A first look at the Fray's new documentary

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Just attended a private screening at Starz FilmCenter of Fair Fight, a brand-new documentary focusing on the Fray that chronicles the making of the act's forthcoming album. The film was directed by Rod Blackhurst, a onetime merch guy who's been trailing the band for the better part of three years, essentially documenting their every breath. According to Kelly Magelky, another talented director who's been shooting the Fray himself for a number of years and who edited Fight, Blackhurst presented him with 154 hours of raw footage that he'd shot and assembled during his time on the road with the outfit. The movie offers a telling snapshot of the guys as they struggle with penning material that lives up to the distinctive songs from their multi-platinum debut.

Taking its name from a line in one of the act's newer songs, Fair Fight opens with a stylized time-lapse sequence of a quiet stretch of road with blankets of luminous clouds cascading overhead while frontman Isaac Slade plucks out the sparse, arpeggiated intro to "Happiness." As Slade muses in his husky baritone about the futility of chasing happiness, fittingly we find the members at the tail end of an exhaustive two-year run supporting How to Save a Life, the blockbuster release that essentially swallowed their lives.

Over the course of the next eighty minutes, Blackhurst does a masterful job of capturing the spectrum of emotions experienced by the members during the recording process -- from the tense moments caused by spending countless hours in the studio writing and recording infinite takes and mulling songs over, to the playful moments in between, during which band and crew play Galaxian in an effort to stave off the tedium that often accompanies recording. The city of Sausalito serves as a picturesque backdrop in the first half of the film --  not that the band was able to take in too much of that beauty. The bulk of their time recording at the Record Plant -- aka "The Plant," an iconic, now-defunct Northern California studio where Stevie Wonder recorded Songs in the Key of Life and Fleetwood Mac recorded Rumours -- was spent trapped in the belly of a whale, as Chris Simpson from the Gloria Record once so eloquently put it, searching for the right melodies, and, more important, the right words.

The most telling part of the movie comes at the mid-point, when the band effectively hits a stalemate and guitarist/vocalist Joe King makes the dreaded phone call to his manager on behalf of the band, breaking the news to him that the album is nowhere near being completed. Feeling somewhat defeated by the process, the group heads back to Denver to its home studio in an effort to reignite its inspiration. Back at home, free of the constraints of a ticking clock, the members are able to harness and foster their creativity and end up penning a batch of new songs. Toward the end of the film, in what is perhaps its most poignant scene, producer Aaron Johnson, the homegrown knob turner who's been working with the band since its very first sessions, reflects on the process of making the record and confesses, with watery eyes, to being so moved by the proceedings that he was in essence emotionally bankrupt. All the same, he declares that the entire, seemingly never-ending ordeal is beyond justified by the quality of music the Fray created.

To that end, I was finally able to hear a handful of the act's actual recordings, as Blackhurst culled the audio from plugging directly into the recording console, and here's what I can tell you: While cynical dissenters aren't likely to change their minds, everything about the group that first attracted listeners -- the dramatic builds, the distinctive melodies, the heartrending sentiments -- is in ample supply on the new record.
 
Overall, Blackhurst -- who, stunningly, shot the entire movie by himself with two digital cameras and a super-8 -- does a stellar job of portraying the members of the Fray just as they are, allowing us to be, pardon the cliche, flies on the wall during the outfit's most delicate, vulnerable moments. At one point, guitarist David Welsh expresses what more than a few people have undoubtedly thought at one time or another about the band: He has no idea how he and his bandmates got to where they are -- but he's happy to be there, nonetheless. At their core, as has always been the band's biggest selling point, the members are just four ordinary guys singing about real-life travails and fallibilities that just about anyone can relate to on some level.

Fight is slated to be released as part of a deluxe edition of The Fray, which will be available at Target stores on Tuesday, February 3. 



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