151 of 157 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a haunting story
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...
Published on May 17, 2006 by twangmon
40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fairly Routine Treatment of a Truly Unique Talent
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...
Published on February 11, 2007 by Doug Anderson
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151 of 157 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a haunting story,
This review is from: Gram Parsons: Fallen Angel (DVD)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.
40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fairly Routine Treatment of a Truly Unique Talent,
This review is from: Gram Parsons: Fallen Angel (DVD)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.
44 of 47 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent documentary!,
This review is from: Gram Parsons: Fallen Angel (DVD)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.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome,
This review is from: Gram Parsons: Fallen Angel (DVD)This is a great documentary and thanks to Gandulf Hennig, Sid Griffin and the BBC for getting it done. If you're a Gram Parsons fan this is as good as it's ever going to get so don't listen to that idiot who gave it 2 stars (rather than panning the documentary) why not give somebody credit for getting the thing done in the first place) be happy somebody out there cared enough to do something. In my opinion Gram belongs in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. He had a profound influence on so many musicians and never got any credit. I found this much better than the book Hickory Wind which focused too much on all of the things he did wrong in his life instead of what a talent he was. This DVD is filled with the people who really cared about Gram and that was very refreshing. Sure he had his faults (who doesn't) but Gram was unique and put more feeling into a song than anyone ever could. If your a fan you need this.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I'll step into your parlor and I'll tell you how it all went down,
This review is from: Gram Parsons: Fallen Angel (DVD)"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.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fallen Angel,
This review is from: Gram Parsons: Fallen Angel (DVD)Bought for my husband as a birthday present and he has never stopped playing it. The best he has heard. Well worth the money.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Gram Parsons - The E True Hollywood Story,
This review is from: Gram Parsons: Fallen Angel (DVD)Of course, Gram Parsons is a major influence on modern American music, but you wouldn't know it from this lurid and sensational documentary. As Emmylou Harris remarks in this DVD, "People should remember Gram by his music, not the way he died." Or the way he lived, I would add.
There is little about Gram's music on here, which is very frustrating. Chris Hillman makes a few remarks about Gram's songs, and they show short clips from the Flying Burrito Brothers videos. Especially frustrating was that they showed more of the Eagles "Take It Easy" than of any of the Burritos' videos. Ugh, the Eagles.
Another problem with this documentary is that there are only the interviews - there is no narrative of any kind, even though it claims to have been "written" by Sid Griffin and the director. This makes for a disjointed film. Anyway, one good thing came from watching this - I've been listening to Gram's music a lot lately, since so little of it is present in the DVD.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great artist and a heartbreaking story.,
This review is from: Gram Parsons: Fallen Angel (DVD)This is a great product and really gives a great look into Gram Parsons throughout his life and chronicles his tragic ending. I am a huge fan of his and love the way he can be country on one song, then adds some blues type music and then does some rock. It is obvious by the influence he had on artists from Keith Richards, Dwight Yokum and Emmylou Harris to see that he was well loved and respected. If you like Gram`s music, you really need to add this to your library. You may want to grab some tissues for the end.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sam Graham, Bogus Editorialist,
This review is from: Gram Parsons: Fallen Angel (DVD)I take serious umbrage with Sam Graham's drive-by shooting, disguised as an Amazon editorial, of Gram Parsons - Fallen Angel Sam, before you write this review off as a typical fan rant, maybe you should think about what you are actually contributing to the art of valuable criticism.
Alright, maybe you never knew about the strange facts surrounding Parson's death and ensuing funeral pyre. But to aggrandize that over the great contributions Parsons made to the genre is something I would expect from an editorial coming from Fox Network or some other bogus, sensationalistic outlet - certainly NOT from an Amazon editor.
Your introductory statement ("Cynics have suggested that death....") was a thing of beauty. Unfortunately, you felt compelled to follow it with "Although undeniably talented, Parsons never had a hit and made just six albums, and only one of them.... is a bona fide classic. That's one reviewer's opinion, anyway." Since when is 'That's one reviewer's opinion, anyway" considered professional criticism? Isn't that already implied by the fact the you are an official Amazon reviewer, and presumably paid for this tripe you are spewing?
If your definition of a 'bonafide classic' is tied to album sales and popularity, then your ability to discern and recommend (or not) must seriously be called into question. This sophomoric piece of writing is something we would expect from a community college student's term paper, certainly NOT from an Amazon *editor*.
18 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A less than spectacular documenatary on a truly great musical figure,
This review is from: Gram Parsons: Fallen Angel (DVD)This is a poorly made documentary on a fascinating subject: the career and life of Gram Parsons. This should have been the definitive documentary on Parsons's life. The filmmakers interviewed almost every crucial living individual connected to Parsons's life and had access to a vast amount of film footage and photographs. Unfortunately, the production standards are significantly below the industry standard. It is essentially a B-level production containing a wealth of A-level material. You get great film footage along with interviews with a host of living friends and relatives as well as extensive contributions by important music figures such as Emmylou Harris, Chris Hillman, and Keith Richards. The end result is a rather weak film that nonetheless contains a wealth of crucial and fascinating material. It is absolutely essential viewing for anyone who loves Gram Parsons's music, but a disappointment for anyone who likes good documentary filmmaking.
As many others have noted, Gram Parsons is one of those performers whose influence is completely out of portion with the amount of music he produced. Perhaps more than any individual, Parsons has been responsible for the popularity of non-Nashville country music among fans and performers who otherwise listen to and perform rock. The highpoints of his resume would include his crucial involvement on the Byrds' SWEETHEART OF THE RODEO, regarded by many as the crucial first album in establishing country rock. Along with work by Bob Dylan following BLONDE ON BLONDE, the next great step in the development of country rock is the Flying Burrito Brothers, which, as the documentary shows, was co-founded by former Byrd Chris Hillman. Parsons also had a great deal of influence on other bands, most immediately the Rolling Stones. His two solo albums, G.P. and GRIEVOUS ANGEL, are easily the two most influential country rock albums ever recorded. Finally, his influence has continued by a host of musicians he has influenced, above all Emmylou Harris, who on multiple occasions has stated that her entire career has been intended as a homage to Gram Parsons (read the liner notes to her 2-CD ANTHOLOGY for the centrality of Parsons in her career, not just with Parsons's solo career, but her own subsequent solo work). Yet, despite Parsons's enormous influence, he has yet to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, one of the more serious current omissions.
The strength of the documentary is the extensive interviews, especially with those of family members. One ends the documentary with a strong sense of where Parsons's came from. It is unsurprising that Graham had a problem with substance abuse, since both his parents and his stepfather all had similar difficulties. All too often, Parsons is presented as a victim of the rock and roll era and the lifestyle it generates, whereas in truth his fate was far more the result of a family tragedy. No question, however, that given his family, he was ill suited to survive in a culture in which alcohol and drugs played a major role. The film also contains a fair amount of film footage of Parsons performing, some of it from very low quality footage of Parsons from his final tour singing with Emmylou Harris. Although I do not think this is a well-made film, there is absolutely no question about the quality of the material it contains.
The documentary contains a couple of massive omissions that I simply can make no sense of. First, there is no discussion whatsoever of the contractual disputes with the International Submarine Band's manager that kept Gram Parsons from legally performing any of the songs on SWEETHEART OF THE RODEO with the Byrds. This is a huge deal because for a couple of decades the album that was originally made was unavailable to the public. Although Parsons originally recorded several songs on that album, before it was released most of those songs were rerecorded with Roger McGuinn substituting for Parsons. Only "Hickory Wind" retained Parsons's singing lead. The worst offense was McGuinn's simply godawful singing of the Louvin Brothers' "The Christian Life." McGuinn sang the song as if he were a complete doofus, an utter hayseed and hick; Parsons's version was utterly sincere, sung without irony (the ultimate irony, of course, is that McGuinn later became a devout Christian, while Parsons met with a different fate). Luckily, the extended version of SWEETHEART OF THE RODEO contains all of Parsons's original versions; in every case they are far superior to the versions on the original LP. All of this is well known. Why the filmmaker didn't include ANY of this is astonishing. There is not even any mention that Parsons appeared on only one cut or of the contractual dispute.
The second great omission is any discussion of Graham Parsons's health problems, health problems that certainly contributed to his death. Parsons was classified 4-F by his draft board because of a heart condition. This not only meant that he was not a candidate to go to Vietnam, it meant that he was someone who definitely should not have been abusing his body. In other words, he was not just an average individual abusing his body with drugs and alcohol; he was someone with a heart condition so doing. Why this was not mentioned is baffling.
Although this is a not a well made film, it nonetheless is essential not just for anyone who is a fan of Gram Parsons, but for anyone wanting to understand the role that country music plays today in rock and roll. Parsons was the key figure in the formation of country rock and one of the key figures in alt-country. But beyond that, he is regardless of genre a truly great singer and frequently superb songwriter. So, while you might have to cut this film some slack, you will find much in it to enjoy.
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Gram Parsons: Fallen Angel by Gandulf Hennig (DVD - 2006)
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