Always At the Movies
Roger Ebert, the famous film critic who died on April 4, is rightly being remembered as an impassioned defender of cinematic art and a fierce opponent of Hollywood’s lowest-common-denominator ethic. He was a champion of the sleeper and the un-blockbuster. If his aesthetic standards were not as rigorous as those of highbrow reviewers like John Simon or Stanley Kauffmann, they nonetheless informed a generation of moviegoers who learned from him that big budgets and big stars do not inevitably produce great films. But Roger Ebert left another, more troubling, legacy – one he surely didn’t intend but which has nevertheless changed, for the worse, the medium he loved.
When it debuted on PBS in 1978, “Sneak Previews,” the program Ebert co-hosted with Gene Siskel, was a unique show that afforded TV viewers the unusual opportunity to learn about new, old, and little-known films. Today the review paradigm it pioneered – thumbs up, thumbs down; five star, one star; I say, you say; he says, she says – is ubiquitous on television and the Internet. Today movies, TV series, music, books, dance, and just about every other art form are subject to instant judgements passed by countless professional and amateur critics, ranging from highly paid celebrities, as Roger Ebert certainly was, to talking heads on the local news and down to anonymous bloggers and online trolls. Today there are cable networks devoted to old movies, websites devoted to new graphic novels, YouTube channels about television and Facebook pages about radio. Today the opinions of Ebert’s descendants and imitators are themselves praised, panned, and deconstructed by ever-expanding circles of commentary. Today the relationship between even the most populist creators and the least discriminating audiences is mediated by leagues of insiders, second-guessers, and full-time spectators. Today the entertainment and cultural industries are, in a significant sense, their own chief subjects.
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In this exhaustive and insightful reference text, rock writer and cultural critic George Case details the key names, dates, figures, and features of one of the biggest and most mythologized rock-and-roll groups of all time: Led Zeppelin. Here, finally, are the answers to the puzzles that have haunted fans for over four decades – puzzles such as the meaning of Led Zep’s enigmatic album covers; the truth about leader Jimmy Page’s involvement with the occult; a breakdown of the sometimes murky roots of their greatest songs; firm data on their musical instruments, live performances, and studio productions; and sordid specifics of the band’s infamously debauched private lives.
But here, too, is a deeply reflective analysis of why Led Zeppelin’s music has endured as long as it has, and of how Led Zeppelin’s mystique has only grown in the years since their official disbanding. Placing the group in the context of their time and place, Case scrupulously compares and contrasts their achievements with those of their influences, rivals, and followers. Led Zeppelin FAQ is not only an indispensable listener’s companion to a classic rock act, but a considered history of rock and roll as a business, an art form, and a worldwide social phenomenon.