Watching King Crimson play live is kind of like getting a deep tissue massage, says Toby Amies, director of the new documentary about the famous rock band called In the Court of the Crimson King. It may be uncomfortable at times, but the band — which has been around for 52 years — leaves you better than they found you.
“Seeing King Crimson live is like having one of those deep tissue massages. You’re not entirely comfortable, and sometimes it can be so painful that you’re like, I’m not sure this is good for me. But you’re in the hands, literally, of a master,” Amies said on a recent episode of the Factual America podcast.
“Then you are sort of moved through in such a way, both the massage and — I’m extending the metaphor a little too far now — but you feel better at the end of it. But you’re not necessarily totally sure why.”
In The Court of the Crimson King — which is also the name of the band’s wildly successful 1969 debut album — premiered at this year’s SXSW festival. To make it, Toby Amies followed King Crimson on tour.
Just don’t call it rock ‘n roll — and definitely don’t call it prog-rock.
“It’s a very complex set of ideas placed into rock music. Not rock and roll music, though, crucially, because they sort of weren’t — one of the conceptual decisions, I understand that they made early on, was not to be influenced by the blues,” Amies said. “Whereas, a lot of other bands were influenced by the blues at the time that they started up, most famously the Stones and The Beatles, obviously, but they’re more influenced by, like, Bartok. So, there is sort of classical element to it… Seeing them live is as powerful, oftentimes, and as noisy as going to see a metal show.
“They’re referred to as a prog-rock band, which raises the hackles of almost everybody in the band when they’re referred to that way. But I think it’s important to make this distinction between prog-rock, which becomes, if you’ll pardon the pun, a genre sort of kept in aspect. It’s sort of preserved. And then there’s this notion of what progressive is, and obviously, there’s this idea of forward movement and change and evolution, implicit in that. And that, I think, is something that King Crimson has done very well. The tours that I followed them on, they were playing a lot of old material, but — and there were a lot of old men on stage, you know, to be frank, a lot of them are getting on. Nevertheless, they’ve got three drummers at the front of the stage, and so the experience of going to see King Crimson, even in somewhere as hallowed as the Royal Albert Hall, you know, you’re pummeled by them.”
In the Court of the Crimson King is currently awaiting a release date. Here are some time stamps from the Factual America interview:
00:00 – The trailer for In the Court of the Crimson King.
03:11 – When the film will be widely released.
06:23 – Who King Crimson are, what they stand for and what makes them special.
12:04 – How Toby became involved with the project despite knowing little about the band.
16:15 – Toby’s passion for music and the challenges of making a film about top-class musicians.
23:34 – The challenges of making a documentary with limited access to your subjects.
29:05 – The benefits of filming without a crew and the power of post-production.
36:28 – The failures of English punk and how punk rock King Crimson are.
39:40 – How the band has remained successful in recent years.
43:40 – How Robert Fripp feels about the final version of the film.
48:40 – The pressure of making a film about a subject that has so many dedicated fans.
1:01:45 – What’s next for Toby Amies and his hope for future projects
Factual America uses documentary filmmaking to examine the American experience as well as universal topics that affect all Americans. Guests include Academy Award, Emmy, and Grammy-winning filmmakers and producers, their subjects, as well as experts on the American experience. We discuss true crime, music, burning social and political topics, history and arts with the creators of the latest and upcoming documentary films in theatres and on the most popular digital platforms. This podcast is produced by Alamo Pictures, a London- and Austin-based production company that makes documentaries about the US from a European perspective for international audiences.
Main Image: A still from In the Court of the Crimson King.