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Film Review: In “Tubular Bells 50th Anniversary Tour Documentary,” Art Is Timeless

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | November 18th, 2022

Film poster: “Tubular Bells 50th Anniversary Tour Documentary”

Tubular Bells 50th Anniversary Tour Documentary (Matt Hargraves, 2022) 3 out of 4 stars.

In 1973, at the age of 19, British musician Mike Oldfield released what would become a seminal progressive-rock album of that decade, entitled Tubular Bells. With his use of the opening section in his horror film The Exorcist, director William Friedkin ensured that legions of moviegoers would continue to know the music even as music fans aged and tastes changed. Listening to Tubular Bells today, I marvel at how powerful it remains, however, and so am not surprised to learn that in 2021 a group of investors and producers decided to launch a 50th-anniversary tour with a big kickoff concert at London’s Royal Festival Hall. Out today on disc, and on VOD on December 13th, is a new two-part collection from Cleopatra Entertainment (released by Kaleidoscope Film Distribution), featuring both the concert and a behind-the-scenes documentary (narrated by actor Bill Nighy, Living). What follows are my thoughts on the latter, since I have not watched the former (yet).

Director Matt Hargraves, in a brisk 90 minutes, follows the staging of the show from concept to execution. It’s not an easy production to mount, given that it features both acrobatics and musicians. The former come from Circa Contemporary Circus, based in Australia, and the latter (it seems) primarily form the United Kingdom. Yaron Lifschitz directs the physical performances while Robin Smith is in charge of the orchestration and instrumentalists. Given that each have different priorities, it is not surprising that, as the premiere date approaches, significant creative clashes emerge. It’s up to producer Michael Stevens to mediate.

Mike Oldfield ©Cleopatra Entertainment

Ultimately, the goal is to present a fresh perspective on Oldfield’s creation, with some additional pieces added into the mix for a longer experience. Smith warns of the danger of canonization; as soon as anything becomes sacred, it will no longer evolve, guaranteeing eventual obsolescence. So he understands the potential rewards of the complicated spectacle about to go on, even as he chafes under the requirements of the on-stage movement and dance, worrying that it will overshadow the hard work of the musicians.

Joining the cast of characters are many who were inspired by Tubular Bells when young or worked with Oldfield (who is not part of the concert or the documentary, though he has given his blessing), including his original producer, Tom Newman; apparently, the two had some type of falling out, though Newman is still quite enthusiastic about the work. At the end, we see significant parts of opening night, which almost doesn’t happen because of torrential rains causing a partial roof collapse at the venue. But what a show it is, with a giant sun as rotating moving-image background and an evocative ballet accompanied by that fantastic score. It’s hardly an innovative or overly insightful documentary, but it does a fine job showcasing the efforts of all. Art, when open to constant interpretation, can indeed be timeless.

Still from the TUBULAR BELLS 50TH ANNIVERSARY TOUR DOCUMENTARY ©Cleopatra Entertainment
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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), as well as a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is Managing Editor at Film Festival Today; lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is a former cohost of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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