Sunday, July 25, 2010

June 8, 2010: Psychobabble recommends ‘Mellodrama: The Mellotron Movie’

Mellodrama, the title of a new film about the Mellotron, is more than just a clever play on words. There is a surprising level of intrigue, double-crossing, and impassioned archaeology in Dianna Dilworth’s documentary about the early synthesizer that was a staple of ‘60s psychedelia and ‘70s progressive rock. Thorough yet brisk and accessible enough for non-cultists, Mellodrama provides an engrossing trip through the Mellotron’s history. We see vintage footage of Harry Chambelin, the man who invented the Chamberlin organ in the ‘40s and personally hawked it to music stores like a traveling salesman, marketing it more as home entertainment appliance than serious instrument. Chamberlin’s son Richard is present to describe how a former business partner ripped off his dad’s invention and sold it to a British company that rejiggered and marketed it as the Mellotron to much greater success. This leads to discussions of the instrument’s renaissance among Rock musicians.

Although Mellodrama is short on original recordings of the songs that made it legendary (the high cost of music rights is surely the culprit), we do get to see Mike Pinder of The Moody Blues replicating the Mellotron part of “Nights in White Satin” on his sampler and Brian Wilson noodling with “California Girls” on the real thing. More significant are the stories the musicians tell. Pinder describes how he turned The Beatles on to the Mellotron, which led to the creation of some of their most important work. Rod Argent talks about how The Zombies’ masterwork Odessey & Oracle was affected by a Mellotron The Beatles left behind in Abbey Road. Claudio Simonetti of Goblin discusses how he worked the Mellotron into the horror films of Dario Argento. Richard Chamberlin talks about how a Mellotron mesmerized Stevie Wonder. Matthew Sweet, Michael Penn, producers Mitchell Froom, and Jon Brion describe their quests to hunt down or revive these rare objects. We also learn how the Lawrence Welk Orchestra, the British military, and the Third Reich contributed to the development of the Mellotron, and how its temperamental nature (The Moody Blues actually cancelled shows because of their chronically malfunctioning Mellotron!) caused its downfall. By the end of Mellodrama, the Mellotron has emerged as a character more fully realized than many human roles in Hollywood films. Highly recommended to both those interested in the Mellotron as a piece of pioneering technology and fans of the artists who made it a cult item worthy of its own film.

Buy it here: Mellodrama: The Mellotron Movie
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