Love may be more often cited as an influence than it is actually listened to. That may be due to the legendary band’s self-destructive history — drug abuse, fights, refusals to tour, no shows — or because despite the fact that Forever Changes and Da Capo are classics, as are songs like “Seven and Seven Is” and “Alone Again (Or),” Love’s brand of psychedelic pop hasn’t aged as well as some of its contemporaries’ music. Still, Love intrigues, and this much is true: The brilliant, violent and erratic Arthur Lee should been a superstar of the Morrison/Hendrix level.
Love Story, this long-awaited tribute and chronicle of the band, was indeed made only after Lee’s release from prison, his most recent (and longest) stint. The film fills in some gaps in band history, airs grievances, and renews the tragic sense of what could have been, a sentiment that has shown up in tandem with any praise the band has received through the years. Told mostly by talking heads, with some vintage footage and contemporary drives by old haunts, Love Story is both revealing and coy.
Lee and the late Bryan MacLean, the other principle songwriter in the band and Lee’s main rival during Love’s glory days, are open about their rift, they are vague on the details of drug abuse, their refusal to tour outside of California, and business decisions that prevented the band from reaching a higher status. That conversation is taken up with gusto by the unsung hero of the film, former guitarist Johnny Echols, who even today exudes a mix of candor and hippy hope. Echols tells it like it was: how drugs ruined gigs and sessions; how Electra records did not support the band, instead focusing on the Doors (which Love had introduced to the label); how Lee’s fire and MacLean’s hippie ethos were too combustible a mix to last.
Echols ends the story at the end of the ’60s. The film does not dwell on Lee’s prison terms for drug offenses or the various incarnations of Love he put together whenever the bills needed to be paid. Clearly, the Love story from 1969 on is of basically a cover band for Lee.
The film, by first time directors Chris Hall and Mike Kerry, lacks any rare footage, with most of the clips of the band in action are taken from ’60s TV shows. Another downside is its dearth of discussion about Forever Changes, one of the great albums of all time: The album comes up during a tour of the house the band lived in during its recording, with Lee talking about how his vision was impossible to translate and a producer providing some technical tidbits. In failing to give some details of the songs and their construction, Lee again blows a chance to trumpet his genius with authority.
The reputations of Lee, who died in 2007, and Love have been boosted by this film, which was never given a theatrical release but has gotten acclaim at some festivals. But the band’s greatness will always be tempered by the waste of Lee’s immense talent. For its disappointments visually and in information, Love Story is important for its attempt to unwind the story of the band.
Production Company: http://www.startproductions.co.uk