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Review: ‘Melody Makers’ feels clipped in its portrait of influential British rock publication

Photographs and news clippings featured in the documentary ‘Melody Makers’
Photographs and news clippings featured in the documentary “Melody Makers.”
(Cleopatra Entertainment)

Though it was founded in the 1920s, the weekly British music magazine Melody Maker didn’t become a cultural force until the mid-1960s, when it stopped being a trade publication for working jazz musicians and started competing with the rival New Musical Express to become the most trusted voice in rock criticism. From the heyday of the Who to the dawn of punk, Melody Maker helped determine what mattered to music buffs in the U.K.

There are plenty of worthwhile stories for filmmaker Leslie Ann Coles to tell with her documentary “Melody Makers,” which is anchored by interviews with some of the magazine’s key staffers. Coles collects fascinating and often pointed anecdotes about the years when rock journalists were at their peak influence; and she gathers comments from musicians like Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson and the Animals’ Eric Burdon, whose careers were affected by what Melody Maker published.

But “Melody Makers” never becomes more than a set of disconnected sound bites and archival photos, loosely assembled. At times the film feels like outtakes from another, more cohesive documentary about Melody Maker’s legacy.

The interviewees talk about the influential bands who found each other thanks to the magazine’s classified ads, and several writers have a good laugh describing the proto-clickbait Melody Maker published, with misleading headlines about the era’s superstars. The movie is nostalgic for the time when there was a fair balance of power between rockers and reporters.

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But while “Melody Makers” covers the way the magazine’s preference for glam and prog rock left them slow to respond to punk, this is still a story without much of an arc. The old photographs are cool to look at, and the reminiscences are duly fond, but there’s a bigger picture here that this film catches only in glimpses.

'Melody Makers'
Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 19 minutes

Playing: Starts Nov. 29, Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood; available Dec. 17 on VOD


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