For many music lovers, the demise of Tower Records was a personal loss. Elton John, a big spender at the chain’s Sunset Boulevard store, took it especially hard, as he tells Colin Hanks in the celebratory and bittersweet “All Things Must Pass,” the actor’s assured feature-length debut as a director.
John and a few other musicians speak with deep affection about Tower, where Dave Grohl was an employee. But Hanks wisely limits the celebrity talking heads in this rise-and-fall story. Instead, he focuses on the people who built the company from a Sacramento drugstore annex to a global brand, creating a ragtag family in the process.
His interviews form an engaging oral history, at the center of which is founder Russ Solomon, a whiskey-sipping, no-nonsense mensch who just turned 90. In what feels like the opposite of the Apple ethos, Solomon’s vision for Tower didn’t revolve around a personal spotlight. He hired people he liked, trusting them to be quick studies.
A core group stayed for decades, rising from clerks to vice presidents. Before the camera they corroborate one another’s stories of wild and crazy times, an undercurrent of sibling love, with its squabbling and devotion, coursing through their sharp and colorful reminiscences.
Supplementing the interviews with well-chosen archival material, Hanks assembles a capsule history of the music biz and youth culture. The film sometimes loses its infectious beat amid familiar tales of corporate missteps and the intrusion of unforgiving banks. But Hanks is keenly attuned to the ways that Tower stores mattered to people on both sides of the counter, and why the chain’s 2006 liquidation, after 46 years, was a communal wake in the form of a fire sale.
“All Things Must Pass.”
MPAA rating: None.
Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes.
Playing: ArcLight Hollywood.