The first images in the story of the Eagles come from a Maryland concert in 1977. Enthusiastically received versions of “Take It Easy,” “One of These Nights” and Joe Walsh’s “Rocky Mountain Way” kick off the film as Don Henley is mulling how long the Eagles might be able to stay at the top of the mountain, a place, he notes, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Chicago and others have occupied.
They got there, the band-authorized “History of the Eagles, Part One” informs us, through a unique blend of voices and ace songwriting efforts; they stayed there by adding rock ‘n’ roll power in the form of Joe Walsh and Don Felder.
If that sounds like the Eagles story most already know, the illuminating elements in Alex Gibney and Alison Ellwood’s documentary come in discussions of the creative process — the songwriting, hiring and firing of producers, associations with other artists — and the final straws in disagreements with founding members Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon.
It’s a compelling and honest story well told, a document of free-wheeling, good times — a quartet of guys in their 20s working hard and playing hard with aspirations as simple as making the next song/album/concert better than the last one. Their story is metaphor for the time and the place: Their early music was an effective postcard for Southern California lifestyle and the second half proved that, even in L.A., the sun eventually sets.
Frey says “90 percent of the time, being in the Eagles was a blast” and it’s wholly believable. Regardless of the lineup or the size of the crowd, there’s a communal force at work in the band that walks a line between stretching artistically and giving fans what they think they want.
It’s mostly a one-sided story — David Geffen and producer Glyn Johns supply a few digs — and there are no talking heads or graphics putting their success in context. See the early band harmonize and remember how unique that sound was. Watch Henley and Frey take control. Viscerally feel the impact Walsh brought to their concert act and the tenderness of Timothy B. Schmit’s vocals and ballads.
Archival footage is rock solid, shot by master cameramen such as Haskell Wexler in 1977, and clips of the band members in their pre- and early Eagles days capture the joyousness of the Southern California music scene. It’s intriguing that the vulnerability expressed in their music doesn’t show up in Henley and Frey as interview subjects. They are assured, driven and strong-willed.
DOWNLOAD ON DMS