Members of the ’27 club’ range from Jimi Hendrix, to Kurt Cobain, to Amy Winehouse. Rare and unseen footage takes a look at these artists, while providing insight from musicians and medical professionals.
The hour-long film begins with a series of interviews explaining the phenomena. ‘If you haven’t made it by the time you’re 27 you haven’t made it’, one controversial statement states. Quickly, the subject turns to drugs and mental strength, with younger interviewees being brought in. This long intro, alternating between the ideas of musicians and medical professionals gets across one unified message- that these early deaths are essentially avoidable.
As the documentary begins, we expect the subtle background music to fade out, and maybe a voiceover to take the centre stage. But instead we get another sequence of interviews edited together with a new track heard in the background, and then as that fades out- another… and another. While the discussion of drugs in the music industry is very interesting and genuinely informative, especially when being presented from so many different angles, it just sort of sounds like another intro. Having said that, in the rare moment when the music does die down and the words of the experienced and knowledgeable is not only interesting and informative, but personal. We hear experiences direct from the source, from younger artists who have experienced drugs in the modern era, such as Chilli Jesson (lead singer of Parma Violets) but also from the perspective of seasoned musicians such as Gary Numan and Tom Robinson.
As the film continues, we hear the stories of many of the ’27 club’. Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones and his drug related drowning, Jimi Hendrix and his tragic experimentation with sleeping pills (which includes a bizarre, explosive impression of Hendrix playing with his teeth) and Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison’s heroin overdoses. We are treated to excellent footage of performances (if they only last a few seconds at a time) which includes Hendrix’s Woodstock performance put into context. We are even provided with interestingly presented potential psychological basis behind these tragic events.
After a long period of silence in the 27 club, we reach Kurt Cobain. Of the probably thousands of documentaries made on the subject, only a tiny portion are given the access to key figures like Dave Grohl and Courtney Love, and as budget and personal circumstances dictate, this is one of the many unlucky ones. But, as nice as it would of course be to get this insight, it is quite nice to get unique viewpoints from outsiders, who can look on the tragic events without personal connection. This ranges from discussion of Courtney herself to harmonic analysis of Kurt’s phenomenal songwriting. Finally, we reach Amy Winehouse and the emotions of her unexpected, yet of course expected, 2011 death are brought right back up. Her demise is illustrated excellently alongside her tremendous talent, and the harsh reality sinks in as the news stories that everyone still remembers so vividly are brought together at the end of her story.
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Throughout the film, the content never becomes uninteresting. Rather than the approach of many documentaries, which would tend to pick a side and discuss the subject matter from that point of view, we hear a collection of point of views- from those who understand what is being discussed; to those who saw it happen; to those who experienced it themselves. Unfortunately, the editing style never really captures me on the level the content does. It feels quite pieced together, with the lack of voiceover taking away a certain level of cohesion and the almost continuous background music makes most of the film sound like an introduction. Having said that, aspects such as the black, obituary style panels that appear after the discussion of each artist showing their dates of death and the harrowing repetition of (age 27) is very effective.
Overall, this is certainly key viewing for anyone even remotely interested in music, and, presented in a dramatic white DVD case that looks more like it’ll be a dark thriller than a documentary, will make a fine addition to any collection.
’27 Gone Too Soon’ is out now.