Review: Lili Fini Zanuck’s ‘Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars’ documents musician’s darkest days

Eric Clapton, from the documentary "Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars."
(Ron Pownall / Showtime)

Rock fans everywhere know that Eric Clapton honed his blues guitar chops so finely in the 1960s that fans dubbed him “God” and persevered through multiple addictions, tragic personal loss and the awkward experience of falling in love with his best friend’s wife.

Yet outside of Clapton’s own 2007 memoir, his story’s never been told as well as it is in director Lili Fini Zanuck’s documentary “Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars.” Zanuck had access to an astonishingly thorough archive of photos, films and audio and illustrates Clapton’s darkest days with shocking immediacy.

A loner by nature, Clapton was drawn early on to the idea of a single musician with a guitar, exorcising personal demons — of which he had many. Zanuck traces much of the tension in Clapton’s life to difficulties relating to peers more interested in fame. To dull his disappointment, he numbed himself with drugs and alcohol.

“Life in 12 Bars” rushes too quickly through the latter days of Clapton’s career, before ending on a upbeat note that — while undeniably moving — feels forced. But it’s hard to overstate how powerful it is to hear Clapton on tape in the early ’70s, telling an interviewer that the most important thing in his life is heroin, or to see his drunken mid-concert arguments with audiences.


Unlike most rock docs, “Life in 12 Bars” isn’t a look back from a distance. It’s like living through one man’s pain.


‘Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars’

Not rated

Running time: 2 hours, 14 minutes


Playing: Monica Film Center, Santa Monica

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