The David Crosby-centric doc proves most effective when it embraces the rock-infused messiness of the man’s life and career.
“I produced a record for her,” David Crosby says of his work with Joni Mitchell. “I didn’t do a very good job, but I captured her essence.” Later on, he dips his toes into his romantic pasts: “I wasn’t a good partner.” Flower children dance as Woodstock ’69 replays itself, and footage of lynchings and the Kent State massacre jut in like asides from reality. For all his political activism and influence in counter-culture, Crosby was never in the real world. He was adjacent. Personally left of center. Politically left of left. The world acted. He reacted.
It may sound lopsided, but A.J. Eaton’s directorial debut works best when all its blood goes to its head. Most rockumentaries would try to be lyrical. Most, like the recent Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love, would present a thesis only to get distracted by something shinier. The difference with David Crosby: Remember My Name is that it doesn’t care about lyricism, and it isn’t particularly obsessed with talking. It’s about the rhythm, and like the successive knots of Crosby’s music, it works best when everything on its mind invades the peripheries.
At just over an hour and a half, the film doesn’t spend a whole lot of time establishing his upbringing, and it isn’t until later on that it recontextualizes its messiness. At first, it’s a little jarring, the kind of work that feels rushed. Motifs come and go. A few scenes fall back on the sort of stock music score that draws attention to just how myopic Eaton’s worst tendencies are, and some styles, like a handful of animated sequences, mistake underdevelopment for ephemerality.
After all, this is Crosby’s retrospection as much as it is Eaton’s. The singer controls some sequences as much as the director controls others. It’s Crosby’s journey but Eaton’s camera; it’s a subjective film from a refreshingly detached voice. Remember My Name isn’t the kind of documentary that deifies its subject, and as it goes by his experiences, it stays close to the artist’s humor, preventing most of its content from appearing more concrete than it ought to.
Remember My Name isn’t the kind of documentary that deifies its subject.
Rather, it’s Eaton’s distance as a filmmaker that invites the picture’s context. As historical footage appears with the same matter-of-factness, a maturity begins to show itself from the center of the frame. None of the unrest or hatred of the world vies for attention, and Eaton doesn’t give it any. He simply shows it. He holds on it—and onto its actuality—before letting Crosby describe his place is a much bigger, and more important, picture.
Remember My Name strikes the most chords when this push-pull goes unsaid. There are, however, parts that bow to convention, and it’s especially dispiriting that they all deal with the women in Crosby’s life. Whereas Stephen Stills and Graham Nash get their agency, Crosby’s romantic partners get less: pain, deaths, subservience. The film never gives them a chance to contribute to their own lives, or even the subject’s life, as it so happens.
Instead, it’s their pain, death, and subservience that play into the narrative. They’re wallpaper, and for a self-proclaimed humanist of the ‘60s, such treatment is as one-sided as it is myopic. These shortcomings also happen to sandwich the experience. It’s the middle of the picture that gleams the most insight. As for the 25 minutes that bookend it? They’re typical stuff (drugs! regret! addiction!), and they could have said as much over text as they do on the screen.
At least it doesn’t lose sight of his humor, and the material that Eaton and editors Elisa Bonora & Veronica Pinkham include reorient its moral compass. Crosby may have been adjacent to life before, but now he’s behind it. He’s pushing it forward, and it’s hard to argue against.