Reviews > Video

Atlantic Records: The House That Ahmet Built

Video

Issue: "Saving Isaac," Nov. 10, 2007

Subject: American popular music, 1947-2006.

Cautions: The young, bawdy Bette Midler; Led Zeppelin's manager on a tirade.

Worldview: That America's greatest contribution to world peace may turn out to be the blues and its offshoots.

We see you’ve been enjoying the content on our exclusive member website. Ready to get unlimited access to all of WORLD’s member content?
Get your risk-free, 30-Day FREE Trial Membership right now.
(Don’t worry. It only takes a sec—and you don’t have to give us payment information right now.)

Get your risk-free, 30-Day FREE Trial Membership right now.

Overall quality: Of the making of "rockumentaries" there appears to be no end, but this one, serving as it does as both an Ahmet Ertegun biography and a history of 20th-century America, earns its place.

The Best of the Johnny Cash TV Show

Subject: Sixty-six performances circa 1969-1971 featuring Johnny Cash and 35 of his legendary guests (Louis Armstrong, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, the Everly Brothers, Merle Haggard, et al.).

Worldview: That one way of being in the world yet not of it is to weave heartfelt gospel performances into an ostensibly secular popular-music TV show.

Overall quality: Riveting-one seldom-seen vintage performance after another, with humorous and insightful interviews as segues.

Bob Dylan: The Other Side of the Mirror

Subject: Fifteen acoustic and two notoriously electric live Bob Dylan performances from the Newport Folk Festival, 1963-1965.

Worldview: That, then as now, a sense of humor or at least the absurd (of which Dylan's "going electric" was, on one level, a manifestation) poses a threat to the suffocating smugness of the left.

Overall quality: As technically well preserved as historically important, with an interview with director Murray Lerner providing context.

Ramones: It's Alive 1974-1996

Subject: Over 100 (mostly) live performances from America's pre-eminent punks.

Cautions: Joey Ramone's expletive-filled response to an object-throwing fan; not the juvenile-delinquency anthems, which are, as the bonus interviews confirm, "tongue in cheek."

Worldview: That even without hit albums or singles a band can conquer the world through non-stop touring.

Overall quality: Fast, funny, and furious, with the high-quality, professionally shot footage compensating for the raw, amateur, hand-held clips.

Respect Yourself: The Stax Records Story

Subject: Memphis soul music, 1957-1976.

Worldview: That America has the half-black, half-white instrumental quartet Booker T. and the MG's (and the singers on whose recordings they performed) to thank for the interracial harmony that made integration possible.

Overall quality: A deft mix of interviews, performance footage, and photos, rendered bittersweet by concluding with Stax Records' collapse into bankruptcy and its resurrection more as an institution than as a living entity.

Spotlight

Written and directed by Susan Steinberg, Atlantic Records: The House That Ahmet Built (Atlantic) reveals the late Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun to have been a real-life pop-music Zelig. Instrumental in signing, promoting, and sometimes composing for over 50 years' worth of best-selling acts (the A-list: Ray Charles, Bobby Darin, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins), Ertegun arguably exerted a greater influence over American pop culture than any other musical figure.

The deeper value of Steinberg's documentary lies in its tracing of Ertegun's roots. The son of a devoutly Muslim Turkish diplomat, Ertegun fell in love with America via jazz. So it was that upon his arrival in the United States as a seventh-grader he was as immune to the nation's residual racism as he was to anti-American hostility. Whether the music of Ertegun's most successful latter-day discovery, Kid Rock, will engender similar good will among today's less diplomatically inclined Muslims is less certain.

Comments

You must be a WORLD member to post comments.

    Keep Reading

    Advertisement