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Fort Myers Film Festival to open with ‘Melody Makers’ rock doc


At the close of last night’s season-ending T.G.I.M., host Eric Raddatz announced that the opening night film for this year’s Fort Myers Film Festival will be the rock documentary Melody Makers directed by Leslie Ann Coles.

The documentary captures the birth of rock ’n’ roll journalism through the aperture of Melody Maker magazine. Originally established in 1926 as a weekly trade paper for jazz musicians, Melody Maker morphed in the mid-1960s into an internationally-recognized “must read” for rock and roll musicians and their fans. A forerunner to Rolling Stone magazine, Melody Maker played a pivotal role in helping shape the genre, rock ‘n’ roll bands and individual recording artists. In fact, it was such an influential pop culture phenomenon that musicians flocked to the publication’s Fleet Street office eager to be interviewed by the magazine’s journalists in much the same way that vaudeville actors were drawn to Menlo Park, New Jersey in hopes of being cast in one of Thomas Edison’s seminal Black Maria moving pictures.

The film’s centerpiece is Money Maker itself, and Leslie Ann Coles uses the images taken by the magazine’s chief contributing photographer to tell this part of the story. Barrie Wentzell held this position from 1965 to 1975, and his camera captured every notable artist who emerged during this time frame including The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, David Bowie, The Kinks, Marianne Faithfull, The Rolling Stones, Elton John and Yes, to name just a few.

But Coles fleshes out the stories chronicled by Wentzell’s photographs through a string of candid interviews with original Melody Maker staff members, managers, PR reps, and music legends ranging from Eric Burdon to Ian Anderson, Steve Howe, Chris Squire, Steve Nardelli, Roger Dean, Sonja Kristina and other notable musicians who provide new insight into the magazine’s cultural significance. It took Coles several years to complete the film and many of the interviews were recorded six to eight years ago (which is why the filmmaker was able to include the Squire interview in the final edit).

In the process of focusing on the magazine during its glory days, the documentary necessarily tells the tale of the music of this period. The narrative here is refreshingly genuine and disarming. Because Wentzell and the Money Maker journalists were motivated by a common passion for the music, they routinely ignored the musicians’ personal idiosyncrasies and the salacious details of their bad behavior while on tour. As a result, they not only enjoyed nearly unlimited access to the artists they covered, but wide latitude regarding the accounts they presented on the magazine’s pages. It’s a style of music journalism that, for good or naught, no longer exists today in this day and age of tightly-controlled marketing and publicity and direct contact with fans through Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and other social media accounts.

As you’d expect, the film contains a cornucopia of fascinating anecdotes about the top musicians of the day and the Melody Maker reporters who covered and, in many cases, made them into the superstars of then and now. The soundtrack further amps up the nostalgia, with heavy doses of “Close to the Edge” and Ian Anderson that is sure to please and excite Yes fans.

Of course, all good things eventually come to an end, and the axiom applies to Money Maker as well. The magazine came to something of an ignominious conclusion in the ‘80s, with much remorse and regret over the direction that the music industry began to take starting around that time. But the ending provides meaningful contrast to the journalistic climate that prevailed in rock’s innocent early days, putting an exclamation point on the thrust of the film.

Money Makers will appeal to anyone who possesses even a passing interest in rock music and the journalists who helped make the bands and music of a bygone era. Those who relish insider stories will be completely overtaken with delirium and may find it difficult to wait until the Film Festival’s opening on March 21 at the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall. And, to be sure, there’s always the possibility that the filmmakers and even a couple of the film’s stars might show up for the opening.

The 8th Annual Fort Myers Film Festival takes place at multiple venues throughout Fort Myers March 21-25, 2018.

Get your tickets now. The cost is just $10 for the film and only $49 for VIP tickets, which include the pre-screening and after parties.

February 6, 2018.



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