Blu-Ray Review – “Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago”

Oh yes, a Chicago documentary.

Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago is a 2016 documentary edited and directed by Peter Pardini (nephew of current keyboardist/vocalist Lou Pardini, a member of the group since 2009).  The documentary tells the story of Chicago from their beginnings as “The Big Thing” and “Chicago Transit Authority” in 1967 up to their historic induction into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame in 2016.

What’s in between is a long winding road to fame that includes stardom, tragedy, waning popularity, resurgence, change, and a whole lotta substance abuse.  But through it all, the the ability to make music people love to hear dominates.  Included are interviews with the core four current members (Robert Lamm, James Pankow, Lee Loughnane, and Walt Parazaider), as well as the current additions to the group (Jason Scheff, who actually left the group in late 2016, Keith Howland, Walfredo Reyes, and Tris Imboden), and former members Danny Seraphine (the group’s original drummer) and Chris Pinnick.  Clive Davis, Peter Schivarelli, Irving Azoff, and David Foster, as well as Joe Mantenga and other actors participated in commentary that was shown during the closing credits.

Notably absent are Peter Cetera and Bill Champlin, two individuals whose contributions to the group are noteworthy and incredible.  Cetera just declined to be interviewed (seemingly politely, as the subtitle on the documentary says nothing more than that), but Champlin put it a little more bluntly: “My father always said, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

I wonder if he knows what James Pankow said about his departure from the group.

It was his “Bye Felicia!” moment. (Photo Source)

Nothing is held back – the group talks about their dark days and how they coped with fame, tragedy, and changes to the group.  Founding members Lamm, Pankow, Loughnane, and Parazaider (as well as Danny Seraphine), tell those stories.  They tell the stories as honestly as they know them to be true.  The other thing they don’t hold back…the tears.  It is obvious the tragic death of Terry Kath (by accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head) in January 1978 was difficult on the entire group.  Unfortunately, in the ensuing reeling from his death, the misstep of hiring Donnie Dacus (who declined interview) was mentioned.

The documentary aired as part of CNN Films on January 1, 2017 (and immediately re-aired after the initial airing – I would know, I DVR’d it that evening while watching it with rapt interest).  Produced by Chicago Records II, the CNN Films airing was the updated documentary, as the original version was released to film festivals beginning in February 2016 (the updated documentary includes the Hall of Fame induction).  It won “Best of Fest” during its debut at the Sedona International Film Festival, as well as the People’s Choice Award at the Fort Myers Film Festival.

The film contains archived footage, amazing still photos, home videos, provided photos, and reenactments of different events in the group’s storied career.  There were a few things left out (like the non-release of The Stone of Sisyphus until 2008, which I’ve talked about previously, and there was no mention of Dawayne Bailey – he was the long-haired blonde guy in the late 1980s music videos – came at the same time as Jason Scheff, gone by 1995), but the big (and important) parts of the story are told, even if some of them are a little brutally honest and blunt.  Nothing was held back, including the use of profanities to make a point.

Also brutally honest?  David Foster saying that he knew he was right, and showing off his sixteen Grammys as proof.  I had to remind myself that that was not a scene from a David Foster documentary.

Special Edition Blu-Ray: The Skinny

I recently acquired the Special Edition Blu-Ray (ok, bought – I’m not that cool and connected to acquire it for reviewing purposes!), which contains the original cut of the documentary with the added footage of the induction ceremony.  Certain aspects of the later years seem to have more meat to them – the discussion of Keith Howland joining the group and his audition was intact.  I think this may have been removed from the CNN airing, but it really is important to know how he got there.  The Blu-Ray also contains a plethora of awesome extras – extra footage, two featurettes (The New Guys and Dialogue), deleted scenes, Hall of Fame rehearsals, and some extra interviews).

One note about the Blu-Ray release, it is a manufacture on demand Blu-Ray, so there is a chance that there may be some compatibility issues with the disc.  I have a five-year-old Blu-Ray player that works well, aside from the internet connection dropping out once in a while.  The actual documentary worked perfectly, but some of the special features had some minor skipping issues.  I was particularly intrigued about the quick feature about the group performing on Saturday Night Live in 1979, but it skipped mercilessly.  However, the longer featurettes (well, The New Guys, I haven’t seen Dialogue yet) worked well, with the exception of the very of of The New Guys.  Ensure your Blu-Ray player has all its firmware updates.  The disc itself took a long time to start up, but again, minor note – five years for technology is basically two lifetimes.

My Take

This is probably bias, but I loved this documentary.  As I said, I sat with rapt interest in January 2017.  Watching it on Blu-Ray was actually my third viewing – I watched the CNN version in the spring.  It is two hours, but a fascinating two hours. For most, it really is about the music.  As someone who loves the music, but also research and knowing the deeper meaning of songs, the motivation to create, and the chance to see cool pictures and (this is where my nostalgic side comes in), archived video, this was perfect for me.  The stories are brutally honest to the point of bluntness at times.  There were creative differences, infighting, and alot of substance abuse.  That is emphasized frequently.  The sad shame is that these are guys who were young, got rich quickly, and fell prey to that need.  The wake-up call should have come when Terry Kath, amid fatigue and drugs, was cleaning his shotgun when it accidentally went off (a bullet was stuck in the otherwise unloaded chamber), and went off in his face.  It wasn’t, and the group acknowledged this.

Of course, that event could have been the end.  Some argue it should have been.  Thankfully (big thankfully!), it wasn’t.  But as that era ended, the next began, and it was the “Cetera Comes Alive” era.  Now, me personally, I loved the music of this era.  Some would say they sold out (the group felt differently about the songs at the time, but perform them with the passion they deserve).  That era ended, the next one began, so on, so forth, and marching on.  It’s how life goes.  This is a group that has lived many lifetimes in its 50 years of life.

Can’t say that about these awesome style choices.  That’s a once in a lifetime thing!

I also found out that filmmaker Peter Pardini produced the group’s 2011-2012 concert documentary, which is on Vimeo in full.  I haven’t watched it yet, but I have it on my shortlist of things to watch, so I’ll definitely be getting around to this one!

Highly recommend!!!!

In Case You’re Interested…

Amazon – Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago (Instant Video Rental)

Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago (DVD/Blu-Ray)

…And In Case You Need Some Persuading…

 

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