‘The Ventures’ Review

As a fan of surf music, I was really looking forward to The Ventures: Stars on Guitars. This is the first-ever feature documentary about the enormously influential instrumental group who hit it big with “Walk Don’t Run” 60 years ago and went on to release hundreds of albums,  selling more than 100 million records over the next six decades.

The film turns out to be mostly a well-edited compilation of fawning “talking head” footage from 35 interviews with everyone from Creedence Clearwater Revival’s John Fogerty, who inducted the band into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2018, to members of current all-female guitar-driven bands like the The Surfrajettes and The Neptunas.

Much of the talking is about The Ventures’ technical innovations and guitar techniques which may be of immense interest to fellow musicians, whether famous or not, but left me wishing for less talk and more music. Alas, you need to wait until the closing credits to hear and see a complete Ventures performance.

But you can watch one right here, albeit “lip”-synched, from ABC’s The Dick Clark Saturday Night Beech-Nut Show in 1960. This YouTube video has 7.3 million views, and deservedly so:

The Ventures: Stars on Guitars could also have used a first-person, personal feel from its filmmaker – which you’d actually expect, since writer/director/producer Staci Layne Wilson (Psycho Therapy, Cabaret of the Dead) happens to be the daughter of Don Wilson, co-founder and last surviving original member of The Ventures. The movie, though, never mentions this fact.

Perhaps Wilson felt she had already covered this territory in her 2017 tell-all book, So L.A.: A Hollywood Memoir: by the Daughter of a Rock Star & a Pinup Model.

So, we’ll make do with the following statement from the filmmaker, included in the movie’s press release from Vision Films: “Three years ago, I realized I had to make a documentary about my dad’s band, The Ventures. As their 60th anniversary approached, I wanted to make sure that there would be fanfare and celebration. This is my dad’s story, and I am so proud to be able to bring it to the world.”

Lise Romanoff, CEO and managing director of Vision Films, noted that Wilson “has delivered a passion project.”

Perhaps it could have used a bit more passion. 

I’ll leave you with “Wipeout,” in which drums rather than guitars rule. In this live version, Max Weinberg of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band is one of the drummers. Don’t know what year it’s from, but it boasts 21 million YouTube views:

The Ventures: Stars on Guitars premiered today on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vimeo and Vudu, starting at $3.99.

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About Les Luchter

Les Luchter is a former managing editor of Multichannel News, editor-in-chief of Cable Marketing, and news editor of Broadcast Week.

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