IN THEATERS (SF) – “The Wrecking Crew”

index3The Wrecking Crew (1996/2008/2015; Dir.: Denny Tedesco)

GRADE: B

By Daniel Barnes

*Opens today at the Opera Plaza Cinema in San Francisco, the Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley, and the Chrisopher B. Smith Rafael Center in San Rafael.

In case you didn’t know, a loosely knit group of roughly two dozen Southern California session musicians dubbed The Wrecking Crew played on almost every pop song (and TV theme) you ever loved from the golden age of rock and roll. They were Phil Spector’s wall of sound, the Tijuana Brass, the backing band for The Mamas and the Papas and Elvis Presley, and they replaced entire bands on classic albums from The Beach Boys, The Association, and The Monkees, almost always without credit. The “members” included eventual frontmen Glen Campbell and Leon Russell, as well as workaholic session players like drummer Hal Blaine, guitarist Tommy Tedesco, and bassist/single mother Carole Kaye (if Kaye isn’t your hero by the end of this film, then God help you), and in their prime they turned out roughly an album a day. One of the great recurring gags in The Wrecking Crew, an engaging documentary from Tedesco’s son Danny, is watching vintage television footage of studio-promoted rock stars performing on stage without a backing band, while lip-synching to a track played by The Wrecking Crew. There is some grousing from the musicians about the “secret starmaker machinery” that forced their brilliance into the dark, and Tedesco doesn’t shy from the harsh realities of the session player’s life, but this isn’t an angry or bitter film by any means. The goal, almost to a fault, is to celebrate these musicians and the songs they created, which is where the torturous backstory of The Wrecking Crew comes into play. Tedesco started filming in 1996, premiered the movie at South by Southwest in 2008, and only recently received a crowd-sourced infusion of cash to pay for the myriad musical rights, finally allowing the film to become available for public consumption. Hearing that music, from Phil Spector to Pet Sounds to The Pink Panther , makes all the difference – The Wrecking Crew may not be deep, but it’s glorious.