Monday, January 16, 2017

Flight documentaries: "All Things Must Pass," or the rise and fall of Tower Records.

Nine hour flights home from Italy are a bummer. You can read, nap and drink as many free adult beverages as they'll keep feeding you, but that's about all. The good news is that these days, the in-flight entertainment offers more options than ever before. The bad news: Most of these options include the usual array of wretched mass market films and television series.

On our most recent flight from Rome in November, at least there were a few good documentary films on tap. They paired well with cans of a beer I'd never expect to see on an international flight: SweetWater 420 Extra Pale Ale. Corporate placement or not, it was a welcome change from the usual Heineken.

The second of four is the story of Tower Records, and this quote sets the scene.

"When the banks came in, we knew things were going to change."

I'm the crazed evangelist for "Death to Chains," and Tower Records definitely was a chain, but the documentary offers a corrective of sorts to my usual default assumption that chains arise from big-money corporate "concept development." Yes, it's true: Chains can develop from just one mom 'n' pop store, and grow to immense economies of scale with papa -- in this instance, Russ Soloman -- still calling the shots.

Until it all falls down.

Pick a cautionary tale. Perhaps the growth is too fast, and size becomes an impediment to adapt to market conditions. Can the founding ethos of laid-back passion be maintained? What happens when an entire world changes? When those bankers come in, is there any hope at all?

Trust me on the latter. There isn't.

Soloman still is with us, at around 92 years of age. I'm left with a rare pang of sympathy, in the sense that for a man like Soloman to live past the demise of his own personal creation must be a very hard thing, indeed. I'd suggest looking for the documentary at portals like Hulu, Netflix and Amazon. It's truly worth the time and investment to watch.

Established in 1960, Tower Records was once a retail powerhouse with two hundred stores, in thirty countries, on five continents. From humble beginnings in a small-town drugstore, Tower Records eventually became the heart and soul of the music world, and a powerful force in the music industry. In 1999, Tower Records made $1 billion. In 2006, the company filed for bankruptcy. What went wrong? Everyone thinks they know what killed Tower Records: The Internet. But that's not the story. All Things Must Pass is a feature documentary film examining this iconic company's explosive trajectory, tragic demise, and legacy forged by its rebellious founder, Russ Solomon.


Flight documentaries: "Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans."

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