Tuesday, 10 May 2016

ALL THINGS MUST PASS review


Charting the rise and fall of Tower Records, Colin Hanks' All Things Must Pass is out now on DVD.

Colin Hanks' nostalgic documentary starts with the cold, hard facts. "In 1999 Tower Records had sales of over one billion dollars. Five years later, they filed for bankruptcy." In his new lively documentary Hanks seeks to find out what caused their downfall, from the public's changing shopping patterns and the digital revolution, to managerial foolhardiness.

All Things Must Pass is nostalgic of a certain era, when shopping for music was a tangible experience, the vast spaces of Tower Records being a place where people would go to discover new music and meet like-minded people. This doc reveals that Tower prided themselves on hiring people in the know, leading to a ragtag bunch of misfits running the shop floors before ascending into senior management positions.

Owner Russ Solomon carried a reputation as a laid back, "California style" businessman who would forcibly remove the tie of any fellow businessman who entered his office to add to his never ending collage. He clearly believed that his business should be run in a certain way, and that others should follow suit, so to speak. Starting out as a genuine mom and pop operation in his fathers drug store, Russ Solomon quickly expanded his San Francisco business into multiple locations on the west coast, taking numerous risks but lucking out by appealing to the expanding youth centric market at the right time in history. San Francisco was a hippie hotspot at the time, and the non-conformist approach of Russ Solomon helped build a reputation for Tower as a fun place to shop and work.

The trailer mentions a number of famous contributors including Chris Cornell and Chuck D (who did not make the final cut) and Dave Grohl, Elton John and Bruce Springsteen (who DID make the final cut) but are wisely kept to brief appearances. The notoriously extravagant Elton John claims that no one spent as much as him in Tower Records, and judging from the snapshots taken during one of his spending sprees, it may well be true; but despite it being an interesting addition to include the reminiscences of these famous musicians, it isn't their story.

The majority of talking heads come from the surviving burnouts who went on to hold fairly impressive head office positions. Their recollections are fascinating to hear, from the rampant sexism to endless drinking sessions that would see one junior team member chosen as the man to head up the company's expansion into Japan.

Although the company was able to expand between 1960-2000, as the story moves into the CD era and the increasing obsolescence of the retail stores, it reminds of Boogie Nights and the rise of video cassettes, but with less sex and drugs and more rock and roll. Eventually the combination of the Napster era and an inability to adapt proved ultimately fatal to the business, and All Things Must Pass doesn't skip over the hard decisions and layoffs the staff knew were coming when they were invited "out to lunch".

Hanks is clearly somewhat in awe of these men and women who found their dream job and stuck with it as long as possible, and it's hard not to agree that it looks like it was a great place to work. As anyone who has worked in a chain store will attest, there's a buzz to be gained and horror stories to tell, and this tale of rock and roll and the downfall of the American business dream is one that bears many similarities to the fate of a number of once ubiquitous stores that helped shape popular culture as we know it.

As a first feature All Things Must Pass makes for an impressively well crafted calling card for Hanks, who has made a film that music fans and vinyl junkies will love. It has an infectious and joyous vibe, and any survivors of a retail chain will find a lot of familiarity and a lot to enjoy.

Verdict
4/5

Deleted scenes include a more in depth look at the unique painted signage that advertised their latest releases, and recollections of how the lax approach to management lead to some back office debauchery.

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