It has now been exactly one year since “Becoming Led Zeppelin”, the landmark feature-length documentary about the origins of Led Zeppelin, premiered in Venice. Since then, there has been no word of any widespread release for the film as well as radio silence from the band’s record label and the film’s promoters on plans for the film to be shown to fans.
When Jimmy Page travelled to Venice in September 2021 with his girlfriend Scarlett Sabet as well as the film’s director Bernard MacMahon and its producer and screenwriter Allison McGourty, he was likely expecting the premiere of “Becoming Led Zeppelin” to open a new chapter in appreciation of the band he formed in 1968.
A promotional campaign had been prepared, with limited edition posters handed out to people who saw the film in its first screening on September 4, 2021 and in screenings on following days.
The filmmakers were so confident about the documentary that they also held surprise screenings at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado that month.
Meanwhile, evidence uncovered by LedZepNews shows that the filmmakers had been planning an online promotional campaign for the film since 2019, buying web domain names as well as setting up Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles in preparation for its widespread release.
But following the September 4, 2021 premiere, excitement about the release of “Becoming Led Zeppelin” faded as no sign of its release emerged. Out of the surviving members of the band, only Page showed up to the film festival in Venice to promote the film with Robert Plant and John Paul Jones staying home.
Critics had a mixed reception to the film, enjoying the storytelling and access to the surviving band members but criticising the film’s length of 2 hours and 17 minutes. There was even a claim of people walking out of a screening.
Two hardcore Led Zeppelin fans who purchased tickets for the screenings shared their thoughts on the film on the Royal Orleans Led Zeppelin forum. “[A] lot of people here will be disappointed, not for diehard fan[s],” wrote one member. Another’s review, which complained of a lack of unseen footage, was paraphrased as “devastating”.
Now, one year after the film’s premiere, the timing of the release of “Becoming Led Zeppelin” is uncertain. The online promotional campaign was never launched and fans have been left wondering when they’ll be able to see the film.
It was left to the administrator of Led Zeppelin’s official forum to publish an update on the film on September 3, revealing that it’s being re-edited a year after its premiere and the filmmakers are still looking for footage of the band to include.
In preparation for covering the one-year anniversary of the film’s premiere, LedZepNews contacted a range of people in a position to share information about the status of “Becoming Led Zeppelin”.
We were told that the PR agency initially hired to promote the film when it was first announced, Nasty Little Man, is no longer paid by Led Zeppelin and doesn’t work with the band any longer. They were unable to provide any information about the status of “Becoming Led Zeppelin”.
Representatives for Warner Music Group, Led Zeppelin’s record label, ignored a request for comment submitted through their website.
LedZepNews also contacted two PR agencies, DDA and MPRM Communications, that were hired to promote “Becoming Led Zeppelin” around the time of its premiere in Venice last year. Neither agency replied to emails requesting an update on the film.
LedZepNews also posted a public call for information about the film on Twitter, Facebook and in our weekly email sent on August 21.
‘Becoming Led Zeppelin’ has been up for sale
So what is the status of “Becoming Led Zeppelin”? The band and its PR agencies have declined to provide updates about the film’s planned release, but research carried out by LedZepNews has found that the film remains on sale to distributors.
A document titled “UK Films For Sale” dated May 26 produced for the 2022 Cannes Film Festival includes “Becoming Led Zeppelin”, which indicates the film remained for sale to distributors and the filmmakers planned to use that festival to find a buyer.
The document listed the film’s status as “completed”, suggesting it is not being edited or tweaked. “Becoming Led Zeppelin” is also still listed on the website of Altitude, a film sales company, again with a status of “completed”. However, it appears that the film isn’t complete after all.
The film is being re-edited
The administrators of Led Zeppelin’s official forum, Sam Rapallo, posted an update on the film on September 3, revealing that it’s currently being re-edited and the filmmakers have been adding footage to it.
“Regarding ‘Becoming Led Zeppelin’, I understand they are nearing the end of the edit and have been taking advantage of the time to make the film as good as possible. I have seen the film in several stages and think it is an extraordinary piece of work that I hope we all get to share in soon,” Rapallo wrote.
“As the filmmakers have told me, they’ll continue to be on the search for unseen archive from the period the film covers all the way until the film is released, so if anyone has anything they would like to send their way, please reach out to me. A few new gems have been added since its public screening last year,” he added.
Rapallo’s post confirms speculation published on November 1 by Hollywood Elsewhere suggesting that the film may not have been acquired or may have been “withdrawn for further editing”.
The film was expected to be released in February
The US government copyright record for “Becoming Led Zeppelin” shows that it was originally expected to be released in February 2022, LedZepNews reported in August. The filing, made by filmmakers Paradise Pictures on October 13, shows that work on “Becoming Led Zeppelin” began on August 10, 2018.
The copyright filing went on to list a date of anticipated completion of December 2021 and then lists the film’s “projected date of publication” as February 2022.
Most other documentaries that premiered at the festival have been released
Long delays are not unusual in the film industry, where films can sometimes take years to be released. So how unusual is a one-year delay for a feature-length documentary similar to “Becoming Led Zeppelin”?
LedZepNews looked into all of the out of competition documentary films that were shown alongside the film at the 2021 Venice International Film Festival and tracked if and when they were released.
Here’s what we found:
- Life Of Crime 1984-2020 (released in November)
- Trenches (released in May)
- Journey Into The Twilight (unreleased)
- Republic Of Silence (released in August)
- Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song (released in July)
- DeAndré#DeAndré – Storia di un impiegato (released in October)
- Becoming Led Zeppelin (unreleased)
- Django & Django (released in November)
- Ennio (released in January)
- Ezio Bosso – Le Cose che restano (released in May)
Out of the 10 out of competition documentaries that premiered at Venice in 2021, only “Becoming Led Zeppelin” and “Journey Into The Twilight” remain unreleased.
Footage has been removed from the internet
The lack of a release of “Becoming Led Zeppelin” within a year of the film’s premiere isn’t a significant issue, especially if the film emerges in 2022 or 2023.
But the film’s production has caused rare footage of Led Zeppelin and Jimmy Page performing live to vanish from the internet, meaning delays to the film’s release are blocking the ability of fans to watch the footage.
Footage of Led Zeppelin performing at the Laurel Pop Festival in Maryland on July 11, 1969 had been available to watch on YouTube for more than a year but was removed in 2021 because of “Becoming Led Zeppelin”.
The video clip emerged as part of the 2013 documentary film “Led Zeppelin Played Here” after Tim Pace mentioned that he had shot 16mm footage of Led Zeppelin on stage.
A clip of Pace’s footage of the band performing was uploaded to YouTube. Months later, the YouTube video was deleted “due to a copyright claim by Paradise Pictures.” Paradise Pictures is a business run by Allison McGourty, a writer and producer of “Becoming Led Zeppelin”.
Footage of The Yardbirds performing with Jimmy Page at the Village Theater in New York on August 25, 1967 was also deleted from the internet because of “Becoming Led Zeppelin”.
A three-minute colour video of Page performing with The Yardbirds was posted online in 2016 but was deleted in 2020 because of a copyright claim issued by Paradise Entertainment, another business run by McGourty.
Robert Plant said he was only ‘minorly’ involved
Robert Plant and John Paul Jones provided statements about the film when it was announced in 2019, but since then haven’t helped to promote it.
Plant has even distanced himself from the film in interviews published in November. He told Vanity Fair that he was only “minorly” involved in its production. “I’m fully aware of all this, but 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,” he continued.
In a separate interview with Variety published around that time, Plant also said that it’s “very odd … to see a group of people try to bring some perspective to it now,” adding “I’m not sure it’s not just too vast to be solarized and polarized like that.”
Jason Bonham said his father’s voice sounded strange in the film
Jason Bonham, the son of John Bonham, and his mother, Pat Bonham, have seen “Becoming Led Zeppelin”.
John Bonham’s son and widow both thought the radio interview with Bonham used to provide his narrative during the film sounded strange.
Speaking to the Appetite for Distortion podcast in an episode released on June 7, Jason Bonham gave his initial impressions of the film, explaining that the newly unearthed audio of his father’s voice sounded different to how he remembered it.
“I recently watched the documentary … the making of Led Zeppelin. I got to see a preview of it before it goes to whoever is going to release it. And the weirdest thing for me was hearing my dad’s voice because I knew, when … basically it goes from birth to Led Zeppelin II for each member. So, you … of course, Robert is narrating his own story, Jimmy’s narrating his own story, John Paul Jones is narrating his own story.”
“So when it came to [John Bonham], I looked at my wife and think ‘How are they going to do this?’ And at that point I had to squeeze my wife’s hand because all of a sudden it started and you’re like ‘Err’. And all I could think was I don’t remember him sounding like that. And that was really weird,” Bonham continued.
“I was convinced that maybe the tape they were using was slightly too fast, as if they … through transition, through the years it had worn. Because it was late just the tiniest, tiniest bit.”
“After it, I remember I said to my mum, ‘You’ve seen the thing?’ She went ‘Yeah’. I said ‘Did you think that was dad’s voice?’ And she went ‘You know what, I thought it was a little different too.’ So I was right because I was worried, that I was like, how do I not remember him sounding like that? But later there’s other bits that you go ‘OK, yeah that’s him’ but there was a couple of parts where I was like I think just through the years the tape had worn and it needed to be adjusted slightly slower for his timbre and his voice.”
You can watch a clip of Bonham talking about the film below:
Full timeline of news about ‘Becoming Led Zeppelin’
August 10, 2018: Work on “Becoming Led Zeppelin” began on this date, according to the film’s US copyright record.
May 9, 2019: It was announced that the surviving members of Led Zeppelin had participated in a film about the origins of the band. At the time, the film was in “post-production” meaning filming had already been completed. Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones wrote statements for a press release promoting the then-untitled film.
December 15, 2019: The web domains becomingledzeppelin.com and becomingledzeppelin.net were purchased, presumably by the filmmakers in preparation for promoting the film.
February 2020: The Twitter account @becomingledzep was registered, presumably by the filmmakers.
April 4, 2020: LedZepNews reported that the film had the working title of “Apollo” and revealed that it then had a runtime of 147 minutes.
December 14, 2020: LedZepNews reported that the film likely uses footage of Jimmy Page performing with The Yardbirds at the Village Theater in New York on August 25, 1967.
March 3, 2021: LedZepNews reported that the film was also set to use footage of Led Zeppelin performing at the Laurel Pop Festival in Maryland on July 11, 1969.
August 6, 2021: The official title “Becoming Led Zeppelin” was announced by Led Zeppelin along with a brief teaser of the film and the news that it would have its premiere at the Venice film festival the following month. LedZepNews reported that the film had a final runtime of 137 minutes.
September 4, 2021: The film was premiered with an initial screening and a press conference in Venice and the sole official trailer of the film was released.
October 13, 2021: The filmmakers registered the copyright for “Becoming Led Zeppelin” with the US government, stating that they expected it to be released in February.
November 1, 2021: Hollywood Elsewhere published an article speculating that “Becoming Led Zeppelin” may have failed to find a buyer or could have been “withdrawn for further editing”.
November 8, 2021: Robert Plant told Vanity Fair he was only “minorly” involved in the film.
November 11, 2021: Robert Plant told Variety that it’s “very odd … to see a group of people try to bring some perspective to it now” when asked about the film.
December 2021: Work on the film was expected to be completed this month, according to its US government copyright record.
February 2022: The film was originally predicted to be released this month, according to its US government copyright record.
May 26, 2022: The film was listed as up for sale in a document produced for the Cannes film festival.
June 7, 2022: Jason Bonham said in a podcast interview that he and his mother had seen the film and both felt John Bonham’s voice sounded strange in it.
August 31, 2022: LedZepNews reported on the film’s US government copyright record, which revealed that the film was originally due to be released in February 2022.
September 3, 2022: Led Zeppelin’s official forum administrator Sam Rapallo posted an update about the film, revealing that it’s being re-edited and that more footage has been added since its premiere.