“All Things Must Pass,” a documentary by Colin Hanks, ‘96, did something very strange: it made me nostalgic for a time I never lived through.
The documentary traces the rise and fall of Tower Records, a music retailer based in Sacramento. Tower Records lasted from 1960- 2006, growing from a single store on Watt Avenue to an international franchise.
The story begins at the end, so to speak, with the company’s founder Russell Solomon sitting alone in the empty carcass of the original Tower Records location. Surrounded by barren shelves, he talks about what Tower was to people – the place to hang out during free time as a teenager.
The story continues by setting out the humble beginnings of the company, its expansion to international renown and millions of dollars in revenue and, finally, its decay and collapse at the hands of numerous factors.
Hanks uses interviews, and a lot of old photos and archival footage, to recreate the atmosphere of the early Tower Records – fun, groovy and totally hip – and show the dedication that each of the employees had for the company. Interviewees repeatedly talked about how much fun it was to work at Tower, and how it felt like a family.
There was a lot of talking.
This is to be expected from a documentary, but the hour-and-a-half film could probably have been at least 20 minutes shorter, with less repetition of the same ideas by assorted old white men.
That was another thing – of the dozen or so people interviewed, all but one were men, and all were white. I understand that that was the nature of the industry at the time, but that doesn’t mean I enjoyed listening to endless white men (admittedly very interesting, counter-culture white men) talking about the same thing.
That said, the one woman provided a fascinating viewpoint as the first female employee of the company. While it was far from a feminist revelation, it was certainly interesting to hear how she dealt with sexism and rose above it.
It was inspiring, in fact.
And that was one of the great strengths of the film: it was incredibly inspiring to hear how a company could rise from almost nothing to a huge international presence.
It inspired emotions, as well. Listening to so many people who so clearly cared so much about a phenomenon was, well, phenomenal. And I can’t help but feel a twinge of wistfulness when I think of the explanation of the title: the original location of Tower Records, upon closing, put up a sign reading “All things must pass; thank you, Sacramento.”
It was also interesting watching the film in Tower Theater, right where the original drugstore owned by Solomon’s father was. (Solomon originally sold records out of his father’s store, before creating Tower Records.) It created a sense of realness – this happened here, in Sacramento, near where I was sitting.
The audience was mostly older people reliving their glory days on the big screen, but I spotted a few youths too – perhaps “hipsters” (like me, admittedly) who listen to records even now, decades past their obsolescence.
In short, while I felt that “All Things Must Pass” dragged a bit in some places and was sorely lacking in female representation, it’s worth going to see, if only because it’s Sacramento history.