Film review: In the Court of the Crimson King

Capturing the 50th anniversary tour of legendary prog rock band King Crimson in 2019, Toby Amies’s film is a drama in miniature.

Robert Fripp, founding member and dogged perfectionist, speaks at length in this documentary about his craft, about past members, and about what comes after a life well lived. He’s very serious, sometimes abrasive, always thoughtful.

Like most bands with a long history, King Crimson have had many changes of personnel, settling as a eight-piece introduced by on-screen first names. Robert, Jeremy, Mel, Jakko, Tony, Pat, Gavin, Bill.

This is a personal story as much as a professional one. A story of young men who became old men, still enveloped in their art. Still nervous, too, in big venues.

There are moments which deeply move: Bill Rieflin, tired and close to death from cancer; Fripp, recalling meeting philosopher John Bennett, who he reveres; Ian McDonald and Fripp, both heartbroken at the 70s split apart of the band they co-founded.

The fans, too – even a nun. The constant need to improvise and refine the craft to provide the best possible show for them.  Through thick and thin, they’ve been there.

This is not just a film for diehard fans. It’s for casual music lovers, too, who appreciate the ups and downs of playing together and achieving an easy compromise of sorts.

We meet the tech guys, the roadies, who keep the instruments in top condition, preserving changes and tweaks developed over years. “It’s an old man’s job”, quips one.

This film is a constant joy. Fripp in his formal clothes, keeping a tight reign on his creation, surrounded by collaborators who share the same vision. The constant, up-front drumming of a band marching to their own beat.

The past is not forgotten, either, with carefully chosen clips of the Greg Lake years. The music crafted under Fripp’s not always benign dictatorship is all – he’s notably snippy when asked questions he feels far beneath him.

Absorbing stuff.

In the Court of the Crimson King premiered at SXSW Film Festival on 14 March. I reviewed from an online screener. For more on Toby Amies, go here.