Calgary International Film Festival 2013 - Muscle Shoals

Posted on Saturday, September 21, 2013 at 12:00 AM

Review Type: Festival

Muscle Shoals

Review by Troy Steinke

We all have expectations. It's inevitable. We wake up each day and expect certain inalienable truths to remain. It's not a bad thing per se. For instance: if I walk into traffic, I can expect to be pancaked at some point. It's helpful. It keeps me alive. Our expectations can often be limiting as well. For instance, when I heard Bono's voice in the first few frames of 'Muscle Shoals', I expected this film to suck. I felt an internal shudder of defeat. Why? Because in my mind, Bono's voice would be best lent to a history of Oxfam Infomercials, rather than a documentary about a quaint Alabama town that managed to define Rock and Soul throughout the 60's and beyond.

I can happily report that I was wrong. Well, sort of. 'Muscle Shoals' is the kind of documentary that music nerds eat up, but may not appeal to average film buff. It's filled with an amazing assortment of characters - from Aretha Franklin to Alicia Keyes. We're treated to an insiders look at how some of the biggest hits of all time came to be, and how a small town on the muddy banks of the Tennessee River came to play a pivotal role in music history. We learn about Rick Hall's FAME Studios and his hapless group of session musicians ('The Swampers'), who quietly crafted some of the funkiest music ever made. In its best moments, 'Muscle Shoals' pleasantly defies our expectations, revealing that hits like 'When a Man Loves a Woman' and 'Respect' weren't penned by exclusively Black musicians. Instead, some of the greatest Soul songs of all time were crafted by a gang of would-be Walmart Greeters, one of which bearing a striking resemblance to Dave Thomas of Wendy's fame. RIP Dave. My interest in the film waned when they revealed that the same geniuses penned Lynyrd Skynyrd's 'Freebird', leading to a musical revolution that became the Southern Rock movement. Gee, thanks guys!

All in all, 'Muscle Shoals' is a good documentary. Personal stories are woven with bits and pieces of music history that have taken a backseat to the much celebrated Motown and Stax records stories. The photography was above par, with a good dose of archival footage and stills to authenticate the firsthand accounts of many legendary musicians. A great film for music lovers, and an OK film for the average schmo, even with the Bono cameo.

Seen at the Calgary International Film Festival 2013 (Repeat Screening on Sunday Sep 22, 2:00 pm At Eau Claire)

Calgary International Film Festival >
Muscle Shoals Official >



NOTE: The showtimes listed on come directly from the theatres' announced schedules, which are distributed to us on a weekly basis. All showtimes are subject to change without notice or recourse to