In the Court of the Crimson King: King Crimson at 50
Robert Fripp, Jakko Jakszyk, Bill Rieflin, Adrian Belew, Ian McDonald
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Great for fans or those with any interest, the uninitiated will still find something to savour.
“This is the first King Crimson where there’s not at least one member of the band that actively resents my presence,” states guitarist Robert Fripp, the central and only constant member of a musical group that’s over half-a-century old.
For director Toby Amies (The Man Whose Mind Exploded), Fripp’s prickly relationship with his band-mates is one of several narrative threads that are loosely woven into this non-traditional rockumentary. Amies has a light touch, there’s breathing room, and his own relationship with the dapper and difficult Fripp – who asked Amies to direct this – forms another thread that finds its way into the whole.
It’s a kind of road movie with little sense of movement. A series of reminiscences without nostalgia. A music movie with sounds that sometimes veer close to the edge of discordance.
King Crimson, famed exponents of progressive rock, formed in late ‘60s England. With line-up changes galore, the band evolved into an indefinable beast – jazzy, avant-garde, cerebral, heavy, scary, demanding – with Fripp as the nucleus.
Fripp talks about music like it’s a separate entity – a being. It’s always present but you’ve got to get out of your own way to connect with it. The concert hall is a “sacred space”. He is literally devastated if a performance doesn’t reach a peak. A perfectionist, Fripp’s not what you’d call a ‘people person’.
Former member Trey Gunn likens being in King Crimson to a “low grade infection – you’re not really sick but you don’t feel well either”. Gunn is one of a parade of musicians who once served the King. The comments of both ex and current members have dashes of humour and philosophising, while the story of multi-instrumentalist Bill Rieflin takes the film into unexpected territory. The band members are great company, as are the King Crimson devotees, including a nun from Norway and an enthused fanboy who describes seeing the band live as an “occult” experience.
In the Court of the Crimson King, which premiered at SXSW, has a sense of looseness that contrasts with the sonic precision and challenging music. Fripp doesn’t look like an English rock star is supposed to look – impeccably dressed, without the wigs and rugs of his English rocker peers, he could be the real estate agent he almost became. His martial exterior and micro-managing style are not endearing, yet somehow, he is. Fripp is loveable … almost.
Fripp talked about getting out of your own way to make music, and Amies has done this with his film – he gets out of the way, lets these musicians speak and the storylines to form organically. Great for fans or those with any interest in Fripp, the uninitiated will still find something to savour.