DVD: Louder Than Love – The Grande Ballroom Story (2012)

June 8, 2016 | By

LouderThanLoveFilm: Excelent

Transfer: Excelent

Extras: Very Good

Label:  MVD Visual

Region: 0 (NTSC)

Released:  June 10, 2016

Genre:  Documentary / Music / Detroit

Synopsis: Hugely informative and lively chronicle of Detroit’s famed Grande Ballroom, and the rock gods who performed during its final years.

Special Features: Deleted Scenes: “Grande Tales” (15:42) / Grande Light Show (29:58) / 2 Home Movies: “Dave Miller Grande Wedding” (3:04) + “Dave Miller Home Movies” (9:51) / Bonus Short Film: “Belle Isle Love In” (5:34) / Theatrical Trailer.




“People wanted to live and let live, and people wanted to be and let be.”

“Your true value is who you are as a human being, and what you do, and how you help other people.”


Between 1966-1972, the Grande Ballroom in Detroit was a major hub for local youths and young adults to check out a variety of bands, and the house’s only criteria for musicians was to play good music, and play it well – anything less would’ve pushed the audience to revolt (‘Come on, man, kick out the jam, man, KICK OUT THE JAM OR GET OFF THE STAGE!’) sending the disappointing musicians packing.

By the time the doors closed, the Grande had been vital for launching local acts and up-and-coming American and British bands, including The Who, Cream, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, and MC5, and yet this anchor point in rock history has been reduced to an apocryphal footnote, best remembered by the fans, musicians, and former owner / booking whiz Russ Gibb.

The building’s history has also been superseded by a more tragic situation, becoming another epic casualty of neglect, vandalism, and outright decay that’s probably rendered the venue into a prime candidate for the wrecker’s ball.

Erected in 1928 and known for having the largest open-space dance floor in the U.S., the Grande (plus its sister building, the Vanity) was a major social hub for locals before TV started to erode its importance, and by the time Gibb approached its owner(s), the Grande was being used to store mattresses.

Gibb, a former teacher-turned DJ, decided to set up an upper mid-west variant of California’s Fillmore, and against tremendous odds, managed to build a loyal local fan base by booking single and clusters of bands, sometimes folding several heavy hitters in one night.

As the Grande’s surviving fans recall (namely concert goers, Gibb, emcee / sound man Dave Williams, and many musicians), the atmosphere was ripe with sex, drugs, booze, and outrageous characters, but the common goal was to be oneself and enjoy the music, and that narrative remains central to Louder Than Love.

Tony D’Annunzio’s 72 minute documentary is ostensibly a talking head film – some subjects shot in front of memorabilia-covered backgrounds, or green screens layered with a wealth of archival film clips, stills, and other rich ephemera evocative of the era – but it’s never boring, and winds down at the just right point, having given viewers a ribald portrait of late sixties concerts in an urban-suburban centre.

Musicians learned to play hard and grow thick skin with Detroit’s no nonsense crowds, and in some special cases found appreciative fans who not only knew the band and their songs, but showed a level of unbridled appreciation other crowds had utterly failed to convey. Roger Daltry believes that had their last date in America not been such a turnaround at the Grande, they’d have written off the U.S. for a while.

The congeniality between staff and talent reached its apex when Cream’s Eric Clapton needed a place to eat and crash, and Williams offered his parent’s house & hospitality – a moment that appears in the film, and in the raw home videos archived as a bonus on MVD’s DVD.

Louder Than Love (a play on California’s ‘summer of love’) is packed with a multitude of anecdotes, but there is one omission that some might find a bit conspicuous: a direct commentary on the fate that’s befallen the building. It’s current disintegrating health is conveyed through images upon which past photos of its glory days and interviews are blended and superimposed, but how and why it’s remained in such a sad state is never addressed.

D’Annunzio seems to have made a conscious decision not to upset a specific memory treasured by thousands by acknowledging ruin porn, or stopping the Grande’s story with an interlude or a downer of a finale. The stills of its decrepit state say volumes and infer the building’s days are likely numbered as the elements continue to ravage the once ornate interior and its massive dance floor, but there’s no coda on the exact reasons the building has been left to rot.

Louder Than Love is about the music, and those in search of the building’s biography can find a good narrative at www.historicdetroit.org, where both the Grande and its sister hall the Vanity are neatly and sadly chronicled in prose and images.

D’Annunzio’s DVD includes a lengthy gallery of deleted scenes comprised of Dave William’s wedding at the Grande plus a wide assortment of collective memories (dropping a massive organ, MC5’s sets with Sly and the Family Stone, Williams picking up Fleetwood Mac from the airport and crashing the weekend at his parent’s home and tripping out at 2001: A Space Odyssey, super LSD, performing “The Little Drummer Boy,” and Led Zeppelin’s ‘mickey mouse’ instruments); raw footage of Miller’s wedding plus home movies with guests like Eric Clapton; and a silent 16mm B&W movie covering a love-in at Belle Isle.

The lengthy trailer’s included, as is a loop of simulated psychedelic imagery (“Grande Light Show”) evoking what was splashed on the walls of the Grande as bands played and the crowds reveled.



© 2016 Mark R. Hasan



External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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