The best thing about the film documentary In the Court of the Crimson King: King Crimson at 50 is that very little screen time is devoted to the progressive rock band's early days. While old concert footage makes music documentaries interesting in a nostalgic sense, it often renders them unremarkable as films. In this example, director Toby Amies could have mined over fifty years of King Crimson material but chose to focus on the present.
King Crimson founding member Robert Fripp is a Toscanini-like dictatorial perfectionist who is a self-confessed monster to work with. He is narrow-minded, obsessively focussed, definite, immutable, and completely his own person. He is not unlikeable: far from it, he is merely a pedantic genius. He keeps telling Amies (who is trailing after him with a microphone and camera) that all his questions are 'shite'.
Bill Rieflin, percussionist and keyboard player, had been in and out of the band on Robert Fripp's say-so over several years and is interviewed: until he dies. At this juncture, documentary becomes real-time drama and tragedy as cancer takes Rieflin in early 2020, during the course of filming.
The editor of In the Court of the Crimson King: King Crimson at 50 (it might have been Amies, I missed the rolling credit) mixes throwaway dialogue, out-takes, disordered sequences, long awkward silences and bizarre interviews with contemporary King Crimson fans, including a Danish nun; endowing the film with a kind of atonal, dissonant cinematic colouration.
While King Crimson's music might not be familiar to most, the group's 1969 LP cover draws instant recognition in anyone of a certain age; as familiar as Munch's The Scream or the cover of Sticky Fingers. And just as King Crimson's music should ideally be listened to on old-school high fidelity stereophonic sound equipment, In the Court of the Crimson King: King Crimson at 50 should be seen in a cinema. We - the two teenagers and I - saw it at the Pentridge Cinema, where the audience was a mix of early King Crimson appreciators reliving their progressive rock days and a new younger audience.
In the Court of the Crimson King: King Crimson at 50. 2022. Written and directed by Toby Amies.