REVIVAL69: The Concert That Rocked The World at Toronto’s Varsity Stadium
REVIVAL69: The Concert that Rocked the World, tells the incredible behind-the-scenes, story of how, against all odds, a life-changing concert came together. A story of passion and perseverance, this never-before documented story reveals a series of colourful characters, murky deals and broken promises, culminating in John Brower, a young renegade promoter, putting his life on the line (literally) in order to achieve his goal.
In 1969, there were three music festivals that changed the world. And “the second most important event in rock & roll history” was a one-day music festival held at the University of Toronto’s 20,000 seat Varsity Stadium called the Toronto Rock & Roll Revival.
With dismal ticket sales, the concert was almost cancelled. But Brower took a one-in-a-million chance and invited John Lennon, who said yes, propelling the concert into a massively successful event. Included in the stellar lineup were Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bo Diddley, Gene Vincent, The Doors, Alice Cooper, and John Lennon with the Plastic Ono Band – his first appearance without the Beatles, that included Yoko Ono, Eric Clapton, Klaus Voormann and Alan White.
The film uses a priceless cinematic archive that includes unreleased concert and backstage footage from D.A. Pennebaker’s original shot 16mm film, and a narrative primarily told through the eyes of those who were there.
The 90-minute feature documentary was filmed in 2021, shooting in Toronto, Los Angeles, Phoenix, New York, London, and Munich.
Hamilton – Playhouse Cinema Dec. 16 – 19
Waterloo – Princess Cinema Dec. 16 – 19
Toronto – Hot Docs Cinema Dec. 17 – 22 / 27 – 29 (Special Q+A with director and subjects)
Ottawa – Bytowne Cinema Dec. 18 + 22
Vancouver – Vancity Dec. 18 / 20 / 22 / 23
Toronto – Fox Theatre Dec. 20 – 22 (Special Q+A with Director Ron Chapman)
My previous work as a documentary filmmaker has been centered around the world of music,which has always been a great love and passion of mine.It took me over six years to get this film made.The film and story focus on a truly pivotal event in music history. I actually knew of John Brower,the film’s protagonist, back in 1969 and although I was barely a teenager, I attended his concerts and festivals, got introduced to some of the great bands of all time at his events, andthat exposure inspired me as I pursued my career as a musician, promoter, artist manager and finally a filmmaker.
The narrative of REVIVAL69: The Concert that Rocked the World, is driven by three main characters, each with their own arcs that unfold over the course of the film:John Lennon:The film charts his transition from Beatle to his first solo performance without them and The Plastic Ono Band at the Toronto Rock & Roll Revival, and his ultimate decision to leave the Fab Four. The spine of Lennon’s story is built on archival audio and footage with John and Yoko Ono. In his own words, Lennon spins an intimate narrative, which has never been heard before. We follow his deeply personal feelings about life as a musician,his musical inspirations, songwriter, activist, friend, lover, touching on his most famous identity, a Beatle. But he is clearly restless and is searching for new meaning in music–and life.Lennon must overcome a severe bout of nerves and anxiety before getting on stage. But when he does, the performance is magical.
Later, Lennon admits the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival gave him the confidence to make the ultimate decision to leave the Beatles–the biggest rock act in the world and the only band he’d ever known.John Brower: The young concert promoter with something to prove. He puts his life on the line(literally) and, despite nearly blowing it more than once, manages to show Toronto a legendary 12 hours of music.D.A. Pennebaker: The renowned New York documentary filmmaker who, like Brower,frantically hustles and schemes to put together a crew to shoot the concert in Toronto.Their arcs are braided across the film, with each individual’s perspective illuminating their own struggles and the momentous significance of this event.Voice over conversations from significant characters are blended with our three main stories establishing both an audio and visual narrative experience.
Together, these combined memories piece together the “in the moment”anxieties, threats, and euphoria. We explore how the experience of the concert altered the personal and professional paths of many artists: reviving the Kings of Rock n’ Roll, jump-starting ‘new’ bands like Alice Cooper and motivating John Lennon to take a hard left and breaking-out toward his solo career
The visual approach can be defined in one word:immersive. I wanted to place the audience directly into the story. Leveraging Pennebaker’s sensational and never before seen Super8 behind the scenes verite, and newly, mined concert footage of the event, the film transports us back to 1969, allowing us to not only hear and see the story but also to feel the electricity of this once-in-a-lifetime experience.In addition to the over 60 hours of Pennebaker’s footage, every piece of archival material–articles, stills, promotional materials and other footage–is integrated with a view to maximizing the visceral, “I can’t believe this is really happening” thrill of the moment.
The remainder of the storytelling is written and lensed with elements of a feature dramatic film.Animator Mathew den Boer created beautifully conceived, period driven animated moments which are used to amplify key events and take the viewer back to the world of 1969.The interviews were really conversations, and are designed to feel “organic” . It was a thrill and privilege to spend time with each of the music icons, as well as those who were there, both backstage and in the audience.Editorially, the film is defined by its energetic cross-cutting among the three main perspectives and its seamless blending of archival, recreations and contemporary interviews. I’m pleased to be working again with my regular editor, the Canadian Screen Award-nominated Eugene Weis,and Canadian Screen Award
Winner and Emmy nominated Phyllis Ellis, writer.The film becomes a wild ride, a kind of rock and roll rollercoaster, fever pitch romp,with this iconic cast of characters that guide a legend, a maverick and the ‘witnesses’ to one of the most significant moments in rock and roll history that almost never happened. We express how the experience of this concert in Toronto altered the personal and professional paths of so many-not only Lennon but everyone attached to this burgeoning ‘comedy of errors’and seminal moments in rock history, that was marked indelible in all of their lives.
About the Author
Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats.