×

Film Review: ‘The Wrecking Crew’

The unsung heroes who played on stacks of wax during the '60s pop era are celebrated in a hugely entertaining documentary.

With:
Lou Adler, Herb Alpert, Glen Campbell, Cher, Dick Clark, Mickey Dolenz, Carol Kaye, Leon Russell, Nancy Sinatra, Tommy Tedesco, Peter Tork, Brian Wilson, Frank Zappa.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1185418/

Seven years after its premiere gigs at the 2008 SXSW and Nashville film festivals (when it was originally reviewed by Variety), “The Wrecking Crew” finally has a fair chance to chart on theatrical and VOD turntables. Slightly expanded with a handful of new interviews, not unlike an extra-added-tracks CD edition of a classic LP, this nostalgia-drenched rockumentary remains a hugely entertaining treasure trove of witness-at-creation anecdotes and enduringly potent ’60s pop hits.

Stuffed with samplings of golden oldies, the movie is a well-nigh irresistible treat for auds old enough to recall the era when acts like the Beach Boys, Sonny and Cher, the Association, Nancy Sinatra and the Monkees loomed large on AM radio-station playlists. But even younger folks more attuned to streaming their favorite music may be fascinated by director Denny Tedesco’s examination and celebration of the title subjects, a loose-knit group of largely unknown (except by industry insiders) session musicians, many of whom supplied the defining licks and backbeats — and, in some cases, actually played instruments for band members — on legendary recordings.

Tedesco began work on the project shortly before the 1997 death of his father, Tommy Tedesco, one of two dozen or so exceptionally versatile session musicians known collectively during their mid-century heyday as the Wrecking Crew. Most of these unsung heroes of the ‘60s L.A. music scene had jazz or classical backgrounds before they started playing for rock, pop and R&B artists. (A few, the movie pointedly notes, made the transition only with extreme reluctance.) And all of them, judging from the testimonies of the elder Tedesco and other interviewees, had the time of their lives while enjoying steady employment and, occasionally, making musical history.

“They were the ones with all the spirit and all the know-how,” recalls an admiring Brian Wilson, who admits using Wrecking Crew members instead of fellow Beach Boys on “Good Vibrations” and other key recordings. Phil Spector used them to create his much-vaunted “Wall of Sound,” and Herb Albert employed what he calls the “established groove machine” to establish the trademark sound of his Tijuana Brass. And a few instrumental hits (including the chart-topping “Surfer’s Stomp”) credited to acts who were pictured on album covers — and eventually sent out to perform on tour — actually were recorded by uncredited Wrecking Crew artists.

Bassist Carol Kaye, the only female in the group, emerges as the most entertaining of the Wrecking Crew vets in terms of animated storytelling, whether she’s remembering her initial reaction to Sonny and Cher’s “The Beat Goes On” — “Oh-oh! We need to pull a rabbit out of a hat on this one!” — or proudly reporting that, when she was at the top of her game, she made more money than the U.S. president. (Please: Someone get this lady her own biopic, ASAP.)

On the other hand: Former Monkee Peter Tork still sounds slightly miffed as he recalls being more or less shuttled aside by the Wrecking Crew pros during the recording of early Monkee albums — because, as even Tork admits, he and his three “bandmates” did not yet know how to play their instruments. Wilson says he didn’t encounter quite so much resentment when he used the Wrecking Crew for recording much of “Pet Sounds” and “Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!)” The other Beach Boys conceded, albeit grudgingly, that Wilson was right: The Wrecking Crew sounded better than they did.

Tork and Leon Russell are two of the new interviewees who have been added to the mix during the lengthy stretch since “The Wrecking Crew” first screened at SXSW and Nashville. The documentary’s release date reportedly was delayed while Denny Tedesco and his producers conducted negotiations, and raised additional funds, to nail down music rights. Not surprisingly, the passage of time has added an element of poignancy to the colorful recollections of Tommy Tedesco and other Wreckers who are now deceased — and to stories spun by the late Dick Clark, who was interviewed before his debilitating stroke.

It is especially affecting to hear and see clips of an interview with Glen Campbell, a Wrecking Crew regular who played for everyone from Frank Sinatra to the Mamas and Papas, and eventually toured with the Beach Boys — as a temporary replacement for Wilson! — before his solo stardom. The Rhinestone Cowboy sounds hale and hearty during most of his time on screen. But there is a fleeting moment when he pauses, visibly strains to recall a detail, and then casually admits, “I forget what it was.” And that moment is all it takes to remind a viewer that the Campbell of today is a man tragically incapacitated by Alzheimer’s disease. There are more than a few similarly melancholy moments throughout “The Wrecking Crew,” moments that emphasize that the past so joyfully celebrated here is — well, past. But the beat goes on.

Archival footage, still photos and interviews shot in various formats over several years are neatly assembled in a technically polished package.

Film Review: 'The Wrecking Crew'

Reviewed on DVD, Houston, March 10, 2015. Running time: 102 MIN.

Production: (Documentary) A Magnolia Pictures release of a Lunch Box Entertainment production. Produced by Denny Tedesco, Suzie Greene Tedesco, Claire Scanlon, Jon Leonudakis, Mitchell Linden, Damon Tedesco, Chris Hope. Executive producers, Herb Alpert, Jerry Moss, Cliff Burnstein, Dennis Joyce.

Crew: Directed by Denny Tedesco. Camera (color/B&W), Rodney Taylor, Trish Govoni; editor, Claire Scanlon; music supervisors, Micki Stern, Suzanne Coffman, Julie Houlihan; sound, Bob Bronow; associate producers, Michelle Sullivan, Randy Kirk.

With: Lou Adler, Herb Alpert, Glen Campbell, Cher, Dick Clark, Mickey Dolenz, Carol Kaye, Leon Russell, Nancy Sinatra, Tommy Tedesco, Peter Tork, Brian Wilson, Frank Zappa.

More Film

  • For Lineup Story

    Billie Piper's Directorial Debut, 'Rare Beasts,' to Bow in Venice Critics' Week

    “Rare Beasts,” the directorial debut of British stage and screen actress Billie Piper (“Doctor Who,” “Penny Dreadful,” “Collateral”) is set to premiere at the Venice Film Festival’s Critics’ Week, which has unveiled its lineup of nine first works, four of them from female filmmakers. Produced by Vaughan Sivell of Western Edge Pictures in association with [...]

  • 'Mientras dure la guerra' -Rodaje Modmedia-

    Alejandro Amenabar, Ricardo Darin, Paco Cabezas Bound for San Sebastian

    MADRID  –  Alejandro Amenábar, Ricardo Darín and Paco Cabezas, director of episodes from “Peaky Blinders” and “American Gods,” look set to join Penelope Cruz, already confirmed as a Donostia Award winner, at this year’s 67th San Sebastian Intl. Film Festival. The biggest movie event in the Spanish-speaking world, this year’s San Sebastian runs Sept.20-28. Amenábar’s [...]

  • Pinewood Studios James Bond

    Netflix's Shepperton Studios Deal Is Stretching the U.K.'s Production Limits

    Netflix’s huge new hub at Shepperton Studios outside London is a further fillip for Britain’s booming production sector. Amid jitters over Brexit and its effects on the economy, the streaming giant’s commitment is a vote of confidence in the U.K. entertainment industry and a continuing source of local jobs. But the decision by Netflix to [...]

  • Bottom of the 9th

    Film Review: ‘Bottom of the 9th’

    Nearly two decades after scoring an audience award at Sundance for “Two Family House,” a smartly understated yet deeply affecting indie about a Staten Island factory worker who deeply regrets stifling his showbiz ambitions, director Raymond De Felitta steps back up to the plate with “Bottom of the 9th,” another dramatically solid and emotionally satisfying [...]

  • Endemol Shine Builds ‘The Bridge’ in

    Endemol Shine Builds ‘The Bridge’ in Africa (EXCLUSIVE)

    DURBAN–Endemol Shine Group has sold the rights to adapt its critically acclaimed and highly popular Nordic Noir detective series “The Bridge” to Cape Town-based production company Both Worlds Pictures, Variety has learned exclusively. The series will feature an all-African cast and will be set around the Beit Bridge border crossing between South Africa and Zimbabwe. Originally known [...]

  • Durban Film Fest 2019

    Durban Fest Hails Film as ‘Conscience of Our Nation’

    DURBAN–When Ros and Teddy Sarkin raised the curtain on the first Durban Intl. Film Festival 40 years ago, the odds were long that their scrappy fest would survive its inaugural edition. The apartheid government and its draconian censorship board had a stranglehold on the films that reached South African theaters, banning the sorts of subversive [...]

  • Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell

    Film Review: 'Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell'

    “Streetwise,”  the classic and haunting 1984 documentary about homeless street kids in Seattle, is a movie that’s now 35 years old. But for anyone who has seen it, the children it’s about — drifters, hustlers, squatters, thieves, prostitutes — remain frozen in time. And none of them was ever more memorable than Tiny, the 14-year-old [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content