"It's a classic rock 'n' roll story," producer says, adding, "it's the Beatles story," referring to a band walking away at the peak of their powers
The idea to tell the story of The Eagles came to Irving Azoff at the time they would have been celebrating their 40th anniversary. Two years later, "History of the Eagles, Part One" is debuting at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, on Jan. 19. And yes, there is a finished "Part Two" as well.
"Part one is from when the band began til its breakup" says Alison Ellwood, director of the high-profile documentary that will eventually be released as a two-disc DVD. "It goes back into the roots of Don (Henley) and Glenn (Frey) and what sparked the desire to become the band. Film two picks up with the solo careers and the band reuniting in 1994. There's quite a bit of Joe (Walsh) in 'Part Two.' It's almost the crux of the film."
"Part 1" premieres at 9:30 p.m. Jan. 19 at the Eccles Theater and then screens in Salt Lake City, Ogden and two other Park City theaters during the week. TheEagles -- Henley, Frey, Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit -- are expected to attend the premiere.
Producer Alex Gibney, who won the documentary feature Oscar for his 2007 film about torture in Afghanistan, "Taxi to the Dark Side," got involved in the project after he saw 16mm footage shot by legendary camera men Haskell Wexler ("No Nukes") and Richard Pearce ("Woodstock") during the 1977 "Hotel California" tour. On top of the seven-camera shoot, the Eagles also recorded in multitrack a concert in Maryland that was to be the centerpiece of the film in the 1970s.
"You can see the character of the band, how open they were and more casual, off the cuff," Gibney says, noting that the quality of 1977 footage was a key reason to say yes to the project. "You can see how different they are and how they complement each other."
Gibney, who called in Ellwood, his collaborator on the Ken Kesey film "Magic Trip," to direct and co-edit. The two secured interviews with everyone who has been in the band (founding members Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon plus guitarist Don Felder), songwriting collaborators J.D. Souther and Jackson Browne, producers Glyn Johns and Bill Szymczyk, and the key figures behind the scenes, manager Azoff and David Geffen, who signed them to his Asylum Records in 1971.
"They were very forthcoming and quite honest about the harder times they had together, but there's another issue because they didn't do much press" in the 1970s," Ellwood says. "It's really a myth that they fought all the time. This amazing footage of them from 1977, at the height of their career, shows they are generally having fun onstage together."
Ellwood, an Eagles fan who bought "Desperado" when it came out, and Gibney say they were familiar with the music but largely unfamiliar with the story of the Eagles when they started. Fascinated with roots that include Bob Seger, Kenny Rogers, the Flying Burrito Brothers and Linda Ronstadt, Gibney notes their goal was to "tell the story inside out," to reveal the artistic side of the band and how they made decisions to lead to classics such as "Take It Easy," "Desperado" and "Hotel California."
"It's a classic rock 'n' roll story," he says, adding, "it's the Beatles story," referring to a band walking away from the stage at the peak of their powers.
"Nobody comes off as a villain," Ellwood notes. "The antagonisms that occurred -- all the members talk about it. It was this thing that imploded on itself.
Part two was initially created as a DVD extras package, with structure to it, Ellwood says, "but they gave such great interviews we created a second film. In some ways it's actually more moving than the first film. The emotional arc is when they grow up. You leave them at the height of their success in meltdown mode (in 'Part One') and in film two they grow and bring themselves back together. It has a nice arc."