1971 under microscope

If you were alive in 1971 you were just trying to peacefully exist and not thinking that social and musical norms were the harbinger of the future.

The documentary “1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything” wants to amaze, confound and introduce new footage to the viewer that suggests that year’s music scene was life changing.

While the filmmakers make a compelling case over eight episodes one can’t help but wonder if the same kind of societal upheavals aren’t predicate on the requisite amount of seen and unseen archival material mixed with a sense of nostalgia.

There’s little doubt that 1971 was some kind of banner year for music labels that have been able to market their backlog to this day: Exile on Main Street, Led Zepplin IV, Imagine, What’s Going On, Who’s Next, Hunky Dory and many others. A nice set of titles no matter who is collecting.

Yet the team of directors – Asif Kapadia, Danielle Peck, James Rogan – have made each segment come alive with thematic richness and obscure music clips.

It wasn’t just the untimely deaths of Jopin, Hendrix and Morrison (the latter the only rock star who actually died in 1971) but the ongoing struggle of people against the power.

The Vietnam War; protesting students at Kent State shot dead by the National Guard; an organized subversive break-in of FBI offices with damning files leaked to newspapers; The Oz obscenity trial in the UK; Germaine Greer’s “The Female Eunuch;” the Stanford Prison Experiments; Manson found guilty in January 1971.

Any historical treatment of a given year soon finds that it encompasses the years before and after. So it’s not surprising that we are provided a graphic glimpse of police photos of the murders at 10050 Cielo Drive editorially juxtaposed with James Brown’s first appearance on Italian television, or a then unknown David Bowie performing a mime for Warhol, or John and Yoko leading a public protest march for the Oz defendants.

I personally liked the way one episode chronicled Lennon in his last days in London before moving to New York City.

Any documentary that can find the common link between Kraftwerk and Bill Withers and Marc Bolan and what was literally the first reality television show “The American Family” deserves some kind of attention. This doc is like the kid that paid attention everyday at school.

Yes, we won’t get fooled again as many of the events on display are merely repeated by successive generations. Even with the tumultuous flow of facts and figures you still have time to sink into the music and partake the magic of, say, the last time Jim Morrison sang with the Doors or the first time Bowie performed “Changes” live.

 “1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything” premieres on Apple TV+ Friday, May 21.


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