Herb Alpert Is…

Movie Information

This entertaining documentary on the talented trumpeter suffers from a guiding structure.
Genre: Documentary
Director: John Scheinfeld
Starring: Herb Alpert, Burt Bacharach, Lou Adler
Rated: NR

Trumpet virtuoso Herb Alpert is a cultural singularity. There’s never been another instrumentalist with his string of hit singles and albums, his enormous celebrity and his ability to launch and support other popular music artists (via his enormously successful A&M records).

So, it’s no wonder that the documentary Herb Alpert Is… offers an often-fascinating recounting of his remarkable life. When it drills down on a subject — A&M’s artist-friendly headquarters or Alpert’s discovery of The Carpenters and Sergio Mendes — it’s great. And there are some fine interviews with people close to Alpert (Jerry Moss, the other half of A&M) and celebrities who owe their careers to him (Paul Williams, Sting), as well as countless vintage clips and photographs.

What director John Scheinfeld fails to settle upon, however, is a guiding structure for his movie. There’s chronology, sure, but the most frequent refrain here is the film’s gimmicky fill-in-the-blank title, which generates a lot of talking heads trying to summarize Alpert in a couple of sentences — an exercise antithetical to insight.

There are also huge information gaps, including the date and location of nearly every clip and photo; the origins and personnel of Alpert’s band, The Tijuana Brass (one guitarist gets a couple of sound bites); and Alpert’s reliance on a series of largely unknown songwriters (exception: Burt Bacharach, who gets a cameo) for many of his smash hits. And don’t even think the words “cultural appropriation” (mariachi experts weren’t invited). There’s also much more coverage of Alpert’s second career as an abstract artist than is needed — good for him, but it’s not what made him famous, and for good reason.

Fortunately, Alpert himself gave Scheinfeld a generous and often revealing series of interviews at his home and locations important to his biography, and these chats make the film must-see viewing for anyone who admires Alpert’s accomplishments. Plus, all those pre-MTV music videos are remarkable, and the music is as sweet and buoyant as ever.

Available to rent starting Oct. 2 via fineartstheatre.com.


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