Knights in white satin and low-rise jeans.
DIRECTED BY PETER CLIFTON AND JOE MASSOT
The Song Remains the Same opens with Led Zeppelin managers Peter Grant and Richard Cole playing a pair of hitmen who loosely recreate nothing less than Sonny Corleone’s rough demise in The Godfather. That’s as bold (if hollow) a statement of purpose as ever an ambitious rock documentary has made, but Peter Clifton and Joe Massot’s cult classic has pretensions to spare.
It also has a lot of fun bumbling its way to mock-greatness. Critically thrashed upon its release in 1976 but modestly successful with aging angel-headed hipster audiences just the same, the film has endured on the strength of its reputation as the band’s definitive video document. As that introduction suggests, though, the doc isn’t exactly a straightforward record of the band’s three nights at Madison Square Gardens at the end of their American tour in 1973. Those performances get their due in some form, of course, but they tend to come spliced with backstage chatter, hazy footage of bridges and trains, and even more outlandish narrative interludes.
On some level, those infamous fantasy sequences are objectively bad stuff. Robert Plant gets the most egregious episode during “The Rain Song,” wherein he plays a seafaring knight off to win the hand of his elvish paramour—by steel, one hopes, rather than by the coked-out maxims about “cosmic energy” that he spouts whenever he’s off the stage. Chaucer it isn’t, but there’s an undeniable charm to Plant’s low-rent medieval cosplay, especially in light of the unabashed J.R.R. Tolkien–fanboy devotion of the Zeppelin catalogue. The actual music is buried surprisingly deep as a result of all this ponderous thumb-twiddling, but what’s there is solid, and Jimmy Page’s double-neck guitar cuts an impressive figure during the title track, as the dreamy-eyed damsels in the audience attest.