SXSW 2015: All Things Must Pass
“In 1999, Tower Records made over one billion dollars. Five years later, they filed for bankruptcy.” That statement opens All Things Must Pass, Colin Hanks’ documentary about the famous chain of record stores that crashed and burned after the end of the 20th century. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why Tower Records could no longer sustain their worldwide operation (hint: rhymes with “schminternet”), and Hanks thankfully doesn’t dwell on stating the obvious impact MP3s had on physical media. Hanks also avoids turning his film into a eulogy for the days when shopping for music was a more communal experience, keeping things relatively straightforward as a rise and fall story about Tower Records. It’s a simple, entertaining documentary, one that prefers to sit back and let its entertaining subjects guide the film.
Starting back in the 1960’s, Hanks lets Tower Records founder Russ Solomon detail the meteoric rise of his company from a tiny record shop in Sacramento to one of the world’s biggest music stores. Hanks frames this section through the eccentric types who ran Tower Records, charting their rise from store clerks in the ’60s to VPs and Managers of a billion-dollar business decades later. Those kinds of success stories are inherently fascinating to learn about, and the close-knit, family-like nature of Tower Records leads to a variety of great anecdotes (one example: the company’s successful expansion into Japan started with a drunken conversation between Solomon and a receiving clerk).
And yet, despite a tumultuous fall from grace, no one interviewed by Hanks seems to hold any animosity over what happened with each other (most hatred seems directed towards the banks, who forced a restructuring and, arguably, kicked the downfall into motion). Everyone at Tower fondly reminisces the fun times they had, but they all have an awareness that it could never have lasted forever. The only misstep from Hanks with this message comes at the very end, as a trip to Japan—where Tower Records still thrives—feels too congratulatory and unnecessary, falling into a nostalgia trap the film avoided up to that point. But just like the title says, everything has to come to an end, and All Things Must Pass benefits largely from its progressive attitude. Hanks doesn’t lament the past; he celebrates it, and All Things Must Pass is all the better for it.