The main reason I viewed this film was my teenage love for the rock band King Crimson. I can’t say I kept up with them over the years, and I had no idea how the band morphed and kept going right up to the present day. This new music documentary makes me wish I had and that I can see them again in person. In the Court of the Crimson King: King Crimson at 50 is not a concert film though. It’s a talk with the band’s musicians past and present, and a history lesson about how the original band shed all its members except for the irascible Robert Fripp, once described by band former member Bill Bruford as “a cross between Joseph Stalin, Mahatma Gandhi and the Marquis De Sade”. He is the center of the band and the film, but it isn’t a tale of a control freak or egomaniac, though at the beginning I was afraid it was. What the film explores is how one man’s vision of what a band should be and what it should do shaped half a century of amazing music and performances with a whole lot of exceptional musicians.
The film was made at the request of Fripp to celebrate the band’s 50th anniversary in 2019. And the filmmakers were able to catch up with many of the former King Crimson musicians, many who went on to incredible careers elsewhere, to talk about how they felt about their time with the band. A lot of it is framed around their interactions with Fripp, for good or for bad. And he admits that he’s not easy, but doesn’t apologize. He’s got some interesting philosophies about music making that guide him.
One of the story lines that makes the film extremely touching is about multi-instrumentalist Bill Rieflin. He’d been with the band since 2013 and despite a diagnosis of state 4 cancer, he continued playing and touring right up until his death. He talks about the pain he’s experiencing constantly, but how he wants to keep making music because it is what he does. Fripp noted that he was “the only personal friend who’s ever joined King Crimson.”
I don’t think you need to be a King Crimson fan to appreciate this film. It is about collaboration in music-making and a story of keeping a band relevant for 50 years and much more than your usual rock band documentary. And you’ll probably want to listen to some of their music afterwards. I know I did.
In limited release. On VOD December 1st.