Published Sep 18, 2015Quick: Name a Scorpions song that isn't "Rock You Like a Hurricane."
If you were born after 1980, that's probably a tough proposition. The singular ubiquity of "Hurricane" belies the German band's massive international popularity that has survived five decades of cultural changes. That history alone should make the Hanover quintet ripe for deeper exploration.
But Forever and a Day isn't that film. Rather, it follows the aging rockers on what is billed as their 2011 farewell tour, an 18-month jaunt around the globe. Director Katja von Garnier cleverly uses the tour's stops as jumping off points to dive into the band's past, interspersing archival footage between conversations with the band's current line-up, their crew, business associates and admirers, including Kiss's Paul Stanley and Danko Jones.
Born in mid '60s West Germany, built around singer Klaus Meine and guitarist Rudolf Schenker, the band say they chose to sing in English in an attempt to escape their "Germanness." Yet Garnier never explores this formative decision, even when members express frustration and their relative lack of fame in their homeland. Instead, we get a cursory tour of the band's greatest triumphs — performing in Soviet Russia, conquering France and the United States.
But the Scorpions came of age in an era rife with political strife. Their performance in Russia — and subsequent friendship with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev — is defanged of any political connotations. In the context of the film, they did it to reach a new audience, and that's it. Even their song "Winds of Change," which became an anthem in post-Communist Eastern Europe, is viewed through a mostly apolitical lens.
If there are any skeletons in the band's closet — and it's hard to imagine a group who have been together for as long the Scorpions not having any — they remain locked away. Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage made light of the fact that Rush were clean-living nerds. Here, the only whiff of dirt comes from guitarist Matthias Jabs explaining that back in the day, you didn't need to be so "inconspicuous" with groupies.
Nor do we really learn much about Meine, Schenker or their band mates' upbringings or personal lives. There's no tension in their personalities or their stories, giving us little reason to care about them as individuals. The film's big moment of conflict comes when Meine is forced to cancel a show due to voice problems. If this were your first encounter with the group, you'd wonder why there is so much hype around such a boring group of old white dudes.
These faults could be more easily forgiven if Forever and Day managed to tell the band's story clearly, but the film criss-crosses time with few signposts to guide viewers who are left with no better sense of the band's career trajectory than they did when before the film's first scenes started rolling. That's fine if you're a long-time fan, but Garnier seems completely disinterested in offering olive branches to newbies.
A good music documentary — like any piece of good music journalism — makes viewers care about or at least reconsider a band that's previously been dismissed. This doc leaves viewers feeling pretty "meh" about the Scorpions. Ultimately, it's a self-serving look at a band whose career deserves a much more critical lens.