40 Years in the Making: The Magic Music Movie
2018, NR, 99 min. Directed by Lee Aronsohn.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Aug. 24, 2018
At a certain age, you catch yourself looking more and more frequently in the rearview mirror, trying to crystallize precious memories of a passing life before they completely recede from sight. In this good-hearted documentary, successful television writer/producer Aronsohn (The Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men, Cybill) sets out in 2015 to re-create a treasured memory by orchestrating a one-night only reunion of a beloved local band from his college days at CU-Boulder during the early Seventies, the unironically named “Magic Music.” The ensemble’s airy sound was one of the times, a blend of tight harmonies inspired by CSN&Y and the fluty whimsy of Jethro Tull, sweetly executed by a handful of long-haired Rocky Mountain hippies. Because the acoustic soft rock group never cut a record, fervent fans like Aronsohn had not heard Magic Music for over four decades, except for the sketchy playback in their fading memories. (Interestingly, the movie’s soundtrack includes some never-before-released recordings from the group’s heyday, presumably discovered in the course of making this movie.) In the grand scheme of things, the musical reunion of a bunch of old guys with middle-aged paunches and retreating hairlines won’t mean much to most of us, but for the filmmaker and his subjects, it’s clearly a big deal.
The first chunk of the movie is a somewhat laborious chronology of the band’s history, recounting the group’s revolving-door membership and its flirtations with near-fame. Not surprisingly, Magic Music fell victim to a litany of predictable woes that were ultimately its undoing: personality conflicts, petty jealousies, artistic differences, growing families, and the old standbys of drugs and alcohol. Some of the stories about the band’s career pitfalls are comically absurd. In one recollection, a Capitol Records executive in Los Angeles refused to meet the boys, who had traveled all the way from Colorado, because one of them sat barefoot out in the waiting room; in another, an audition gig at a Manhattan club for another record company was self-sabotaged by an overindulgence in hashish the night before.
After following up on the musicians’ lives after the inevitable breakup, the film reaches its raison d’être, a sold-out concert in Boulder featuring six out of eight original members (the absentees included a guitarist who died a few years earlier, and another guitarist who politely refused to participate due to some lingering bad blood). It’s all hugs and smiles and bygones being bygones for the reunited musicians, who give it their best for an adoring audience who still know the words to the songs after all these years. In many respects, 40 Years in the Making is a cliquey undertaking that leaves you mostly on the outside looking in, but after witnessing the joy of its participants at the end, there’s little to begrudge.