The year 1969 is having a great year this year.
Aside from the anniversary celebrations of the moon landing and Woodstock, there’s also Quentin Tarantino’s meticulous 1969 re-creation in “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.”
This focus has brought some criticisms of presumed nostalgia, but I have an alternate hot take on the subject. What if this isn’t nostalgia? What if it’s a justified consideration of a really pretty important moment? Maybe this is an opportunity to look back without rose-colored glasses.
These thoughts are prompted by the arrival of the umpteenth recent music movie, “David Crosby: Remember My Name.” The spirit of ‘69 is large in this documentary — which lightly touches down at Woodstock, of course — but there are other, skeptical notes as well, including the toll taken by a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.
Crosby, the son of a famed Hollywood cameraman, occupies a crucial place in rock history for his membership in The Byrds as well as Crosby, Stills & Nash (& sometimes Young). He had one of the great harmony voices in all of rock, and deserves credit for writing some gorgeous songs, such as “Wooden Ships” and “Guinnevere.”
He’s notorious, too — for his addiction and his tendency to irritate collaborators. Right now, the other members of CSNY aren’t talking to him, and Byrds headman Roger McGuinn cheerfully explains why he fired Crosby in 1967: “Well, David had become insufferable.”
In short, there’s a lot of good material for a documentary. At the helm is producer Cameron Crowe, who is not only the maker of the epic rock movie “Almost Famous,” but a longtime journalist who’s known Crosby for many decades.
Crowe interviews Crosby in “Remember My Name,” which might account for how honest Crosby seems in his unsparing comments. He acknowledges that he has wrecked a lot of relationships in his life, and that many remain broken.
His drug problems, which almost killed him, are fair game, and so is the jail sentence he served in 1986. He’s an unlikely survivor, and yet his singing voice still sounds strong, as we can hear in recent concert footage.
Someone who’s lived this life is going to have stories, and there are some good ones here. Crosby sheepishly talks about how his then-girlfriend Joni Mitchell pointedly sang a breakup song to him, in the midst of a house party.
He also speaks warmly of his sailboat, which he bought with a loan from Peter Tork of the Monkees. (That sentence could only happen in the wonderful world of rock ‘n’ roll.)
If you’re a fan of that world, this film will please. I have to report some disappointment, however. There aren’t enough songs, for one thing — the film is only 95 minutes long; surely we had room for more music?
And the anecdotes seem random, with huge pockets left unexplored. I enjoyed the speculation that Crosby’s droopy mustache and baked-hippie speaking style might have inspired Dennis Hopper’s character in “Easy Rider” (another 1969 milestone), but I’m not sure why it was included.
It’s groovy to see the 2019 Crosby still performing, and still annoying people (when a friend starts talking about astrology, Crosby mercilessly ridicules him). There’s some kind of lesson there: Be full enough of spit and vinegar, and you might just survive your biggest mistakes.
“David Crosby: Remember My Name” (3 stars)
Cameron Crowe produced this documentary portrait of David Crosby, the rock ‘n’ roll survivor whose battles with drug addiction and bad behavior are treated in anecdotal fashion. There’s not enough music and the film doesn’t dig deep, but it’s good to see Crosby enduring and still performing.
Rating: R, for language
Opening Friday: SIFF Cinema Uptown