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In The Court of the Crimson King Toon Traveler take a holiday trip to the movies

In The Court of the Crimson King

Toon Traveler take a holiday trip to the movies

by Toon Traveller, Travel Correspondent
first published: April, 2023

approximate reading time: minutes

A self-selected and curated reality, constructed by Robert Fripp and those around him, as a piece of 'art' rather than artistic truth, or historical band record.

In The Court of the Crimson King
Directed Toby Amis
1 hour  25 mins 

King Crimson, a prog rock fable? Well not exactly. There’s been Bio Pics, Freddie and Elton, and docu-pics Bowie, Cohen, and Searching for the Sugarman, as well as parodies. The straight documentary approach, as this is, usually covers better known (to me) bands. I know a little too little of these, their music, vague memories aside of early ‘70s, proto-heavy metal, prog rock. Was there a mysterious, other worldly ‘mellotron’, swirling, captivating sound? Heavy metal classic riffed ‘21st Century Schizoid Man’, perhaps.

Opportunity to learn? Yeah,  could have “Wikkied” the band, but music has to be heard and learnt with ears, not dry words.  An insight sought, who, what, when, line ups, musical changes, rock star histrionics, coke and dope, limos, and champagne breakfasts, or perhaps not. 

The film’s title is the film’s creative focus, Robert Fripp, co-founder, leader, ever present, guiding spirit and heartbeat of the band, it’s his ‘Court for the Crimson King’. But it’s not a one-man show, nor is it a ‘worker’s collective view.’  Sure there are brief dabs of history, footage of past line-ups, snatches of past tracks, however, the emphasis is very much on current, or last two years’ members and performances with live footage from the UK, Germany and Italy. Lots of backstage preparation, and serene calm, with the rules of audience engagement, “no phones, cameras, or recording of the shows” regularly highlighted. 

Interviews with band members are revealing,  as much in what’s not said, and not asked, of Fripp, or the band members, and reflects a couple of Fripp’s comments on the importance of silences in performance, both preparation, and micro silences within each live performance, and these occur in the film with cinematic effect. It’s clear there’s a sense of the film, as a piece of performance art,  in and of itself. There are pensive silences, from several musicians, and the unmoving face, and mercurial tones of Fripp’s West Country voice explain rehearsals, practice, roles, and interaction with the concert audience. 

The impression of a riddle within an enigma, speaking in disjointed harmonies, a sort of random edit of conversations, reinforces the impression of a man dedicated to his music, and it’s freedoms on one level. The unmoving face, is it a mask to cover his own fears and apprehensions? Perhaps. There is one truly magical moment, Fripp talking about therapy, and personal development, recalls a conversation, with a long, long, long… Silence. And a single tear trickling slowly down his left cheek, a moment when the Fripp mask slips?  

As an introduction to King Crimson's varied career, it covers, in varying degrees of depths, the various configurations of the band, and subsequent musical manifestations, but little was period specific. I was left with the impression of a carefully constructed film, designed to reinforce the self-image. A self-selected and curated reality, constructed by Robert Fripp and those around him, as a piece of ‘art’, rather than artistic truth, or historical band record.

There were occasional slices of obsequiousness, comparing Fripp’s recruitment of best musicians on their instruments, with a similar approach ascribed to Miles Davis (who actually did that in the 60s) was a bit over the top. They, the band, are good, some very good, but world beating? I’d dispute that.

The live footage showed an audience that probably grew with the band since early days, why expect anything else, cinema’s audience, including me,  was the same. There was filmed enthusiasm, and fan devotion. One audience member flew from Seattle to a gig in a Roman amphitheatre, (there’s always one). 

But looking at them, aged, grandparents perhaps, it all seemed a bit, a bit, cerebral. Rather like Fripp himself, whose self image, looks like a retired lawyer taking on a special case, very far removed from Rock and Roll. Was it accurate? No idea. Was it warts and all? Perhaps some of it is. Were they influential?  Not discussed, there was none of the usual ‘talking heads’ Vox Popped appreciations.   

I’m surprised they’ve lasted, given all the style changes, but as Fripp explains, this is the essence of the band, changing people, music and senses. Do you need to know their music? I didn’t, and saw a band resistant to being pigeonholed. Rock and Roll rebels, yeah in a way perhaps, but certainly “non-conformists”, treading their own, Fripp lead path.    

Finally as an ambivalent viewer did I come away with a desire for their music? Not really. Did I enjoy the spectacle? Yeah in a strange way. It was not a documentary of the band in a conventional sense, it was a slice of intriguing, self constructed art, designed to entice and confuse, in a gentle yet challenging manner. 

It left the impression of Fripp as musical svengali, hiring and firing to create “his art”. Think -  Mark E. Smith,  from The Fall, but with Fripp’s classical formalised fashion style, better human skills , and bloody good self-PR, as this film shows.

Toon Traveller
Travel Correspondent

Born - happy family, school great mates still see 7 / 8 in year, degreed, beer n fun, work was lazy but usually happy, retired. Learning from mum and dads travel exploits.
about Toon Traveller »»

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