All Together Now (2008) dir. Adrian Wills
Toronto's Hot Docs Documentary Film Festival is underway, this is the first of several reviews over the next week
One of the hottest attractions in Las Vegas right now is the Cirque du Soleil show, “Love”, a Beatles-inspired extravaganza of music, light and colour. While documenting the staging of the show, Canadian filmmaker Adrian Wills is somehow allowed unprecedented access to the world’s most spectacular performance team and the world’s most legendary band. With the access, time and tools at his disposable Wills perfectly visualizes the marrying of these great artists with thoroughly entertaining results.
Talking head interviews, shot in crisp and clean High Definition, are combined with verite camera footage backstage of the Cirque production to tell the story of how these two forces got together. We learn it was the brainchild of the late George Harrison who first approached Cirque founder Guy Laliberté. Since the Beatles music is so preciously handled the Cirque artists inevitably have to get approval of the Beatles themselves and their surviving families. Paul, Ringo, Yoko Ono and Harrison’s widow Olivia,and producer George Martin all become intimately involved in the show. In fact Martin and his son Giles go back into the studio and remix all the songs from scratch to create a 'live-like' experience specifically for the show.
Early on the Cirque producers fear the committee approach might cause more harm than good and so the whole show is approached with some trepidation. If anything is missing from the film it's the drama and tension which invariable would come from the butting of artistic heads. But surprisingly there is very little conflict. At one point Yoko Ono gives some creative feedback, which prompts director Dominic Champagne to proclaim that Yoko hates it, but other than that it’s smooth sailing. The film never turns into a puff piece though. Beyond the spectacle, it's a story of family and how the business of the Beatles has been passed down to the next generation. Wills concentrates of his characters despite them being some of the most familiar people in the world. Is there anything to know about the Paul or Ringo we haven’t learned in countless interviews, books, or documentaries? No, but we get to hear some of the wonderful anecdotal stories straight from the horses mouth often in intimate unencumbered settings.
With the aid of some long lenses and great microphone placement, Wills is both invisible and omnipresent at the same time - fly-on-the wall filmmaking at it’s best. Wills catches McCartney reminiscing with Ringo and George Martin alone during rehearsals. Wills zooms in to catch George Martin 'air-conducting' his own music while hearing the first test sound mix in the theatre. We even catch Paul singing along to his own songs!
Wills give the audience exactly what they want to see. In the Hot Docs Q&A he explains that the film wouldn't be worth doing unless he got Paul, Ringo, Yoko Ono, Olivia Harrison and George Martin involved. Everyone is there and Wills gives everyone ample screentime. We also get to see a great summarized version of the final stage performance. The film 10 minutes is a condensed version of the show using several camera angles, intercut with Paul and Ringo’s reactions to the show.
But Wills' secret weapon which can do him no wrong is the Beatles’ music, which is wall-to-wall throughout the film. The music still gives me chills when I hear certain songs, but when combined with the awesome visual beauty of the Cirque du Soleil artistry it makes for an awe-inspiring experience. Enjoy.