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Sundance: ‘History of The Eagles Part 1’ seeks to avoid nostalgia

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Members of The Eagles - from left: Timothy B. Schmid, Glenn Frey, Don Henley and Joe Walsh - in the documentary "History of the Eagles, Part One," which will screen at the Sundance London Film and Music Festival.

By david burger

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Jan 20 2013 11:01AM
Updated May 5, 2013 11:32PM

"Take It Easy" and "Peaceful Easy Feeling" are two of The Eagles’ most beloved songs.

But producer Alex Gibney said he wanted to film a documentary about The Eagles because "it’s a great story about youth, rock and roll, passion and vitriol."

"History of The Eagles Part 1" will debut at the Sundance Film Festival, and while esteemed filmmaker Gibney ("Taxi to the Dark Side," "ENRON: The Smartest Guys in the Room" and this year’s "We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks") is producer, he let his trusted colleague Alison Ellwood take on the directing role. "Alex called me and asked me to do it," Ellwood said. "His plate was full."

"I have tremendous confidence in her," Gibney said. After he saw the film, "it exceeded my expectations."

Ellwood’s credits include producer and editor of Gibney’s films including "ENRON," "Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson" and "Casino Jack and the United States of Money." She jumped at the chance to helm a documentary about the country-rock band that served as the soundtrack to many Americans’ lives in the 1970s.

"I grew up listening to them," she said. "The first album I remember loving was ‘Desperado.’ It’s still one of my favorites."

Anyone who claims "Desperado" as favorite Eagles album over their self-titled debut or "Hotel California" makes a good case for being the right person for the job.

The Eagles approached Gibney about filming a documentary about them, and he was initially hesitant. "I didn’t want to bathe in nostalgia," he said.

But nostalgia wasn’t what the band was interested in. "They wanted to tell a story," Gibney said.

The pitch from The Eagles surprised Ellwood, who remembered that when she was growing up and seeking to devour information about one of her favorite bands, she couldn’t find any. "They didn’t do press when they were big," she said. Because of that, a myth was created that the band was more contentious than the average band, but it turned out not to be entirely true, she said. "They were all on board and pleasant."

Even die-hard Eagles fans will be astounded at never-before-seen footage from the "Hotel California" tour, the band’s last before breaking up for the first time. Ellwood and Gibney found the footage locked away in a vault for 30 years, initially planned for release three decades ago but shelved when the band called it quits. Also featured is rare archival material and unseen home movies from the period.

The rise, and especially the fall, interested Gibney the most. "At the moment of their biggest success, they weren’t able to handle it," he said. "It was always interesting."

In regards to the "Part 1" in the title of the film, Ellwood is finishing up work on "Part 2," which will focus on The Eagles’ famous "Hell Freezes Over" reunion tour in the early 1990s as well as their current partnership. Both parts will eventually air on Showtime.

The story will continue, if Ellwood’s wishes come true. "I personally would like a new Eagles album," she said.

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