on January 24, 2009
Released in 1976, The Song Remains The Same is footage taken on three nights in Led Zeppelin's 1973 concert at New York's Madison Square Gardens. The band performs "Rock and Roll," "Black Dog," "Since I've Been Loving You," "No Quarter," "The Song Remains The Same," "The Rain Song," "Dazed and Confused," "Stairway to Heaven," "Moby Dick," "Heartbreaker," and "Whole Lotta Love." The film is structured such that it starts off with a fantasy sequences and then shots of the band at home with their families before the tour starts, then there's documentary footage of the band arriving in New York and driving into Manhattan, before the concert begins. The onstage shots are largely of Robert Plant, with some of Jimmy Page, less of John Bonham, and really only one or two of John Paul Jones (who literally wears a heart on his sleeve). Robert Plant is dressed in jeans, shirtless under a dainty vest, John Paul Jones is also pretty in some sort of Victorian garb, Jimmy Page is an alien in a star suit, and John Bonham a lad in white pants and a t-shirt. The onstage footage is okay, but there's probably too much camera attention given to Robert Plant, rock 'n' roll's great Adonis, not nearly enough to Jimmy Page, rock 'n' roll's great Anubis. For some of Page's solos the camera is elsewhere (such as on John Paul Jones during the amazing "Since I've Been Loving You" solo, or on all the other members of the band when the crunchy riff of "Dazed and Confused" kicks in at the beginning of the song), or even when the camera is on Page during a solo the focus is too high and you can't see what he's doing with his hands, very frustrating. During other solos the director cuts to a fantasy sequence or shows documentary footage. Sometimes this works well, such as during the wanky 20-minute "Dazed and Confused" solo, but I'd liked to have watched the "No Quarter" solo.
The fantasy sequence that start the movie is probably the best one, showing John Bonham, manager Peter Grant and tour manager Richard Cole dressed up as gangster hitmen driving an old-timer from one country estate to another, which they proceed to shoot up with machine guns. Whoever their enemies are (one of them, apparently, is Roy Harper) is never explained, the episode is quite surreal. Then it goes to the present day, Peter Grant is on a phone, a message is dispatched, a messenger delivers a letter to Robert Plant on his farm in Bron-Yr-Aur where he's watching his kids playing, the five-year-old Carmen Jane and the two-year-old Karac (who would, tragically, die of a viral infection four years after), John Bonham is plowing the fields with a tractor, John Paul Jones is reading "Jack and the Beanstock" to his daughters Jacinda, Tamara and Kierra, Peter Grant is driving an old-timer with a woman, Richard Cole is driving another old-timer to a pub, and Jimmy Page is playing a hurdy gurdy by the lake (he turns around, his shades glow orange and the world goes psychedelic). John Paul Jones gets the only lines of any of the intro or fantasy sequences, when he reads the letter: "Tour dates!" (goofy grin). "This is Tomorrow!" (look of dismay). Cue Led Zeppelin's jet The Starship landed in New York, limousines, police escort, the pastoral "Bron-Yr-Aur" plays as the limos approach Madison Square Gardens. Doves fly through the air. We are in a dark, crowded space, the band seems to be onstage, we hear the massive drum intro to "Rock 'n' Roll," then the lights come on and it's Led Zeppelin!!!!
But you do see some Jimmy Page, there is even a nice shot that highlights drops of sweat that have fallen on his Les Paul. In many of the shots of Robert Plant, his crotch is in clear view and the shape of his genitals is quite clearly outlined through his tight jeans. Great crowd shots, including scenes of girls in rapt attention, plenty of stoners, even black guys dressed like pimps. Cool theremin bits, including one blast in "No Quarter," and plenty more in "Whole Lotta Love." Too many non-band members in view in some of the shots, so it's not very intimate. Bonzo working the drum, grimacing and gnashing his teeth, flicking his tongue. Snatches of "San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)" sung during "Dazed and Confused," also the violin bow, and a slight bit of "Black Sabbath" at one moment. There's a cool guitar jam at the end of "Dazed and Confused" that could probably even be considered a song of its own. The camera work, while it was generally quite weak throughout, does some interesting things at times, such as going around 360 degrees as some points, and at one point in "Stairway to Heaven" there is a cool split-screen mirror doubling thing, like Prince did in "When Doves Cry," highlighting Jimmy Page playing guitar (and another of Robert Plant quadrupled. Of course, in other parts you get the sense that shots from other parts of the night have been stitched edited together, and there is occasionally the feeling that what we're watching is authentic - apparently some gaps in footage were filled by having the band re-shoot on a recreated stage in 1974, aping their movements of that night in New York. But the band is tight, and it is amazing how, after a 20 minute digression in the solo of "Dazed and Confused," the band gets right back into the song without stumbling in the slightest.
There are also subtly amusing bits, like when Robert Plant flashes the two-finger salute with one hand and the V for Victory with the other during the "you know sometimes words have two meanings" lyric. Of course, there's also the famous "Moby Dick" drum solo where everyone goes off, that show Bonzo throwing away the sticks and using his hands to drum, splicing elegantly at one point to a clip of Jason Bonham on the drums - he must have been five years old in the shot. Interesting in "Whole Lotta Love," you actually see Jimmy Page for the first time stepping up to the mic to perform some sort of backup vocals in the chorus, although you don't really hear him. Why that song and no other? Nice shot of Jimmy playing the theremin in "Whole Lotta Love," then Robert in Jimmy's underarm. Cool shot of Orange amp head at 1:58:23. Robert ad-libs a lyric "some are lined with gold - Acapulco Gold." They finish the set and Bonzo attacks a gong with a flaming mallet, and the gong frame lights up. The band walks offstage, the house lights come on, and the band gets into their limo and moves on. The band are seen at the airport getting into the Starship, and that's all there is.
Besides the opening fantasy scene, four others appear throughout the movie; the first one spliced into the concert is John Paul Jones', which comes during a long organ and guitar interval in "No Quarter," it shows him playing a huge church organ, then riding around in a mask with three other masked horsemen, before he returns home to a Victorian household and his beautiful wife and daughter (played by Jimmy Page's girlfriend at the time and their daughter). Robert's fantasy scene is during "The Song Remains The Same" and "The Rain Song," it shows him on a beach with a sword, riding around on a horse, galloping, eating a big red toadstool he found in the forest, the sword burning on the beach at night, a castle where he uses his falcon to attack people in the castle, then he goes up and has a sword fight, rescuing a damsel in distress. Great long shot of him riding in the mountains, the camera pulls back to show the gigantic valley he's entering. Jimmy's fantasy scene is in "Dazed and Confused" and shows a mountain at night, a full moon, Jimmy climbing up the mountain (the way renowned occultist and mountaineer Alistair Crowley, his idol, did on so many treacherous passes), kind of an odd thought for such an un-athletic person. He reaches a ledge where a man is standing, it is The Hermit from the Tarot deck (and also seen on the band's fourth album). The Hermit lifts his head and regresses in age until you realise it's Jimmy Page, then a baby Jimmy, then a foetus in the womb, then a flash of lightning, then he ages again into The Hermit (later in Dazed and Confused" there's also a cool section where a shot of Jimmy freezes and the camera zooms up into his eye and cuts to a documentary scene). John Bonham's "fantasy" sequence in "Moby Dick" is more like shots of him hanging out with his family. He's got shorter hair than he did onstage in 1973, and is shown with some sort of a mullet, playing pool, hugging his wife.
Documentary clips that are interspersed show Robert and Peter talking, Peter Grant arguing about how they caught people selling bootleg material inside the venue - posters - and arguing with the venue manager about it, security cops and fans hanging around outside, a cop on horseback saying "no comment," guys getting let in without tickets, a guy getting chased and nabbed and taken into a toilet by security cops, another guy getting ejected, there is also some footage concerning the lost $200,000, for which there was a press conference at the time and some of the people involved were taken in for questioning.
The extras on the second disc are not bad, although there's nothing really remarkable there either. There's a news report from a Tampa TV, showing lots of long-hairs and parking lots full of 1970s gas guzzlers, channel that is probably the crappiest bit of news reporting that I've ever heard, talking about the biggest crowd ever assembled in "the history of the world!!" Yes, 50,000 people were there, and scraggly mustachioed John Jones reported on it. "I'm pleased to say that one of the group's four members has my same name, that's John Paul Jones," he cleverly points out. He repeats himself, "Now, I said this was the largest single performance crowd ever to attend any concert in the history of the world, and I meant it!" The host then jumps in and repeats John Jones' intro of the band: "Their names are Robert Plant, John Benham, Jimmy Page, and John Paul Jones. Robert, Jimmy, John and John; doesn't quite have the appeal of John, Paul, George and Ringo, but they certainly have the drawing power of the Beatles." Hey - who's "John Benham?" Sheesh. There's also some more footage of the robbery of $200,000, a small part of which was put in the film, as ell as the original film trailer. Then there's an 8-minute long interview with Robert Plant and manager Peter Green on a boat going down the Thames, not of much interest except when Robert hints at how they "rented the sharks," referring to the infamous shark incident with the groupie. There are four other tracks that weren't cut into the movie: "Over The Hills And Far Away," "Celebration Day," "Misty Mountain Hop," and "The Ocean." All of the performances are straight, meaning no cutting into documentary footage or fantasy sequences.