The music documentary is a pretty dependable product, sure to find space in a number of festival nonfiction lineups and, eventually, the programs of independent cinemas and arthouses across the country. With a built-in audience and not necessarily needing much in the way of production value or formal daring, music documentaries are sure, inoffensive bets, though rarely are they all that creatively or aesthetically satisfying.
These generalizations mostly hold true for Hung Up on a Dream, a new film profiling the iconic ‘60s British rock act The Zombies, fittingly premiering at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival in their 24 Beats Per Second section (a sidebar consisting of 8 different music docs). Billed as the first-ever documentary on The Zombies and directed by Coppola heir/Rooney frontman Robert Schwartzman (backed by exec producer Tom Hanks), there’s certainly some reason to anticipate that Hung Up on a Dream might transcend the usual failings of this subgenre, or at least boast a compelling angle beyond access to its subjects.
Unfortunately, that’s more or less the beginning and end of what this particular film has to offer. Which isn’t absolutely nothing, of course; after all, The Zombies are a hugely influential band with a pair of chart-topping, canonical singles, and the brevity of their recording career (two albums in a four-year window) has made them enduring cult figures. So there’s some satisfaction to be had in seeing the surviving members reunited and revisiting Abbey Road Studios and the like. Still, Schwartzman struggles to get enough material out of The Zombies, who are uniformly rather open, humble guys, all sharing a tendency to undersell their accomplishments. It’s not exactly a flashy story as recounted by the band members, with the general sentiment being that they were lucky to have had their moment and to have been in the company of a number of top R&B and rock acts of the era (although some bitterness and disappointment remains regarding the industry exploitation that ultimately drove the band into premature retirement).
Told as a sort of career survey that leads into a track-by-track analysis of the band’s masterpiece LP Odessey and Oracle, Hung Up on a Dream lacks narrative spark — the album breakdown is definitely the more engaging section — with Schwartzman running through several weak visual ideas in an attempt to keep things interesting (vaguely psychedelic animations of a man and a woman looking at each other, slow zooms on CGI TV’s playing archival footage), just barely getting by at this 109-minute runtime. A historic film in a very literal sense, Hung Up on a Dream nevertheless doesn’t manage to bring new light or perspective to The Zombies’ tale, instead trading mostly in info dumps and content to be more of a broad career overview.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 12.