Led Zeppelin Documentary Lands a Distributor For Theatrical Release

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Led Zeppelin London 1968 Photo: Dick Barnatt / Redferns / Getty Images; used with permission)

Nearly three years after an authorized Led Zeppelin documentary had its work-in-progress premiere, and five years after the film was announced, the film has finally gotten a distribution deal. Becoming Led Zeppelin, helmed by director Bernard MacMahon and produced by Allison McGourty, has been acquired by Sony Pictures Classics for a theatrical release. The news was first reported on May 15, 2024, by Variety which, quoting the studio, indicated that the “now completed” film boasts “a brand-new sound mix [and] newly unearthed material from the archives of all four band members.” It was first shown at the 78th Venice International Film Festival on September 4, 2021, with Jimmy Page in attendance. A first teaser clip was also released at that time; watch it below.

Variety‘s report quoted MacMahon: “We have spent years designing this film to be experienced on the big screen with the best possible sound.” McGourty added, “Sony Pictures Classics are the perfect partners because they are true believers in the theatrical experience and are passionate about giving the millions of Led Zeppelin fans a chance to see and hear them on the greatest screens and sound systems in the world.”

The film’s description by Altitude Film Entertainment begins “Led Zeppelin is a film that no one thought could ever be made. The band’s meteoric rise to stardom was swift and previously undocumented. With unparalleled access to the group and their personal archives, their full support and never-before-seen footage, Led Zeppelin will immerse you in the sights and sounds of their early career. This big screen experience is as close as you will get to being there.”

It’s been a long journey for the filmmakers to find a distributor. No release date was mentioned in the Variety story.

In May 2022 the sleuths at Led Zep News reported that the film was again shopped at the Cannes Film Festival that month. The title was first announced on May 8, 2019. The only interviewees are the band’s three surviving members, Page, Robert Plant, and John Paul Jones—each done separately—plus audio interviews from the late John Bonham. There’s also plenty of performance footage from their early days together.

On March 27, 2024, Led Zep News, citing “multiple sources,” reported that the latest version included recently surfaced footage of Led Zeppelin performing at the Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music on June 28, 1970. The website noted the film’s most recent version “may even feature scenes towards the end of the film where Jimmy Page is seen watching the Bath Festival footage and reacting to it.”

The site’s story mentions that film licensing company Kinolibrary uploaded three clips from the Bath Festival footage to YouTube, noting that those videos have now been made private.

Becoming Led Zeppelin received several reviews following its screening in Venice in 2021. In its mostly positive reviewThe Hollywood Reporter called it “an eye-opening delight” for casual fans, describing it a “no-frills journey… with no fawning testimonials from today’s hitmakers.” THR‘s biggest gripe was for the film’s length. At two-and-a-quarter hours, the reviewer called its running time “unjustified, with long chunks that function like music videos.”

Variety called it “a movie that any Zep fan will want to see — but when you do, you may feel… that it’s full of extraordinary footage but that it’s a rather strange and, in the end, not fully satisfying film.”

At the time of the original May 8, 2019, announcement, the film, authorized by the band in conjunction with their 50th anniversary, was said to be in post-production. For well over two years until its screening in Venice, any news about it appeared to be over the hills and far away.

Its director offered a brief update on Aug. 2, 2021, a month before its Venice premiere. Wrote MacMahon, “Through an intense search across the globe and years of restoration of the visual and audio archive found, this story is finally able to be told.”

Watch the teaser clip for the Becoming Led Zeppelin documentary

MacMahon said, “With Becoming Led Zeppelin my goal was to make a documentary that looks and feels like a musical. I wanted to weave together the four diverse stories of the band members before and after they formed their group with large sections of their story advanced using only music and imagery and to contextualize the music with the locations where it was created and the world events that inspired it. I used only original prints and negatives, with over 70,000 frames of footage manually restored, and devised fantasia sequences, inspired by Singin’ in the Rain, layering unseen performance footage with montages of posters, tickets and travel to create a visual sense of the freneticism of their early career.”

From the November 30, 1968 issue of Record World

From the original May 8, 2019 announcement: “The film traces the journeys of the four members through the music scene of the 1960s, their meeting in the summer of 1968 for a rehearsal that will change the future of rock, and culminates in 1970 when their second album knocks The Beatles off the top of the charts and they become the number one band in the world.”

“The time was right,” said the band’s John Paul Jones.

With new interviews with Page, Plant, and Jones, as well as rare archival interviews with Bonham, the documentary, the announcement continued, “will be the first of its kind; the Led Zeppelin story told through the words of the men that lived it, with no outside voices or conjecture.”

“Featuring never before seen archive film and photographs, state of the art audio transfers of the band’s music, as well as the music that shaped their sound, this documentary will be the definitive telling of the birth of the world’s biggest selling rock band. It is the first and only time the band have participated in a documentary in 50 years.”

Watch an interview with Page, along with the film’s producer and director

MacMahon is perhaps best known as the filmmaker and writer for American Epic, the 2017 documentary series about the first recordings of roots music.

Jimmy Page at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, April 1, 2019 (Photo © Greg Brodsky; used with permission)

In the original 2019 announcement, Page said: “When I saw everything Bernard had done both visually and sonically on the remarkable achievement that is American Epic, I knew he would be qualified to tell our story.”

Plant said: “Seeing Will Shade, and so many other important early American musicians, brought to life on the big screen in American Epic inspired me to contribute to a very interesting and exciting story.”

In a November 2021 interview with Vanity Fair, Plant offered an unusual perspective. “It’s really hard to get romantic about it—despite the fact that it changed my life and allowed me to mature and to move through the sphere. I’m not very good at reminiscing.”

Jones said: “The time was right for us to tell our own story for the first time in our own words, and I think that this film will really bring that story to life.”

Related: In 2023, contestants on Jeopardy! failed to identify Led Zeppelin

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5 Comments so far

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  1. Paul
    #1 Paul 9 May, 2021, 00:47

    Icons, like Jimi Hendrix they were way ahead of their time and aside from a few musicians of today I think they are still very relevant to rock today and I am very sorry I never got to see them though I tried extremely hard to see the celebration day concert at 02 with no luck like the other record numbers I believe numbered in the millions! Just have to listen to the the recordings and wait for the film, with any luck they’ll release it as a double feature of midnight madness and show Song Remains the Same after so we can all smoke weed, pop some shrooms and get drunk like the old days! When mountains crumble to the sea there will still be you and me!

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  2. Dmac
    #2 Dmac 10 May, 2021, 18:57

    “Apollo,” related to the NASA space program of the same name.? Really? It it were to be called Apollo, it would be in reference to their Swan Song logo that has a painting of Apollo, Fall of Day.

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  3. JJK
    #3 JJK 5 September, 2021, 12:06

    Now maybe they will remaster all LP’s correctly, and sell a vinyl box set!

    Reply this comment
  4. TyStick
    #4 TyStick 24 February, 2023, 09:18

    Led Zeppelin, just the name is awesome. One of the Greatest Rock and Roll Bands. Maybe the Greatest Rock and Roll Band. The Stones held that title until Mick Taylor left the Band. Led Zeppelin took over the title and has kept it every since.

    Reply this comment
  5. 122intheshade
    #5 122intheshade 10 May, 2024, 16:14

    I’m surprised a streamer such as Amazon or Netflix hasn’t picked it up. Unless the price is too steep.

    Reply this comment

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