Monday, January 28, 2013

The Union (2011 film)

Directed by Cameron Crowe, The Union is a documentary about the making of the album of the same name by Elton John and Leon Russell. Crowe explores the collaboration between the two artists as well as John’s appreciation for Russell who had been overlooked in his career despite being revered by his peers. The result is a fascinating film into the making of an incredible album where Elton John re-introduces the world to Leon Russell.

The film is about the making of The Union that began when Elton John was in a trip to Africa with his partner David Furnish who brought his iPod that featured a greatest hits record of music by Leon Russell. Russell was one of John’s idols when he was starting out in music as they hadn’t seen each other in nearly 40 years. During of which that John had become a superstar while Russell fell into obscurity though he would still play shows to a small audience. Realizing that the public had sort of lost touch with Russell, John felt the only way to get him back in the public spotlight is to collaborate with for an album together with just the two of them with T-Bone Burnett serving as producer. John’s lyricist Bernie Taupin would also contribute lyrics to the project as work on the album began in late 2009.

While there would be delays due to Russell’s health issues in which he had to have a brain operation for five hours and eventually came back to the studio 10 days later. The film reveals the process of making an album as well as John’s feelings about being an artist and what not to do. Particularly as he’s very open about what he doesn’t want to do as he knows the music industry has changed and is more realistic about album sales and such. Through Burnett’s approach to production, the album does come alive as it features a range of guests including Booker T. Jones, Robert Randolph, and Brian Wilson while Stevie Nicks makes a visit to the studio to chat with Russell.

With different kinds of film stocks as well as archival footage of performances by John and Russell, the film is presented in a documentary style where Cameron Crowe is there observing everything that happens. Even where he manages to get audio recording of an intro John wanted for the song that hadn’t been recorded by the engineers. Through the cinematography of Nicola Marsh, Kevin Long’s editing, and the sound work of Dennis Hamlin, Crowe is able to capture everything that is happening. Even in some of the film’s emotional moments such as Russell performing a song that even makes John overwhelmed.

Eventually, the film leads to the climatic show at the Beacon Theater in New York City where John and Russell play the new album in its entirety to an audience where both men hope for the best while John is hoping the album makes it to the top 10. Just so that John can say that Russell had an album in the top 10 in his life time.

The Union is a terrific documentary from Cameron Crowe about the making of Elton John and Leon Russell’s acclaimed album. The film is a great companion piece to the album as it gives fans of both artists and the album the chance to see how it’s made. Notably as it also reveals the process into the making of an album where one hopes to revive the career of another. In the end, The Union is a superb film from Cameron Crowe.

Cameron Crowe Films: (Say Anything) - (Singles) - (Jerry Maguire) - Almost Famous - (Vanilla Sky) - (Elizabethtown) - Pearl Jam 20 - We Bought a Zoo - Aloha

© thevoid99 2013

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