The documentary Vinyl Nation is available for digital streaming on April 19, just in time for Record Store Day on the 23rd, and it’s a fascinating film. What at first glance may seem like an ode to a dying music format for audiophilic elitists turns out to be a celebration of the community that physical objects, passion, collecting, and music can create. It also chronicles the strange cultural resurgence of vinyl records, and what that might signify in our day and age.
As the Recording Industry Association of America points out, vinyl physical units sold exceeded CD physical units sold in the first half of 2021 for the first time since 1986, and Billboard states that vinyl album sales in the United States have increased every year since 2007, from 1 million total albums sold to 41.72 million total albums sold in 2021. Between 2020 and 2021, vinyl album sales jumped an incredible 51.4% in the United States.
Directors and producers Kevin Smokler and Christopher Boone took a leap of faith into this subject that neither one of them had specifically tackled before. Smokler is an author, largely writing about pop culture and literature in books like Brat Pack America, and Boone is a narrative filmmaker (Cents) and a writer himself, so the fact that the two decided to make a documentary about vinyl records seems especially fascinating. Perhaps it took a couple of quasi-outsiders (and myriad miles of travel) to get to the heart of the matter.
“Neither one of us play an instrument,” Smokler says. “We were never in bands. We never worked in the music industry. It was mostly an idea that I had the germ of, and I was trying somehow to understand why records and old technology that were far from convenient […] were on the way back, because you didn’t see that in other forms of pop culture. Dime novels were not experiencing a resurgence, VHS tapes were not, cartridge gaming, like none of those things were coming back with the fervor that vinyl was.”
The two had gone to college together, so when Smokler was on a book tour, he brought the idea to his filmmaking friend. “The first question Chris asked was, ‘Why? Why does this need to be a movie? Why don’t we do a 10-part podcast series, or why don’t you go and write another book about it?’ And I think the thing we both came up with, is that vinyl is inherently a physical and visual thing. Part of the joy […] of records is touching them and smelling them, and seeing them turn on the turntable, and the incredible artwork, and all the different senses along with your ears that they activate, and the best way to convey that artistically was through film.”
“If we’re going to tell a story called Vinyl Nation, it’s got to include all of vinyl nation,” Boone says, “so we need to see all the different people that made that. You write a book, you can’t really see them as well, and if you do a podcast, you only hear them.” This was important because so much of Vinyl Nation is about how the image of vinyl fans as elitist snobs (think High Fidelity, or the comic book store owner of The Simpsons) has changed to be radically more inclusive.
“We really wanted to show you who these people were because we didn’t think they were who you thought vinyl enthusiasts are today, or they weren’t portrayed that way in the media.” So the pair set out with a crew, traveling across the country in the Spring of 2019 in order to visually understand the phenomenon, oscillating from city to city in between time spent at home.
“That was a big part of the fun, at least for me,” Boone reminisces, “being able to go around the country to a lot of cities and towns I’ve never been to and meet all these people but also to experience the communities where they live, and that was important to us to capture as best we could. We were all over the place, and these people came from all different backgrounds, and they are literally every race, every gender, every age, in our film. They have this one thing in common.”
As such, Vinyl Nation depicts community in a fresh and interesting way. So often today, communities are formed from anger and not love, and from negative rather than positive passion. The record community might share a specific interest (music in a physical, rather antiquated form), but that interest spans an international century, brimming with folk, rap, bossa nova, death metal, and teen pop idols; they’re all on vinyl, where they’re qual in a community which cares. “If we put all 45 of our interview subjects in a room, they’d be fast friends, just because they have this connection through records. And we hope when people watch the film, they feel that connection with these people too.”
In a fascinating turn of events, this great recent documentary about community helped create communities in turn, and give back to others. When the film was finished, the world largely went into lockdown from the Coronavirus pandemic, and film festivals were shutting their doors. Smokler and Boone had a delightful idea that complimented the vibrantly communal nature of Vinyl Nation: they screened the film at record stores. As Boone recounts:
The pandemic and its viruses didn’t exactly end, however, and record stores were hardly the only small businesses that were hurting. So Vinyl Nation supported that community, too. Boone continues:
Most film festivals generally don’t accept submissions from movies that have been screened elsewhere; they tend to be occasions for exclusive premiers, so Boone wasn’t sure if film festivals would be interested in a movie that had been screened in small communities of music and film lovers for months. As Smokler says:
As Smokler touchingly says, “It had sort of reaffirmed what we knew Vinyl Nation was about. It said that there’s kind of friends everywhere, even if it often doesn’t seem like it on the surface.”
The journey that Smokler and Boone went on began as a way to understand why vinyl records have grown so popular again. Was it nostalgia in the age of the reboot, when everyone moves forward by looking back? Was it hipster fashion, a kind of cool trend? Was it a byproduct of capitalism and materialism, a pushback against the digitization of everything, a desire for physical possessions? Ultimately, whatever Vinyl Nation might signify, at the end of the day it’s about people, and the adventure these directors took led to a deeper understanding of community (for them and their audience) in an era in which such a thing is direly important. Music’s great, but it needs ears to hear it.
Vinyl Nation, from 1091 Pictures, arrives on digital on April 19 in a beautiful 4k master.
Addams Family Star Recalls How He Almost Played Gandalf in Lord of The Rings
Many of the greatest stories from Hollywood are those about actors who almost took on iconic roles that ended up going to another actor. Whether it is Tom Cruise potentially being considered as Iron Man, Russell Crowe as Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings, or Al Pacino as Han Solo in Star Wars, there are an endless number of what-if scenarios out there. Another such case of what might have been had recently been discussed by the iconic star of the original The Addams Family TV series, John Astin, who opened up about his audition to play Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
John Astin, the father of Lord of the Rings star Sean Astin, played Gomez Addams in the classic 60s TV series, but the actor could have become famous to a whole new generation for another reason had he been cast in the role of Gandalf the Grey in Peter Jackson’s epic movies. While the part was eventually played with relish by Ian McKellen, Astin revealed that his audition was just not quite what Jackson was looking for. Speaking to AV Club, he said:
Everything has its place in time, and while John Astin’s version of Gandalf will never be seen on screen, his portrayal of Gomez in The Addams Family has always been one of the benchmarks for the character when being performed by subsequent actors. With Netflix bringing a new take on The Addams Family to screens in the Tim Burton series Wednesday, it will be interesting to see how Luis Guzman’s interpretation of the head of the family compares to the likes of Astin, and of course, Raul Julia, who played the role in the 90s movies.
When it comes to Lord of the Rings, Ian McKellen has played Gandalf in all three movies and The Hobbit trilogy, but we are about to see a whole new iteration of Middle-Earth come to life in Amazon Prime Video’s Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power later this year. Bringing a whole new story of Tolkien’s world set many years before the events of the movies, the series promises to be a visually stunning feast, but how it will hold up in the storytelling stakes is something we have yet to find out.
The Untold Truth Of Josh Brolin
By 2017, Josh Brolin was a bona fide A-lister. He reached the point where he doesn’t call people, they call him. However, showbiz never fails to find an opportunity to humble its performers, proving that fame is more temporary than WWE’s 24/7 champion. Brolin experienced this firsthand when he was cut from George Clooney’s “Suburbicon”: a film co-written by the Coen brothers, who directed him in “No Country for Old Men.”
Clooney explained the decision to Entertainment Weekly, discussing how it pained him to cut the scenes where Brolin portrayed a baseball coach but it had to be done. “After we did our first screening, the one thing that became really clear to me was that [the scenes] let the air out of the balloon, in terms of the tension in the film,” he said. “I had to write him this awful note where I just said, ‘You’re not going to believe it, but these scenes really don’t work anymore.'” Clooney added that Brolin was disappointed and wondered if he’d let the team down with his performance, but the director sent him the scenes to show that they were hilarious but didn’t work in the overall context of the film.