Phil Lynott: Songs for While I’m Away


Phil Lynott (foreground) and Brian Robertson of Thin Lizzy get down to it.

(2021) Music Documentary (Eagle Rock) Phil Lynott, Gale Claydon, Scott Gorham, Eric Bell, Adam Clayton, Huey Lewis, James Hetfield, Suzi Quatro, Midge Ure, Peter Lynott, Carl Shaaban, Niall Stokes, Caroline Taraskevics, Sarah Lynott, Jerome Rimson, Darren Wharton, Brush Shiels, Philomena Lynott, John Kelly, Hugh Feighery, Gus Curtis, Cathleen Howard-Lynott, Diane Wagg, Rebecca Hickey. Directed by Emer Reynolds

 

As a crusty old rock critic who grew up in the 70s and listened to classic rock throughout high school. I am more than familiar with Thin Lizzy and their captivating frontman Phil Lynott. Most Americans who are younger than I probably only know their seminal Jailbreak album and their iconic hit “The Boys are Back in Town.”

But Lizzy was more than that album and more than that song, and for us Yanks who are less familiar with their output than we should be, this film is a very good way to get introduced to the band and the man. Lynott was a mixed race young man born in England’s Midlands to a single mom (an absolute scandal in the Fifties) who saw the wisdom of shipping him off to Dublin to be raised by his maternal grandparents (although he remained close to his mum Philomena throughout his life). He put new meaning to the term “Black Irish,” as he was something of a rarity back in those days and while he did encounter racism growing up, that seemed to be less of a thing once he emerged as a rock star, although black men weren’t a big part of classic rock with the exception of Jimi Hendrix and a few others. But Lynott wasn’t one to care about expectations.

He merged Irish legends with American idioms, blending street rats and mythic warriors into a seamless but completely unique mixture. Lizzy also utilized twin lead guitarists, making for a graceful but thunderous sound that recalled the power of bands like the Allman Brothers but with a distinctly Celtic flair. Lynott played bass which he learned in order to start his own band, and became quite good at it; he was certainly a charismatic frontman who although generally shy offstage, wasn’t above utilizing a little Irish charm at concerts “I hear a lot of ladies here have a little Irish in them.” Loud roar. “Would you like a little more?” Louder roar.

For the most part, this is a typical rock doc that thoroughly dives into the music of Lizzy albeit with a minimum of analysis; there are an awful lot of talking heads, most of whom are effusive in their praise of Lynott as a nice guy and a devoted family man. Both of his daughters appear here, as well as his ex-wife (they divorced a few years before Lynott passed away) and a former girlfriend. So do bandmates Eric Ball (the original guitarist), Midge Ure (who briefly replaced Gary Moore as second guitarist before leaving to front his own band, Ultravox) and Californian Scott Gorham who is entertaining in his own right, but when discussing his friend’s passing gets uncharacteristically reflective.

We also hear from journalists and fellow rockers like U2’s Adam Clayton, Metallica’s James Hetfield, Huey Lewis and Suzi Quatro, as well as those who knew him in Dublin like his Uncle Peter Lynott and friend Gus Curtis. We do get a sense of who he was; his intense Irish pride (he often corrected journalists who got his heritage wrong, or details about Ireland wrong), his devotion to his daughters (he wrote each of them a song dedicated to them), and his fascination with things American (he grew up on American television, and was eager to break through in the American market, but had the worst luck with it – the tour for Jailbreak had to be cut short because of illness, which would be a critical opportunity lost).

There are a few oddities though; often throughout the film Reynolds uses water as a metaphor to an almost head-clubbing point. While mentioning that Lynott had drug “problems,” she doesn’t bring up that he was actually addicted to heroin, which led to the septicemia that would claim his life at age 36 in 1986. But let’s face it; the band is almost criminally underrepresented on American radio, other than three or four songs mostly off of a single album. They actually released 12 albums that contained a mixture of balls-out rockers and introspective power ballads. Lynott was one of the best songwriters in classic rock and much of his music remains undiscovered by American audiences. However, a viewing of this movie is likely to motivate people to explore his other albums. While devoted fans of the group and of Lynott may find nothing here that is new, casual fans will definitely get their money’s worth.

REASONS TO SEE: Extremely informative packed with some terrific music.
REASONS TO AVOID: Gets a little too cutesy with cutaway shots.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity, sexual references and drug references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: A life-size statue of Lynott was erected on Harry Street near Grafton Street in Dublin in 2005. Many electrical junction boxes in Dublin have been painted with Lynott’s likeness.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Google Play, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/30/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Amy
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
An Intrusion

Back in Time


Marty McFly can't understand what all the fuss is about.

Marty McFly can’t understand what all the fuss is about.

(2015) Documentary (Gravitas) Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, Claudia Wells, Bob Gale, Don Fullilove, James Tolkan, Huey Lewis, Alan Silvestri, Andrew Probert, Dean Cundey, Dan Harmon, Adam F. Goldberg, Bill Shea, Frank Price, Rob Klein, Ed Dennis, Tyler McDonald, Martin Sanchez, Adam Kotras, Joe Wolser, Jill Henderson. Directed by Jason Aron

When it opened in 1985, Back to the Future was an immediate sensation and a runaway hit. Some have proclaimed it the perfect movie; nearly everyone in the industry praises the script as one of the best ever written, making a time travel story work (much harder than you’d think) but supplying it with memorable characters, plenty of thrills, great eye candy (for its time) and thought-provoking situations. After all – if you traveled back in time when you were high school age and met your parents while they were in high school, would you have hung out with them?

That’s at the heart of what Back to the Future is. Thirty years after the original, we have finally surpassed the date that Marty McFly came to the future – from this point forward the entire trilogy takes place in our past.

In many ways a cultural touchstone, we mostly all grew up or have been fascinated by as adults with the concepts of hoverboards, self-lacing Nikes, jackets that blow-dry themselves, lawyers being abolished and of course flying cars. This was a bright future – not necessarily pristine as there were bad neighborhoods, drug abuse, poverty, crime and Griff who was a little bit of everything with a bionic twist.

Now we’ve reached that era and while it isn’t exactly the future that Zemeckis and Gale envisioned, they did get a few things right – including 80s nostalgia, thousands of cable channels and Mr. Fusion. Just kidding about the last one.

This documentary looks not only at the movies and in particularly the sequence set in 2015, but also at the BTTF fandom, including the Flux Capacitors rock band (who will be playing in a road show along with screenings of the movie in select cities starting next month) and Delorean enthusiasts who have had their cars customized to look like the time machine. Some of these are even street legal.

While I have to admit that the interviews with Michael J. Fox were a little bit hard to watch – yes, all the cast members are 30 years older but Fox’s Parkinson’s reminds us that he has been through a lot more than most of us have been through over that same time – it is clear that everyone involved with the movie has fond memories not only of the shoot but of the public’s reaction to it and the continued enthusiasms displayed by the fans.

Some folks might not realize that when the movie first started shooting, Fox wasn’t available because of his Family Ties commitments; actor Eric Stoltz was cast as Marty instead. However, six weeks into shooting it became clear that Stoltz, who is a very fine actor, just wasn’t right for the part. They managed to then get Fox, who would film his television show on weekdays and on weeknights and weekends would do the movie. It was exhausting but was clearly worth the effort because we, the viewing public, not only got a classic TV show from the deal but also a classic movie trilogy.

I have to admit that I appreciated the fan stories much more than the professional talking head interviews, much of the material for which has been covered in interviews on DVD and Blu-Ray editions that are easily available, much of it on the new 30th anniversary Blu-Ray collection. In some ways, this documentary is a bit of a disappointment; the editing appears a little haphazard, the flow of the film is a little choppy and as I said, the reliance on talking heads is too much.

Still, the movie is so good, so iconic, so central to Western culture that it is hard to watch this movie and not feel the warm fuzzies inside. We all connect to the trilogy whether we saw it as children or as adults. Even if the insights here aren’t especially new or revealing, it is still fun to revisit the movies as well as the fans who have been so devoted to them. Zemeckis has said that there will be no Back to the Future 4 (although I’m a big believer in “never say never”) so we will have to make do with this and what transpires in comic books and videogames that are inspired by the film. With the recent milestone in our review, it is a very good time to go back in time.

REASONS TO GO: Clearly a labor of love. Fan stories are quite interesting. The background of Zemeckis’ previous films gives good context.
REASONS TO STAY: Talking head overload. A bit disjointed. Doesn’t feel fully formed.
FAMILY VALUES: Some references to the sexuality of the trilogy.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The original Back to the Future had its initial surprise premiere at the Century 21 theater in San Jose, California.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/25/15: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Netflix, Vimeo, Amazon, iTunes
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Trekkers
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Six Days of Darkness commences!