April 28, 2008

Atlantic Records: The House That Ahmet Built (2007)

It's a good documentary on the founder of Atlantic Records, one of the greatest independent music labels ever and one that released a lot music I love. There's plenty of clips of concert footage featuring such luminaries as Joe Turner, Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Led Zepplin... However, 60 years is a lot to cover and most topics just get a passing mention. Jazz is almost completely ignored. It's too brief and too much of a celebration to provide much insight not already provided in books like Sweet Soul Music or the autobiography of Jerry Wexler, but without his own autobiography it's one of the only places to meet such an amazing figure. How many people legitimately can say the decided between becoming their country's ambassador to US or opening a independent record label?


Nightrain said...

Name game for non-concert music documentaries (better or worse than):

Standing in the Shadows of Motown


Be Here to Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt

The Devil and Daniel Johnston

No Direction Home: Bob Dylan

American Hardcore


awmercy said...

Well, it's probably most like Standing in the Shadows of Motown or The Language of Music. But the major difference is that Ahmet was not a musician, but a label owner. It's a different perspective, since his talents are less obvious than the musicians that recorded for him.

I decided to pick up the DVD after reading Rock On: An Office Power Ballad and wanted to see what the label was like back when it was home to some of the greatest R&B and soul singers ever.

Early in the documentary, Ahmet objects to his portrayal in Ray by saying "There was nobody... in the business who knew as much as I did about what was going on." And I believe him. It's likely what made the label great. Oh how things had changed by the time Dan Kennedy had come along. Not that they treated artists any better back then. Atlantic swindled Stax out of their entire catalog back in the late 60's.

So, that's a long-winded way of saying it accomplished what I wanted from it, which was a way to contextualize the present Atlantic in contrast with its past.

As far as whether it was a good video, it was quick paced, had lots of great footage, and never lagged, which can't always be said about music documentaries, which often linger too long on the minutia. But it was a polished celebration and did not focus on the unfavorable but interesting details.

Sorry the comment was longer than the original post.

awmercy said...

Another great quote from the film was by Jerry Wexler, co-owner and producer of Aretha's hits: "Atlantic Records is the only major record company for which the owners actually made records."

I have no idea if that is true for back then, but it seems very unlikely now.