Director – Toby Amies – 2022 – UK – Cert. 15 – 86m
Life behind the scenes members of the latest iteration of the band King Crimson, the revolving door institution helmed for half a century by musician Robert Fripp, as they rehearse and perform a tour – out in UK cinemas from Friday 7th April
Rather like the band King Crimson, what you see here is at once what you get and something entirely different.
The phrase “Toby’s camera” (which I’ll use later) seems apt. One doesn’t usually speak so personally of a director, and it’s not the case that I personally know Toby Amies or anything like that. Yet there’s a beguiling intimacy about this documentary. From the evidence here, King Crimson founder, guitarist and keyboard player Robert Fripp is a perfectionist liable to be thrown if something isn’t quite right: he describes all previous iterations of the band, something of a revolving door in which he’s been the sole constant member over the years, as painful and tells us that the current version of the band (together since 2013) is the one with which his experience has been happiest.
At one point, Toby mentions that he feels like he’s interviewing for the job of making the film as he’s shooting it. “You are,” says the band member he’s filming.
Fripp talks about the necessity of practising every day “particularly if playing difficult pieces”. Chapman stick (a type of upright bass equivalent) player Tony Levin shows the camera his flattened finger ends, the ones he uses to play.
One of the most fascinating this about this film is the stories running through it. Let’s start with drummer Bill Rieflin (actually one of three drummers in the band at the time of filming). Most of the personnel in King Crimson are professional musicians hired by its founder, Fripp. Rieflin is not only a musician but also a friend of Fripp, the only one in the band, (as in, when he joined the band, he was already a friend of Robert’s). He has also been diagnosed with colonic cancer and knows that this will kill him soon. And while he is very much one of the centrepieces of this film, there is a point some 20 or 15 minutes before then end where he makes his last appearance on Toby’s camera, followed by a title card proclaiming: Bill Rieflin 30.9.1960 – 24.3.2020. In the remaining minutes of the film, Bill is conspicuous by his absence.
Thus, while the film is awash with snippets of live King Crimson music and studio recordings in the background – of which, as by no means a diehard fan, I was surprised by how much I knew – it becomes a meditation on the camera, everyday intimacy, and, ultimately, death. Yet, it also captures the cameraderie of a band on tour (when the personalities are gelling, as they appear to be here) – as seen for instance when the son of guitarist Jakko Jakszyk visits the set with mates in tow, introduced by the guitarist as “my son… and his drug dealers”.
Moreover, it may be the only music documentary to feature a genial nun.
For those to whom the names will mean anything, also appearing – and for the most part as contemporary talking heads filmed for this documentary rather than in archive footage – are Adrian Belew, Ian McDonald, Bill Bruford, Pat Mastelotto, Mel Collins, Jeremy Stacey, Michael Giles, Jamie Muir, Trey Gunn, Pete Sinfield, Gavin Harrison and David Singleton. All men, although a number of women can be spotted in the technical credits, including Toyah Willcox (Mrs. Robert Fripp) for ‘additional camera’.
In The Court Of The Crimson King: King Crimson At 50 is out in cinemas in the UK from Friday 7th April.
It was previously in cinemas in the UK for one day only on Wednesday, October 19th and livestreaming from Saturday, October 22nd 2022 (scroll down for full details).