When it comes to the world of Prog Rock every fan will have their preference as to which band holds the crown as their favorite. Opinion is all that matters when it comes to what a single person likes. But when it comes to King Crimson, I think it is hard to deny that they stand at the top of the Prog Rock Pyramid. Someone out there may prefer Yes or Rush as their favorite music to listen to, but it doesn’t change that fact that not only did King Crimson start the game, they also always moved the bar. Whether you know it or not, King Crimson has graced your presence in one way or another. Even younger audiences have heard Greg Lake’s distorted presentation as they listen to Kanye West’s, “Power,” which samples the opening track from their debut album, “21st Century Schizoid Man.”
Started mainly by Ian MacDonald, Michael Giles, and Robert Fripp with Greg Lake joining on vocals and Peter Sinfield providing all the lyrics; King Crimson has been through many line-up changes throughout the years, with Fripp being the only constant. This in depth look at the inner workings of one of the most important bands in rock history was put together by director Toby Amies and was first produced to celebrate the 50 year anniversary of the band’s existence as they toured the world in 2019.
To go through a quick history of the musical entity that is King Crimson would be futile here. That is what you watch the movie for. But it is safe to say, this dissection of Fripp and crew has something to offer fans and novices, a like. For ardent fans of the band, the film may not open so many new doors that were not either uncovered in the public eye or rumored to be facts. But it opens a very interesting door into the day to day workings of Robert Fripp and those that have joined him through the years.
Amies’ kicks off the film with some very intriguing cinematography, presenting an odd beauty found within empty arena seats that will soon be filled with adoring fans ready to witness Crimson’s brilliance. But the real stroke of genius for a film of talking heads comes when Amies finally introduces the viewer to bassist extraordinaire, Tony Levin. In essence the longest tenured member of Crimson in it’s current form, Levin begins to explain his original distaste with title of the first album he appeared on for the band; “Discipline.”
Levin explained how to he and Adrian Belew (The two American members of the band), that the title had a slight demeaning aura about it. It was about being told what to do. Though, to Fripp, it was about something wholly different. Cut to current vocalist and guitarist Jakko Jakszyk talking to Fripp on stage as Fripp endless practices his finger work for the song “FraKctured.” Fripp is technically listening to Jakko and participating in the conversation, but to anyone who does not know these men walking in on this situation would immediately question Fripp’s manners.
In just a few short moments, Amies swiftly encompasses the multiple layers of the way Fripp’s mind works and how it is seen by those on the outside of the man’s mind. Discipline as a whole to Robert Fripp is the endless practice he puts himself through to make things perfect. It isn’t meant to be a punishment, but a rule of thumb. The issue is, when he was younger, expressing himself to others wasn’t his strong suit. And though he still can be what many would call a stickler, by his own admission, he has learned to mellow out in recent years.
Ultimately though, while the picture may be less clear for Fripp by the end of things, In the Court of the Crimson King somehow unwittingly becomes a bit of a cautionary tale about make the most of things before it becomes too late to fix them. Due to the unfortunate passing recently of Ian Macdonald, his brief appearance in the film and distant admiration and regret shared between himself and Fripp carry new weight and meaning in regard to the preciousness of life and our relationships. Weighed next to the battle with cancer being fought through out the film by keyboardist Bill Rieflin who faces each day with energy and smiles, whilst fighting through physical pain–there is a lot of knowledge gain in this 86 minute documentary, even for people who claim to not even listen to music.
Final Grade: B+