Now On DVD: ‘The Wrecking Crew’ is a Charming But Shallow Look at the Music Behind the Music

Carol Kaye in The Wrecking Crew 5

Denny Tedesco regularly punctuates The Wrecking Crew with seemingly archival footage of a small handful of people sitting around a table and reminiscing about their days contributing to some of the most famous music acts of the 20th century, including Sonny and Cher, Frank Sinatra, The Beach Boys, The Mamas & the Papas and Glen Campbell. They are Herb Albert, Carol Kaye, Hal Blaine and Tommy Tedesco (whose son made the film), reliable session players that were part of the unofficial, always-in-flux group of Los Angeles-based musicians that eventually became known as “The Wrecking Crew.” As with 2013’s 20 Feet From Stardom, this documentary is dedicated to uncovering the talent behind the talent, the collective and invisible labor of hit-making, and the significant but seemingly arbitrary divide between the stars and the lesser-knowns.

As exemplified in these roundtable conversation segments — candid moments that allow certain members of the crew to witness their histories beyond the grave — The Wrecking Crew is relaxed, unpretentious and direct, with the filmmaker and his subjects satisfied to recount memories of what happened behind the scenes of songs that now persist eternally. Moments like this forge an impression of being invited to listen is as a group of older professionals talk over drinks about their proximity to legends during their golden years. It’s an inviting, charming tone with which to approach this subject.

But this approach also proves to be The Wrecking Crew’s greatest liability, for its ambitions rarely manifest beyond simply asserting (and repeating) the fact that these talented musicians contributed, often uncredited, to renowned music. The Wrecking Crew is a fascinating subject worthy of a documentary, but this film’s insight rarely reaches beyond its intriguing pitch, which turns out not to be enough to carry the feature.

Essentially without structure, The Wrecking Crew moves impatiently and unchronologically between stories of songs and biographies of musicians, occasionally even returning to already previously explored topics, forming what ultimately feels like an arbitrary assemblage of ideas about the Wrecking Crew rather than the belated planting of an essential but overlooked piece in the puzzle of popular music history. Little insight is given into even the most basic contextual information — why, for instance, was the Wrecking Crew a more valuable group of studio musicians than other LA-based groups during the same era?

The subject matter alone is magnetic and light enough to attract even the casual music fan, and the film’s adoring yet genuine presentation of this material is easily its best attribute (could we expect anything else from a film made by one of its subject’s sons?), but The Wrecking Crew resonates as a hastily assembled missed opportunity, an introduction of interesting, feature-worthy content that spends more than 90 minutes only journeying skin-deep.

The film is organized largely through sound bites, combining new interviews with celebrities from Dick Clark to Cher to Glen Campbell with archival footage for impatient, seconds-long bursts of information, as if Tedesco was worried that the viewer may lose interest. In this respect, The Wrecking Crew resembles a made-for-TV take on music history along the lines of VH1’s Behind the Music rather than a feature-length dive into a subject. The sound-bite structure blocks a more thorough investigation of its histories, resulting in a film satisfied with ultimately reiterating the same point.

Kaye provides a necessary break from this tactic, at least, forcing Tedesco and company to watch a musician both explain and demonstrate at length exactly what she did with the music that came into The Wrecking Crew’s studio. She’s worthy of a better version of her history than this.

This review was originally published on March 13, 2015.

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