A popular Colorado band from the ’70s reunites in this doc directed by TV comedy titan Lee Aronsohn.
Documentaries about musicians reuniting after a long period out of the spotlight have proved appealing in the past. One of these films, Searching for Sugar Man, even won an Oscar. There may not be any awards in the offing for the latest variation on this theme, 40 Years in the Making: The Magic Music Movie. And yet this film from TV giant Lee Aronsohn should find appreciative audiences when it begins a few theatrical engagements this month.
This will be true even for audiences who have never heard of Magic Music, the folk-rock band that attracted audiences in Colorado in the early 1970s and retained an appeal to a gang of diehards. One of the fans was Aronsohn, who heard them perform when he attended the University of Colorado at Boulder. After college, he moved to California and established a career as writer and then producer of such TV shows as The Love Boat, Murphy Brown and two behemoths, Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory. But the music stayed in his head, and he resolved to find out what happened to the bandmembers.
Aronsohn decided to appear on camera as the narrator and guide on this nostalgic journey. He makes an engaging emcee as he recounts the music’s impact and his determination to bring the band back together. Since the group never made an album, it was difficult to find footage of their performances, but there were plenty of photographs, and Aronsohn hired Micah Brenner and a group of animators to recreate the checkered history of Magic Music in clever illustrated interludes.
The musicians seemed to disdain fame and its trappings, though they were not immune to ego conflicts; over the course of just a few years, the original bandmembers dispersed and were replaced by new additions. After the group disbanded in 1975, they ended up in different parts of the country. Some continued to perform with other bands, while others eventually found work in completely unrelated fields. One of the original members, Lynn Poyar, died in 2011, but footage of him was recorded by one of his children, and Aronsohn was able to incorporate that with interviews that he conducted with the other members and a couple of their managers. Their own lively tracks provide a winsome, if sometimes overemphatic, soundtrack.
Aronsohn has said that he was not initially thinking of a reunion concert, but as he met the musicians and interviewed some of their fans in Boulder, he had the idea of encouraging them to perform again. As the bandmembers get together, we finally have a sense of their musical talents. George Cahill, known as “Tode,” is an extraordinarily gifted flautist reminiscent of Ian Anderson of the British band Jethro Tull. Although the group had initially resisted the idea of having a drummer, the musician they eventually hired, Kevin Millburn, known as “C.W.,” turned out to have an extraordinary singing voice as well as a skill with drums.
Yet the idea of bringing C.W. back for the reunion turned out to be a special challenge. He had parted on bad terms with the band’s manager over a drug deal that is never precisely explained. C.W. had moved to Carson City, Nevada, and not spoken to any of the other bandmembers in decades. But former enemies decided to bury the hatchet, and he rejoined the group. Not everything turned out so smoothly. One bass player still harbored bitterness about being displaced, and he refused to perform.
The reunion concert finally took place in November 2015 and had 800 people in attendance at a sold-out concert in Boulder. The warmth that pervades the auditorium will also affect audiences for this doc. Beyond celebrating the music, 40 Years in the Making: The Magic Music Movie has something to say about the compromises and reconciliations that are a part of aging, and it turns out to make for a stirring and healing reunion.
Director-narrator: Lee Aronsohn
Producers: Fleur Saville, Jeff Jampol
Executive producers: Lee Aronsohn, Lisa Haisha
Director of photography: Dean Cornish
Editor: Kyle Vorbach
Music: Magic Music