Colin Hanks seems like a really warm, sympathetic figure onscreen, an impression now reinforced by his offscreen execution of a documentary on the history of the Tower Records chain, All Things Must Pass.
The director’s native warmth and sympathy are extended here to the store and the personalities that made it a billion-dollar, globe-bestriding colossus. Founder Russ Solomon, the film’s center of gravity, recounts the chain’s start in Sacramento, California, selling used jukebox records from a storefront for three cents each. Realizing the business potential, he made a deal with a record wholesaler and started a cycle of expansion that we see repeated throughout the film: New stores were staffed by low-paid teenagers who were allowed to play any music they wanted and party as hard as they could, as long as they showed up for their shifts.
In an era when the distribution of music was confined to a physical medium, the stores became cultural and social hubs, the chain’s influence defining much of the music industry over four decades. Hanks documents the multiple causes of Tower’s demise: self-inflicted financial wounds, over-expansion, arrogant, over-charging record companies, and, ultimately, the aerosolization of music into a chemtrail dispersed over the world by the internet.
Empathetic and nostalgic, Hanks does not invite an interpretation of Solomon and his partners as symbolic of an entire generation that rode a demographic tsunami to its own enrichment, leveraging the value of their future with no due diligence and surprised by their own children’s indifference to their plight. But it’s so hard not to read it that way.
All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records
Directed by Colin Hanks
Opens October 16, Village East Cinema