1971: Asif Kapadia’s Apple Music Documentary Is Ambitious

Alongside music supervisor Iain Cooke, directors Asif Kapadia and Danielle Peck discuss what it took to capture a lively and tumultuous year and the music that came from it.

When read as one list, the sheer number of music titans referred to in “1971: The Year Music Changed Everything” is staggering to consider in full.

But over the course of the eight-episode season – all of which are available now on Apple TV + – one thing that stands out even more than ambitions of scale is how the world of 50 years ago absorbed some of the enduring songs and albums that still resonate through the present. Anchored by a solid collection of live performances, “1971” is an archival treasure, much of it coming in the form of TV spots where bands and artists presented their new hits to captive audiences.

“Aside from The Concert for Bangladesh, which was a technical nightmare for them to film, concert footage was actually very rare at that time,” said producer and director Danielle Peck.

“It’s also more intimate, I think, than seeing someone perform in front of 50,000 people or 120,000 people,” said director Asif Kapadia. “There is something close up that works almost better for this format. And often they are also interviewed before, during or after, which is part of it. It is an essential way for people to get to know artists.

In turn, this also gives viewers of “1971” a chance to embrace a new way of hearing tracks that have been etched as classics over decades of living room shooting and radio broadcast.

“You see the pictures and you really get into their psyche and where they were at the time,” music supervisor Iain Cooke said. “The studio versions have generally been heard a lot. It’s really important as a documentary series to maybe give people a different perspective on it. If they’re used to hearing the full studio version, only being able to hear a stripped-down acoustic version, this fragility and brutal honesty shines through.

The ambition of “1971” has proved useful in the long run. Using David Hepworth’s book “1971 – Never a Dull Moment: Rock’s Golden Year” as a guide, the series tracks major developments in the careers of gigantic musical figures on opposite sides of their maximum fame. Access to these large catalogs of recordings, rehearsals and concerts was obviously crucial in order to tell as complete a story as possible. Working early in the process, Cooke found that bringing all of these areas into the process helped prove that the scope was broad enough for everyone to be a part of.

George Harrison and Ravi Shankar in “1971: The Year Music Changed Everything”

Apple TV +

“We were very fortunate that early in the process we were able to secure the blessing of the Stones and John Lennon and Marvin Gaye estates,” Cooke said. “It was just this giant puzzle that you had to put together little by little. One piece came out and another came in. There were sleepless nights and times of waking up at 4 a.m. Fortunately and fortunately, they have come together, and this is a testament to everyone involved.

This interconnected nature reflects how all of this music permeated the cultural consciousness of the time.

“One of the things we wanted to do is make it look like it’s all happening at the same time,” Peck said. “A lot of people make films about individual artists. But artists don’t work in isolation. They work in the context of culture and social landscape. Once you start to think of them as a group of people, you can think of the world they live and work in. “

The other important piece of connective tissue for “1971” is a wide variety of new and archival audio interviews with those closest to the creation of this music and the ripple effects it has had in it. international scale. Peck said the focus was on getting the perspective of people who had experienced it on their own, since the show’s opening: singer Chrissie Hynde of Pretenders reflecting on her memories of being at Kent State on the day that National Guard soldiers shot and killed four students during an anti-war rally.

All of this is woven together in a style reminiscent of Kapadia’s previous projects including “Senna” and “Amy”. The multi-year effort to bring all of these inputs together ends up being a process of following ever-increasing links in a growing chain.

“You have to trust your gut and trust the time and money process that you have to put into researching and putting together a brilliant team and giving them the time to find stuff. The directors, in order to be able to travel the world to interview people, speak to as many people as possible. When you talk to one person, they can put you in touch with five other people. Someone somewhere is going to have a cabinet full of materials that no one has seen, ”Kapadia said.

Keith Richards in "1971: the year music changed everything"

Keith Richards in “1971: The Year Music Changed Everything”

Apple TV +

This spirit of discovery also shines through in the documentary’s extensive media coverage throughout the calendar year. Radio shows, newspaper clippings, and local news highlights all focus on capturing the spirit of the moment rather than just filtering it through people’s memories.

This appears perhaps most strongly in the fifth episode of the series, which ends up looking away from the Attica prison uprising. In the wake of the state police action that led to an insane bloodbath, a journalist’s response to new information is emotional and unsupervised. Peck said particular footage was a late entry into the episode, an example of the constant and ongoing search for new entry points in this year.

While this particular sequence is only one in the sprawling canvas of “1971,” it’s a vivid example of how past and present rhyme. Even with half a century apart, the parallels between 1971 and 2021 were inescapable.

“You have Gil Scott-Heron with ‘No Knock’. Marvin Gaye in episode 1 of “Inner City Blues” talks about “Rockets, moonshots / Spend it on the poor…. It’s not alive”. He’s about “Trigger policing / Panic spreads / God knows where we’re going,” Cooke said. “Jimmy Iovine talks about it in episode 1: These albums are Trojans. They were highly political pieces wrapped in beautiful music.

“James Gay-Rees, the producer who found the book, started the project in 2016,” Kapadia said. “We were doing the show and while it was being edited and we were meeting and talking to people, everything that was going on in the world seemed absolutely relevant to the show that had been. initially traced in the past. This is where you realize you are on to something. This is when you are dealing with magic. Your instinct for why this is relevant becomes clearer and clearer every day. “

“1971: The Year Music Changed Everything” is now available to stream on Apple TV +.

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