Spanning basically the same era as The Fog of War, Mark Moormann’s biopic of late jazz and rock producer-pioneer Tom Dowd bursts similarly with the charisma of its subject. An odd comparison? Well, consider that Dowd, who passed away at 77 after the film’s completion, unapologetically reminisces about working on the Manhattan Project as a teen science whiz on leave from Columbia in 1945. It was only when the government didn’t declassify his work (which would have allowed him to skip redundant studies) that Dowd decamped for the fledgling Atlantic Records, and innovated production technology beyond recognition while recording—first on wax, then two-track tape, then eight-track—the likes of Coltrane, Otis Redding, Ray Charles, all the Lieber-Stoller groups, and Aretha Franklin, getting heavy with Cream and riding the Southern-rock crest with the Allman Brothers and Skynyrd. With sock-knocking footage of Ruth Brown hollering “(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean,” Redding scorching in Britain, and other gems, Moormann’s film transcends A&E hagiography, and Dowd’s spry egoism and science-hipster joie de vivre provide piquant icing. Recalling trends, technical advances, artists, and landmark sessions (one where he suggests the rhythm for “Sunshine of Your Love”), Dowd conjures the excitement that helped coax so many iconic performances.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 3, 2004