In the Court of the Crimson King: King Crimson at 50

Rock bands are notorious for harmony in public and discord in private, but one band which has been mutating over five decades with only its cofounder, Robert Fripp, a constant, is unprecedented in the demands its leader has placed upon it.  Writer/director Toby Amies’ rock documentary is also unprecedented in the comedy, tragedy, profundity, grievance and musical nirvana he captures while “In the Court of the Crimson King: King Crimson at 50.”

Laura's Review: A-

While much of this documentary is obviously centered on guitarist Fripp, a man beloved and despised, Amies spirals outward to embrace not only the 7 other current members of the band (guitarist/vocalist Jakko Jakszyk; saxophonist Mel Collins; drummers Gavin Harrison. Pat Mastelotto and Jeremy Stacey; keyboardist/fairy duster Bill Rieflin; bassist Tony Levin), but former members from Ian McDonald to Adrian Belew, ‘Road Warrior’ crew members, manager David Singleton and superfan Sister Dana Benedicta.  But it is Fripp who he’ll jump off with and continue to check in on throughout, the man’s first observation that the potential King Crimson has yet to achieve is the cause of ‘acute suffering.’  Trey Gunn remembers his time in the band (1994-2003) as ‘like having a low grade infection.’

Adrian Belew thought he was Fripp’s partner and appears to still be dazed at having been dismissed, believing that Fripp still needs him, but that Fripp is happy now because everyone surrounding him is doing whatever he wants and that if they didn’t he’d take his guitar and go home, a phenomenon Belew says he has witnessed.  When Amies, whose embedment in the band appears to have come with a good dose of irreverent ribbing, begins to interview ‘favored son’ Jakko Jakszyk within Fripp’s earshot, Fripp interjects ‘tell him he’s talking a load of shite.’  Jackszyk, the only member of the 21st Century Schizoid Band who was not a former member of King Crimson (they are Mel Collins, who has returned to the fold, Michael Giles, Peter Giles and Ian McDonald), is amazed to now be playing with the heroes of his youth and cracks ‘you’re irreplaceable, just like the last one,’ Fripp once again steps in, assuring Jakko he has King Crimson in his DNA.

Amies’ documentary goes beyond interviews and tantalizing performance footage and into philosophical analysis.  On a light note, a four member rendition of King Crimson with two Americans and two Brits is described as two guys going off to drink beer and then showing up and getting it done versus two guys constantly analyzing the music, yet all four meshing.  On a heavier note, the concept that audience members often regard a King Crimson concert as a defining moment in their lives and then coming back for more is always putting undue pressure on the band to reach greater heights.

We get some tongue-in-cheek humor, like the roadie who describes a life of cold, dank, smelly sameness, and Sister Dana Benedicta asking Amies 'Did you get my socks?' as she steps into an elevator (before later giving her own deep analysis of the music).  Discipline is an important subject with Fripp, who practices obsessively and talks about being the master of his own body by taking cold showers (it should also be noted that the man favors three piece suits).  It is sometimes difficult to align the Robert Fripp of King Crimson with the one who does the ‘Sunday Lunch’ YouTube series with his wife, Toyah Wilcox, in their kitchen.

The most soulful subject here is former drummer turned keyboardist Bill Rieflin, who talks about time’s relationship to music and opens up about the ravages of his ongoing cancer battle (he passed away in 2020).  His commitment to ‘keep doing what he does’ is moving.

After Amies has taken us from a 2018 concert in Pompeii to a tour-wrapping show at the Royal Albert Hall, Fripp walks up to his camera to tell him he ‘missed everything, making this DVD useless.’  He’s joking of course.  “In the Court of the Crimson King: King Crimson at 50” is one wild ride and an essential piece of rock history.

Monoduo Films releases “In the Court of the Crimson King: King Crimson at 50” into select theaters on 11/3, expanding throughout the month.  Click here for play dates.  The film will be available on VOD on 12/1/23.