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Syd Barrett - The Syd Barrett Story CD (album) cover


Syd Barrett


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3.45 | 14 ratings

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3 stars The main feature: There are so many awful faux-documentaries out there and it really makes me sad. Prog or any other music are not well-served by these attempts to cash in on sensationalism or place entertainment above informing. This is not one of the really bad ones and in fact it has the advantage of actually involving the members of the Floyd and some friends of Syd. But speaking of the main documentary there are still multiple problems. First is length. This is Pink Floyd, arguably one of the most important rock bands of our lives. Given the importance of the band and the boatloads of information to be discussed, why is the feature a scant 50 minutes long? Has that now become the maximum amount of time that viewers can sit still in our zero attention-span world? Yes, I realize there are "bonus" features that make the package longer but they should integrate the important factual material into one cohesive longer film. There is time only to gloss over things briefly and not really delve into anything at length. Second, content choice. Rather than substantive analysis of the music that should be the first concern of any proper documentary, we get much the same old fixations on Syd's recreational chemistry habits and descriptions of his tragedy to the appropriate SOYCD lines. Third, the ridiculous production of the video itself with all of these annoying fast motion edits and psychish effects, as if they need to pretend it's 1967 and we're tripping in order to dispense information. Lets look at the glass half-full. There are some nice moments such as Roger explaining what made the "Bike" lyrics special to him ("the unpredictability.") There was Robin Hitchcock playing "Dominoes." They actually spoke to Jerry Shirley who had some interesting thoughts about the "Barrett" sessions. Mick Rock was an interesting guest. They just needed to take the time to expand on these good parts, get more in depth, and drop some of the nonsense. With everyone so used to soundbite journalism it seems almost impossible to get past the surface in this format and that's a real shame. Documentary filmmaking can be so much more. You've got all these esteemed people who knew Syd and no time to get beyond the tabloid stories everyone has read in rock mags. I realize disc 2 offers some of this but you need these moments in the feature, not in the extras. It is depth that makes a documentary special, not the artsy visual work and melodrama. And as others have mentioned here and elsewhere, a proper documentary will feature some complete songs without constant interruption. It will also bother to obtain rarer clips of both audio and video that do exist but may take a little work to get rights to.

The 2nd disc: This second disc is what saves things a bit, and keeps me from giving this two stars. But just barely. Again, blown opportunities abound. This guy has all four members of the Floyd for a good long chat and he is just dreadful as an interviewer, slow, without all the facts, and boring. I feel a bit bad roasting the chap, nothing personal, but I could have done a much better job interviewing these guys than he did, I even found myself correcting the memories of Floyd members in one or two places..scary, I know. He gets very little of substance out of them about Syd. He lets them linger uncomfortably long after some responses and misses the most obvious follow-up questions. What saves the day is the Hitchcock segment. He understands why the real Barrett fans appreciate Syd. He was the one to talk in some depth about Barrett's music and what makes it special, the songwriting, the playing, the observational style of Syd's songs and how in Syd's creative mind "nothing was filtered out," and it was simply recording like a camera. He also did a fair job at cracking "Dominoes" and "Baby Lemonade," covering Syd is never easy to get right. He imposed some relevant discussion on Barrett as an artist instead of more talk of his oddities. Giving credit where it's due, it was a great choice to include Robin Hitchcock here.

Childhood, wind, and willows: I read a Barrett skeptic recently pondering what the hell we fans see in this man who was there for but a flash, 4 decades ago, why we are so passionate about him. Speaking for myself, it is not because he started Pink Floyd, not because he was part of "swinging London," and not because I think doing acid is cool. It really is something hard to describe but a bit of the Peter Pan thing. Within Syd's best work is a very pure, sometimes innocent and other times mischievous, hearkening to childhood. I'm not talking about the literal subject matter of lyrics necessarily but the feeling of some of the music, melodies, and vocals. There is a longing for something lost in the adult world: a certain kind of adventure, security, freedom, and time for imagination (especially in idyllic Cambridge.) There is pressure to conform. Mick Rock touched on this during his '71 interview with Syd when Barrett spoke of "the backward path" and Rock noted Syd feeling comfortable finally being home surrounded by family photos, etc. Another important moment occurred when an exhausted Syd was dreading being dragged out with Floyd again, he asked a Cambridge friend if she was going home for the weekend and when she said yes, Syd wearily replied "that's really all I want to do. I just want to go home." I can sense those feelings in his music regarding the simpler time of youth and because they are sincere I am touched by them. So there you reason why Syd fanatics love him and it has nothing to do with flowery shirts, psychedelics, or "black holes in the sky." I really hope someday the family will offer a bit more of his later life and that someone will record their story with respect.

Sorry. back to the DVD. Perhaps I expect too much but if these musicians can create great works of musical art, why can there not be truly great documentaries to analyze them. It's mostly fluff, I'm sorry, though not without any merit. The story of Syd Barrett and early Floyd is out there but you have to find it by reading books. Forget the magazines and the videos and find the many books available, some of which are quite good. By reading several of them you begin to get a clearer picture of the Floyd story, which really is a fascinating one. Of course no book is perfect and some are downright awful but reading many you begin to understand some things. Roger Barrett was a great artist and deserves more than a fast-food bio like this one. I am hopeful that someday he will have one!

Those interested in Barrett's post-Floyd existence will find the best information in an article called My lovably ordinary brother Syd by Tim Willis, culled from conversation with his sister Rosemary, the one who knew him best in those years. She challenges the convenient diagnosis and assumptions of Syd that others place on him. Check it out, it's very interesting.

Finnforest | 3/5 |


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