Freebird...The Movie

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This music-filled compilation of interviews and live performances offers an overview of rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd.


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  • Jun 22, 2013
    "Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, and this bird you cannot change, and this bird you cannot change, Lord knows I can't change, Lord help me, I can't change, Lord, I can't change!" Ironic how he kept saying that, then he died, and now they have someone else of the Van Zant family singing for Lynyrd Skynyrd, so apparently they had no trouble changing out birds. Seriously though, I'm not crazy about this film's title, not just because it's just too obvious, but because the way it's structured makes you think that this documentary is not so much about Lynyrd Skynyrd as much as it's just about the song "Freebird", unless, of course, you look at the runtime, because there would be no time to work in interview footage and whatnot if they were going to play the song, seeing as how it, alone, runs about the 100 minutes or so that this film runs. Eh, well, at least this film isn't called something like "Sweet Home Alabama", because, seeing as how I actually live in Alabama, you can only imagine how often I've had to hear that song, which isn't even all that great in the first place. Okay, maybe I shouldn't be complaining about too many requests for Lynyrd Skynyrd songs, because there was, in fact, one point where I shouted out a request for "Freebird", but hey, it was to a mariachi band, and I just couldn't pass up the opportunity, yet the fact of the matter is that the amount of playtime of "Sweet Home Alabama" in these parts makes the amount of requests for a live performance of this film's title song seem about as abundant as the amount of requests to play something off of an album featuring Johnny Van Zant anywhere. Man, poor ol' Johnny is living in his brother's shadow, though that might just be because people want to keep thinking about the days when the original Lyny Skyny was alive and well, because when they started dying, boy, they were dropping like planes-I mean, flies, so theirs is a more depressing story than you might think. Hey, depressing or not, these boys' story sure makes for a decent documentary, though one that's not consistently engaging, and not just because it features songs that I've heard so often that I just kind of tune them out. Seeing as how about half of the film is concert footage, this effort sees no reason to pump any more liveliness than it needs to into its documentary segments, which would be fine and all if the film's slower spots didn't much too often get pretty carried away with cooling down the live music sections' momentum, for although there is enough intrigue to the documentary segments to keep you going, when things slow down to meditation, things start to bland up quickly, if not dull down. Things get kind of quiet and dry during the documentary segments, and that really retards momentum, no matter how much intrigue is summoned from the inspiration and informativeness behind the documentary storytelling, though that isn't to say that you should worry too much, as the much more lively concert material is every bit as, if not slightly more abundant than the documentary material. Of course, such a structure for this film, while arguably with more entertainment value than not, hardly works, featuring just a few minutes of documentary material, then jarring right into unabridged and uninterrupted live songs that stop momentum cold and create an immense sense of unevenness. Were the film more focused, with tighter live footage and much more attention to the documentary segments that should be the primary focus of this study upon Lynyrd Skynyrd's golden years, it could have worked, maybe even gone a long way as a compelling feature, yet the final product's struggle to be both an in-depth documentary and immersive concert experience is so awkward you can't even begin to believe it, diluting resonance, creating repetition and leaving your investment to slowly, but surely, drift. The film's structure is too inconsistent, and at the end of the day, as a documentary, it cannot afford to spend too much time on filler, for although this film is surprisingly more in-depth as a study on Skynyrd than I feared, at just over 100 minutes of juggling documentary material and way too much concert material, this film doesn't have the time to flesh out storytelling as much as it should, thus leaving it to suffer as the extensive documentary that it ostensibly wants to be... sometimes. There's enough engagement value, or at least entertainment value, to the final product for the task of sticking with it to be at all a pressing one, but I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't disappointed in this film, which is too slow, uneven and undercooked to compel all that thoroughly, meandering along as a repetitious, unfocused and overambitions documentary/concert film that gradually succumbs to underwhelmingness. Still, while the film is far from soaring like a free bird, it has enough going for it to keep you going with it as a flawed, but decent effort, both as a documentary and showcase of classic music. Like I said, through the years, as a proud southern man with a particular appreciation for music, I have been bombarded with Lynyrd Skynyrd's hits, of which there are many, with especially likable ones being actually kind of limited in quantity, so there has been some dilution to their classic kick for me, but never so much so that I can't consistently enjoy them, let alone find my appreciation for them reinforced by this strong showcase of the band's live skill during their golden years, because even though the limited amount of showmanship kick allows you to meditate upon the relatively blander spots in Skynyrd's songs, most every performance, powered by memorable lyrics, strong vocals by Ronnie Van Zant and instrumentality that ranges from quite decent to almost surprisingly excellent, entertains, to one degree or another, with organic, live-only expansions that add further color to the tunes. The control and comfort within the band's live performances are impressive, and make for plenty of decent tunes to liven things up and leave the final product to succeed just fine as a concert film, even if it does leave much to be desired as a documentary that wants to be and should be more than it ultimately is. As a documentary, this film stands to be have more depth, and yet, with that said, as much as I complain about the unevenness within this film's pacing, focus and informative depth, the obvious inspiration within this ambitious project allows depth to work its way into things enough for you to sense this story's meat, which is considerable, as the tale behind Lynyrd Skynyrd is a compelling and genuinely unique one about southern rock innovators, with depths to their skill and humanity that stand to be more fleshed out in this study, but go pronounced enough through all of the unevenness to earn some immediate degree of your investment. Certainly, such an investment goes strengthened by what is done right in the directorial efforts of Jeff G. Waxman, who makes plenty of questionable mistakes, and not just when it comes to storytelling, - as there are some technical hiccups (Oh man, the backdrop during the JoJo Billingsley interview is laughably fake) - yet boasts an undeniable degree of inspiration that graces the live performances with entertaining snap to structure, while gracing the documentary sections with just enough atmospheric kick, and cleverness with the handling of immersive archived footage, to keep you compelled through all of the slow spells. There are, in fact, moments of genuine resonance within this film, which gets to be too messy to sustain your investment all that firmly, but still has enough inspiration behind it to bring the heart of this subject matter to a fair degree of life, complete with an intimacy that is most powered by the interview material. Not much is especially entertaining about the interviews that drive the documentary segments of this documentary/concert film, but what is said by the band's peers and handful of surviving remnants gives you a very human insight into the focuses of this rockumentary as both inspired and talented musicians and very genuine, honest southern men, with pride and respectability that make them very worth of appreciation. If you walk away remembering something out of this documentary through all of the concert footage the tends to knock information out of your head, it's hard not to have more respect for this late, fine and innovative band, as this intimate documentary tells you much about their relatable core, while the concert material gives you more in-depth showcases of the band's skill as musicians, thus making for a decent tribute to Lynyrd Skynyrd that keeps you engaged more often than not, even though it should have given you more. Before I take my three step towards the door, I once again emphasize the slow spells, but most the unevenness that, alongside repetition and limitings in informativeness, goes spawned from the jars between concert footage and documentary material that make the final product an unfocused and underwhelming one, yet cannot overpower the enjoyment that goes spawned from strong live performances and intriguing information value, - brought to life by sometimes compelling inspiration within Jeff G. Waxman's direction and heartfelt interviews - and produces enough entertainment value to make "Freebird... the Movie" an enjoyable, if messy study upon the skill and lives of Lynyrd Skynyrd during their short-lived golden era. 2.5/5 - Fair
    Cameron J Super Reviewer

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