The 1972 documentary, Fillmore: The Last Days, pays tribute to rock 'n' roll impresario Bill Graham and the San Francisco music club he transformed into a rock mecca of the Sixties. The flick, which chronicles the final week of the Fillmore West in the summer of '71, doesn't get past Graham's gruff exterior, but it does serve up some great bands amid a bit of psychedelic-tinged nostalgia.
The Fillmore is still in business under new management, but it's a dim shadow of its heyday. Under Graham, the venue played host to some of the top groups of the decade, including such Bay Area luminaries as Santana, Jefferson Airplane, Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Grateful Dead and Big Brother and the Holding Company.
A couple of the aforementioned acts turn up in this concert doc directed by Richard T. Heffron (who also "conceived" of the film, according to opening credits).The Dead, Hot Tuna, the Quicksilver Messenger Service and Cold Blood all have respectable showings, while It's a Beautiful Day gives a lovely rendition of "White Bird." Jefferson Airplane pops up for a token snippet from "We Can Be Together/Volunteers," while Santana's extended jam will be of interest for diehard fans and viewers with access to bongs the size of Iowa. Other performers include the Elvin Bishop Group, the New Riders of the Purple Sage, Lamb and the Rowan Brothers. Throughout the performances, Heffron employs an array of dated but weirdly charming effects, particularly copious use of split screens.
Unfortunately, Fillmore also spends plenty of time following Graham as he prepares for the final week of concerts. For the most part, that means shouting and tantrums. "I'll take your teeth outta your mouth and shove them through your nose!" he yells at a hipster doofus who complains that Graham won't book his band. The Bronx native's tough-guy demeanor grows tiresome, but they're preferable to his facile observations on the counterculture.
Graham, who died in a helicopter crash in 1991, was an inspired showman, but here his on-camera shtick is more irritating than illuminating. One can't help but wish the filmmakers had turned the camera away from him long enough to capture more of the sights and sounds of the young crowds who came to hear their gods of rock.
Presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the picture quality is servicable but bears the stamp of the movie's age. Soft images, minor grain and muted colors are evident, but certainly not to the point of distraction.
Viewers can choose between a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround or PCM Stereo. The latter is fine, but the 5.1 mix is robust, crisp and immersive, with rear speakers getting a good workout during song performances.
The only supplemental material are liner notes by rock journalist Ben Fong-Torres.
Rhino deserves props for rescuing Fillmore: The Last Days from the vaults of obscurity. Conosseurs of Sixties-era blues rock will dig the appearances of the Greateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service, as well as less-remembered groups like It's a Beautiful Day and Cold Blood. An entertaining, if unremarkable, time capsule of a bygone time.