The new documentary Let There Be Drums is an introspective examination of the integral part of a band. And that member who plays that integral part is the drummer. It examines the struggles many of them face. The same goes for the impact they have on their family, and the unifying nature of a good beat.
Behind the camera, serving as the film’s director and driving creative force is Justin Kreutzmann. He’s the son of legendary Grateful Dead drummer, Bill Kreutzmann. Consequently, the film gives us a bit of an exploration of the Dead. After all, it’s Kreutzmann’s entry point into the subject matter, growing up with a famous father who did his share of touring and addictive habits.
From there the camera turns its rather compassionate eye to a number of world-famous drummers from bands across the world. (However, there was one glaring error as Canadians could testify to). It explores their relationship with not only the music but the drive behind what drew them to their kits in the first place.
There are confrontations with past demons, as tragedies, like those of Keith Moon and John Bonham, are explored. We are invited into the journeys of the Dead, The Who, Zeppelin, The Doors. It also invites us to the journeys of The Police, No Doubt, Guns and Roses, and more. Drummers honouring those who came before, those who influenced them, while recognizing their own contributions and flaws.
At its heart, Kreutzmann’s documentary is an honest look at familial relationships without playing to oversentimentality. He keeps an even beat. He recognizes and explores the difference between public and private personas. The same goes with the way he respects the variety of styles, and the inherent beauty of percussion.
With family movie reels, concert excerpts, and honest interviews, Kreutzmann lays out iconic names and faces. It humanizes them, laying bare their pain, their flaws, and their loves. Tthere are no stunning revelations here. But the gentle pulsing rhythm of the human heart drives the beat of Kreutzmann’s film and illustrates the unique expression of shared experiences that is the drummer.
Some interviews and clips only hint at what more we could have learned, but Kreutzmann cements his narrative in his and his father’s experiences in and around The Grateful Dead. You might not be a Dead fan (and I never was). But gives a fascinating glimpse of human beings trying to make a connection with one another through a beat that can move the world.
Cue up a playlist, grab your sticks, and check out Let There Be Drums, which opens here in Canada on the 25th.