(This is part of a series of reviews of movies showing at the Nov. 2-13 Denver Film Festival that examine aspects of business.)
Film: BANG! The Bert Berns Story
Show times: 4:15 p.m. Thursday, 9 p.m. Saturday and 11:15 a.m. on Nov. 13 at United Artists Denver Pavilions
Industry it spotlights: Music recording
The story: Bert Berns was a 1960s pioneer in the music industry, producing records ranging from “Twist and Shout” to “Hang On Sloopy.” This documentary recalls both Berns’ successes and challenges and focuses on his business dealings with both a cut-throat industry and with the mob.
The review: Brett Berns made “BANG! The Bert Berns Story” to honor the legacy of his late father. But more than just being a biopic, the documentary is a keen look at the music industry in the 1960s — and may just be the most interesting and incisive look at an industry playing this year at the Denver Film Festival.
You may not know Bert Berns’ name, but you should. The Bronx-raised artist transformed a $50-a-week song-writing job into an opportunity to produce some of the top R&B artists of the early 1960s, rolling out hits like The Exciters’ “Tell Him.” This led to a full-time gig at powerhouse Atlantic Records, which allowed Berns to start his own label, Bang Records.Bang sprang from the gates as one of the hit makers of the mid-1960s, signing Neil Diamond and putting out blockbuster songs like The Strangeloves’ “I Want Candy” and Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl" when other labels rejected them.
It got so big, in fact, that one of Atlantic’s owners tried to buy control of the label, launching Berns into an extended battle to hold onto the business that he’d created, sometimes using the help of friends he’d acquired in the mob.
Brett Berns paints the record industry of the 1960s alternately in romantic and dark lights. The film uses myriad interviews with recording stores of the time to reminisce about the collaboration and creativity that came out of sessions with Berns, who always let the singers, rather than the producers, be at the center of the process.
But it also notes the often back-handed ways that Atlantic used to deal with its songwriters, producers and artists, and it paints the mobsters in Berns’ life as more sympathetic than some of the legitimate businessmen involved.
Berns’ story is given a heart-felt urgency as well, as it’s shaped often around the fact that the pneumatic fever he contracted as a child left his heart so damaged that it could give out at any time. As he pushes for more and more success, it feels like a race against the clock in many ways.
“BANG!” spotlights just one industry, but it does so in such a thorough and heart-felt way that anyone will be hard-pressed not to see parallels to both their business interests and to their goals and dreams in what Berns was doing. This is top-notch and unflinching film-making.
Sealover, Ed. "Film Fest Biz Flicks: 'BANG!' Is an Analytical, Unflinching Look at Music Industry." Denver Business Journal. November 6, 2016. http://www.bizjournals.com/denver/news/2016/11/06/film-fest-biz-flicks-bang-is-ananalytical.html.