Sixties Detroit Rock
DETROIT, Michigan — With all the troublesome legal questions now firmly resolved, the highly regarded “MC5 – A True Testimonial” documentary film is finally poised for release.
Having screened to SRO crowds and widespread critical acclaim at international film festivals around the world, the much lauded MC5 documentary had been poised to make a major splash before it’s derailment in early 2004. The highly anticipated film had a full schedule of nationwide theatrical screenings in place, followed by a DVD release, before the curious decision was made to deny the requisite synchronization license for the MC5’s music publishing.
That decision, initiated at the behest of Wayne Kramer, one of the two guitarists in the legendary but long-defunct band, ignited a firestorm of controversy. Kramer had long supported the film’s production, having once said “The filmmakers have done a fabulous job of telling the story of the MC5… the story is finally getting told and told right.”
Having successfully blocked the film’s release, the guitarist would later file suit in federal court in November 2005 over a purported “music producer” position and alleging a variety of copyright infringement, fraud and breach of contract claims against director David Thomas, producer Laurel Legler and Future/Now Films.
After hearing extensive testimony and reviewing the evidence presented during a week-long trial held October 2006 in Santa Ana, California, United States District Court Judge Andrew J. Guilford dismissed all charges against the filmmakers, concluding there was “insufficient factual basis to establish any claim” against them.
In a decision rendered March 31, 2007, Judge Guilford found “no terms specific enough to form an enforceable contract were ever agreed upon,” that neither Thomas or Legler “had made any actionable false representations” to Kramer, and that the dispute arose only after Future/Now Films “demonstrated that the film they were crafting could be successful” adding “The MC5 is historically significant and its music and story merit being heard today. The film had and still has the potential to spread the music and story of the MC5.”
The families of the late Rob Tyner and Fred “Sonic” Smith have been fully supportive of the film’s release from the beginning; Patti Smith has been unequivocal, saying “They were a great band and they should be remembered. And they should be remembered together. This film is a very good opportunity to give them recognition.”
With authorizations from the surviving members now in place, Vincent Cox, attorney for Future/Now Films, has declared “the disputes are water under the bridge, and there’s no point in rehashing them.”
One could argue that, had the film come out as scheduled, it would have boosted the MC5’s profile enough to propel the band into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame; the band’s sole nomination came in 2002 when the “MC5 – A True Testimonial” festival tour was in full swing. Whether or not that time has now passed remains to be seen.
Nonetheless, as USDC Judge Guilford noted in his decision, director David Thomas and producer Laurel Legler were “first-time filmmakers who spent eight years of their lives trying to create a documentary film that would be historically truthful, a documentary that would celebrate the talent and creativity of the MC5 band, a documentary that would say something about the 60’s, and would say something about the present. They succeeded, and the film merits wide distribution for the enjoyment and edification of the masses.”