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Mods & Rockers Film Festival 2010 salutes filmmaker Murray Lerner

August 25, 2010 |  3:39 pm

Isle of Wight 
In addition to offering vintage performance footage of such classic artists as Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, the Who, Leonard Cohen, the Doors, Jethro Tull, Emerson Lake & Palmer and the Moody Blues, the 2010 Mods & Rockers Film Festival will be highlighting one name more than any other: Murray Lerner.

He’s the filmmaker behind several of the documentaries in this year’s festival, which opens Thursday and runs through Sunday at theaters in Hollywood and Santa Monica.

Lerner’s name is best known in pop music circles for "Message to Love," his film that captured the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival in the U.K., where Hendrix, the Doors, Tull, ELP and numerous others drew more than 600,000 fans about a year after Woodstock.

The celebrated “Woodstock” film is what inspired Lerner to move forward with an alternative view of that era in pop culture, even though the festival sponsors who hired him to document their event went broke and never came through with the financing for a film he’d been promised.

In Michael Wadleigh’s film about the famous “three days of peace and music” in upstate New York, “They were making the point that everything was hunky-dory -- peace and love, obviously,” Lerner once said. “And I don't believe it.”

In particular, he objected to the image created of a hippie utopia where money wasn’t an issue and promoters, musicians and fans came together without a hiccup. That’s not what Lerner witnessed at the Isle of Wight show, backstage or in front of it, where promoter Rikki Farr berated fans who crashed the gates because they objected to paying the admission price of £3 -- about $6 at the time.

“ ‘Woodstock’ glossed over all that stuff, and that was the stuff that really gave rise to the puzzling contradictions in the hippie movement, because, essentially, it became a way of making money for a lot of people behind the scenes,” he said. “I'm not begrudging them, I guess I'm jealous; they made millions off that thing. And everybody talked as if it were a work of charity. Whereas, I really made no money.”

It took a quarter century after Isle of Wight, before Lerner was able to finish and release his two-hour film, which screens Thursday night at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, to launch the Mods & Rockers Festival. Lerner will attend the "Message to Love" screening and take part in a Q&A session about the film along with several of the participants, including Doors members Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger, ELP's Keith Emerson, Jethro Tull’s Glenn Cornick and Mike Pinder of the Moody Blues.

Also on the schedule Thursday will be Lerner’s 2004 documentary on jazz great Miles Davis, “Miles Electric,” examining the period in which Davis alienated many hardcore jazz fans by incorporating electric guitars and other elements of rock music into his sound.

Saturday’s offerings include two more Lerner films: “Jimi Hendrix: Wild Blue Angel” (2002) and “The Who: Listening to You” (2004). Sunday at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica brings a triple bill of Lerner works: “Leonard Cohen: Live at the Isle of Wight” (2009), "Bob Dylan: The Other Side of the Mirror” (2007) and “Festival” (1967), the latter being a film about the Newport Folk Festival in the early to mid-'60s that was Lerner’s first major music documentary. Lerner’s Davis and Cohen films are being shown in Los Angeles for the first time.

Friday’s lineup is the only one offering anything other than Lerner films, pairing his 2009 look at the Moody Blues, "The Moody Blues: Threshold of a Dream,” with Dianna Dilworth’s new documentary about the early synthesizer-like device the Moodys used extensively in their music, the Mellotron. “Mellodrama: The Mellotron Movie” coincides with the 50th anniversary of the instrument’s introduction.

Information on all the films and special panels is available at the Mods & Rockers Festival website.

-- Randy Lewis

Photo: Crowd shot from the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970. Credit: Mods & Rockers Film Festival

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