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Gram Parsons - Fallen Angel
Gram Parsons - Fallen Angel
Actors: Peter Buck, Gretchen Parsons Carpenter, Elvis Costello, Pamela Des Barres, Emmylou Harris
Director: Gandulf Hennig
Genres: Indie & Art House, Music Video & Concerts
NR     2006     1hr 30min

This definitive biography chronicles a Southern Gothic saga and is a fascinating look at "the Grievous Angel" and the heartbreakingly beautiful music he created. Dispelling myths that have grown to surround Gram, Fallen An...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Peter Buck, Gretchen Parsons Carpenter, Elvis Costello, Pamela Des Barres, Emmylou Harris
Director: Gandulf Hennig
Creators: Boris Becker, Gandulf Hennig, Alfred Holighaus, Mark Cooper, Mark Hagen, Sid Griffin
Genres: Indie & Art House, Music Video & Concerts
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Pop, Rock & Roll, Carpenters
Studio: Rhino / Wea
Format: DVD - Color
DVD Release Date: 06/20/2006
Release Year: 2006
Run Time: 1hr 30min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 9
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

A haunting story
twangmon | Nashville, TN USA | 05/17/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The early '70s saw an epidemic of deaths among pioneering rock musicians brought on by fast living and substance abuse. Jimi Hendrix (1970), Janis Joplin (1970), Jim Morrison (1971), and the Grateful Dead's Ron "Pigpen" McKernan (1973) were among those who were overwhelmed by the intensity of their lifestyles and died in their 20s. Lesser known, but ultimately as pioneering, was Gram Parsons, the singer, writer, and guitarist who merged the twang of post-war honky tonk with the culture and attitude of late-'60s rock. Directed by Gandulf Hennig, Fallen Angel is a fascinating, inspired, and heart-wrenching documentary about Parsons' life, music, and death in 1973, at the age of 26. The film is also a tale of family tragedy, and paints a dramatic picture of the music culture of the day.

Using interview clips with his family members, wife and lovers, daughter, friends and associates, and a host of musicians -- including Chris Hillman, Peter Buck, Keith Richards, Steve Earle, Dwight Yoakam, James Burton, Bernie Leadon, and Emmylou Harris -- Hennig takes us through the Parsons' childhood, musical adventures, and tragic end. We learn of Parsons' first bands, the Pacers and the Legends, and how his earliest gigs occurred in a club bought for him by his wealthy family when he was 16. We see how his father's suicide, his mother's alcoholism, and other aspects of his dysfunctional family affected his outlook and direction. Fallen Angel reveals how Parsons attended Harvard for one term -- just long enough for a classmate to introduce him to Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, and the nasal sound of Bakersfield honky tonk -- before flunking out. We follow Parsons to the Bronx, where he founded the International Submarine Band with John Nuese, who describes life with Parsons in the mid '60s.

Fallen Angel tracks the International Submarine Band's relocation to Los Angeles, where they scored a record deal, and released Safe at Home. The album didn't achieve much commercial success, but its compelling mix of honky tonk and rock led to Parsons being invited to join the Byrds. Quoting Roger McGuinn, Byrds bassist Chris Hillman recalls, "We were hiring a keyboard player, but we got George Jones in a rhinestone suit." Evangelizing hardcore country music to the Byrds and anyone else who would listen, Parsons convinced the band to record in Nashville. Released in 1968, the resulting Sweetheart of the Rodeo officially launched the country-rock movement. Two of Parsons' songs from the album, "Hickory Wind" and "One Hundred Years from Now," remain classics of the genre, though we discover how at this point other members of the Byrds were beginning to chafe at Parsons' behavior and take on "cosmic American music."

A disturbing undercurrent in the film begins with Parson's close friendship with Keith Richards. This relationship is presented from many angles, which include extensive recollections from Richards himself, but viewing the footage and historical photos that Hennig skillfully weaves into the narrative, it's hard not to conclude that Richards had a profoundly destructive influence on Parsons. We also see how the Stones absorbed musical ideas from him, while he was hanging out with them in France during the recording Exile on Main St. Several songs, including "Sweet Virginia" and "Loving Cup," were a direct result of the long jams Richards and Parsons had at this time.

The film describes how Parsons founded the Flying Burrito Brothers and recorded The Gilded Palace of Sin -- another seminal album of the country-rock movement -- and his solo career is also covered in detail. In addition to hearing background stories of how he crafted the albums G.P. and Grievous Angel (both of which feature James Burton), we're treated to awesome black-and-white footage of Parsons performing with Emmylou Harris. The most intense moments occur when Hennig explores the circumstances surrounding Parsons' demise. To reveal them here would spoil the tension that builds throughout the documentary, but morphine, tequila, corpse theft, and ritual cremation all play a role in this tragedy. The film looks at Parsons' death unflinchingly, yet doesn't sensationalize the twisted tale.

Fallen Angel is not a movie you'll want to watch while snuggling with your partner on the couch. But if you care about wonderful songs, pioneering bands, rock history, and how great musicians can stumble on the path of life, you won't want to miss this haunting story."
Excellent documentary!
matthewslaughter | Arlington, VA USA | 06/23/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This should come as a complete godsend to Gram Parsons fans everywhere. Not only does it have some pretty excellent archival footage (Top of the Pops style "videos" of "Hot Burrito #1" and "Christine's Tune"), it features insightful interviews with family members and musical associates, most notably Chris Hillman, Emmylou Harris and Keith Richards. The film is fairly well-balanced; it's clear that Parsons could be aloof, stuck up and misguided, and the documentary does not try to sugarcoat his personality. Like one earlier reviewer stated, the most puzzling/saddening part of his life might be the "black hole" year or so he spent with Keith Richards in France. It seems that he put a lot of himself into "Exile on Main Street," though he got none of the credit. It also seems that his drug use escalated and probably sucked away some great music that should have ended up on HIS records. The most fascinating part of the film is the family intrigue. Parsons' life was riddled with Southern aristocratic tragedy, as if Edgar Allan Poe was writing a modernized version of "The Fall of the House of Usher." Parsons' adopted father is painted as a villain here, as is Parsons' "road manager/mangler" Phil Kaufman, who burned his corpse at the Joshua Tree National Monument per Parsons' wishes. As you can tell, the great music and the tragic arch of his life make all the elements of a great picture, and director Gandulf Hennig stitches these details together artfully, but not pretentiously. Recommended for fans and neophytes alike."
Fairly Routine Treatment of a Truly Unique Talent
Doug Anderson | Miami Beach, Florida United States | 02/11/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)

"This is a fairly good attempt at a Gram Parsons biography but it leaves a lot of stones unturned (or only partially turned) mainly because the documentary spends more time exploring the ill effects of Gram's sordid family history than with musical history. I think musical fans will tire pretty quickly with all the details of Gram's privileged upbringing, drug use, and chronicly poor judgement when it comes to party companions. That the family had a history of alcohol abuse is important but it doesn't ultimately tell us much about Grams importance as a musical innovator. Occasionally this documentary will shift away from Grams alcohol and drug problems and talk about the music but mostly this film is interested in Gram the user.

Musically this documentary is very shallow. One reason for this is that Gram Parson's wife is still alive and so Emmylou Harris, out of respect for her feelings, is very discreet when discussing her musical and personal relationship with Gram. The Gram/Emmylou collaboration is one of the most intriguing male/female combos on record and we can tell that Emmylou has a lot more she could say about Gram and perhaps one day she'll say it but she doesn't say it here. He had a huge influence on her but she also had a huge influence on him and the nature of this relationship (both the personal and professional side of it) could have been explored much more thoroughly.

Also the collaborations and jam sessions with Keith Richards could have been discussed much more thoroughly. The film makers mention Gram and Keith's friendship and how, through Keith, Gram's influence was felt on the Stones four best albums but this influence, and how small or great it was, is never explored. Do tapes exist of Gram and Keith playing together? This relationship was also both a personal and professional one but we are not given enough information to really understand it. Like the Emmylou and Gram relationship the Keith and Gram relationship remains sketchy and though a few of its details are mentioned, it is left largely unexplored.

The same could be said of Grams personal and professional relationships with the International Submarine Band, the Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers. Gram seems to have been a loner (he certainly sings about being lonesome) and yet from an early age he always surrounded himself with other musicians. In some cases Gram outgrew his bandmates and moved on but in other cases bandmates or friends outgrew him; Keith, for one, seems to have dropped Gram as a friend and collaborator as quickly as he adopted him. Plus he didn't leave the Flying Burrito Bros., they fired him. Even though each musican interviewed reminisces about Gram as a friend, its obvious that music can be a pretty heartless world where career moves are more important than friendships.

Gram is certainly given credit for being an innovator in country-rock (even if it was the Stones & Eagles who made it sound a lot more listenable to rock 'n roller ears). Gram is adored by people who know a lot about music and he influenced a wide variety of musicians but instead of discussing Gram the musician most of those interviewed just discuss Gram the legend. This is annoying for those of us who are already familiar with all of the myths that surround him and want to hear the substantive side of the Gram Parsons story. Rock musicians seem to romanticize tragedy and in many respects Gram is no different than many musicians before and since. Gram's Nudie suit with its drug and flame imagery is funny when looked at as a self-conscious display of what a life in music is all about, but its just sad when looked at as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A really substantive documentary would speak more directly about individual songs and what they mean and reveal about Gram's troubled psyche and his vision of America (and how the two are tangled together in his songs). This documentary is fine if its your first look at Gram but it will leave those more interested in the music than in the legend hungry for a more thorough treatment of a fascinating subject."
I'll step into your parlor and I'll tell you how it all went
Michael A. Beyer | Chicago, IL United States | 02/09/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

""Gram Parsons: Fallen Angel" is a terrific documentary on the life and music of Gram Parsons, and only begins to scratch the surface of his impact on popular music. Alt-country mainstays like Ryan Adams, Steve Earle and Uncle Tupelo all owe a major debt to Parsons, as do supergroups like the Rolling Stones and the Eagles.

The music here is terrific as always, and all the suspects are interviewed: Keith Richards, Emmylou Harris, Chris Hillman, James Burton, Chris Etheridge, Bernie Leadon, Gretchen Parsons, and Gram Parsons' half sister, who looks eerily like Gram.

It's an excellent overview of his career, and the interview segments with Keith Richards in particular are great, but I would have liked to have seen more about the impact of Gram Parsons' music on country and alt-country, as well as some of the themes of his music, which were remarkably deep for a guy in his early 20s who was by many accounts a total goofball. It focused too much on his personality and the mysterious circumstances of his death.

For example, I would have liked to have heard more about how Parsons was a major force behind the Stones' move to the country-ish sound found on Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street. That was glossed over in favor of how tight Keith and Gram were, ad nauseum. I also wanted to hear Jagger's take on Gram Parsons.

Parsons also pretty much discovered and gave the world Emmylou Harris, who appears on GP and Grievous Angel. That is examined fairly well, with some good audio and video clips.

Overall, if you are an alt-country fan, check this movie out. If you are a big Gram Parsons fan like me, this movie is a must."