For nearly 40 years, Tower Records stood as the largest and most successful record store chain in the world, regularly raking in the millions of dollars in profit per year. In 1999, they managed to pull in a staggering $1 billion dollars. Five years later, they went suddenly bankrupt. It was an astonishing rise and fall, the canary in the coal mine for the wider music industry, which was decimated by, at first, the introduction of CDs, and then the advent of file sharing websites such as Napster.
Colin Hanks explores all of this with heavily rose-tinted glasses in All Things Must Pass. Mostly known for his acting – and for being Tom Hanks’ son – such as a psychopathic killer in Dexter, it’s his directorial debut, and it’s not a bad one at that. His reliance on anecdotes from employees in an effort to sketch the wild, early days of the first store in San Francisco lends warmth, and a great sense of familiarity, with a store that most in Australia wouldn’t have known. At times, the recollections grow tiresome – but the story of the employees managing to list cocaine on their store inventory list is a particularly brilliant one.
Hanks’ in depth interviews with founder Russ Solomon, and various high ranking employees, is his main method of pushing the narrative, which at first seems a rather plodding way of doing it – but it soon emerges as a sophisticated technique that avoids the need for any heavy handed narration. Even better are the cameos by Elton John and Dave Grohl, with John amusingly declaring that he has “…spent more money in Tower Records than anyone else.” Towards the end of the film, where the details of Tower Records demise are examined, these interviews are frequently interrupted by subjects jumping quickly off camera, seemingly overcome by emotion.
The soundtrack is suitably crammed with the greats: the Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, and Hendrix all featuring prominently throughout the early part of the film. Hanks also makes use of some great archival footage, like the early shots of David Bowie spruiking MTV.
Parochial, yes, but insightful and endlessly entertaining, Hanks has carved out an excellent documentary debut.
Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
All Things Must Pass premiered on March 17 at SXSW.