallax is used to create movement in still archive photos.
Rossi, F., 2012. ‘The Documentary Doctor’ in eds. Jolliffe, G., and Zinnes, A., The Documentary Filmmakers Handbook. New York: Continuum.