Vague Visages’ In the Court of the Crimson King review contains minor spoilers. Toby Amies’ 2022 documentary features Robert Fripp, Bill Rieflin and Jakko M. Jakszyk. Check out the VV home page for more film reviews, along with cast/character summaries, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings.
The creative mind operates most efficiently when guided by a fine-tuned belief system. A person of absolute faith can open their mind to their darkest fears, whereas someone more spiritual can reflect upon the differences between a traditional God and an intelligent designer of the universe. For Robert Fripp, the co-founder of English rock band King Crimson, his musical concepts and demands have long irritated a rotating group of bandmates while inspiring a devoted fanbase that understands the need for an original musical experience. In the Court of the Crimson King, a 2022 rock doc, wrestles with themes of faith, fear and death as the seemingly royal subject rallies his crew for a 50th anniversary reunion. Filmmaker Toby Amies unearths several gems about Fripp’s internal belief system, despite allowing him to guide the narrative via cryptic and comedically combative commentaries.
Amies positions Fripp as a looming God during In the Court of the Crimson King’s first act as bandmates nervously talk about their leader as he listens nearby. Over time, though, the documentary mostly clarifies the primary subject’s worldview. Fripp is a perfectionist, yes, but one who views consciousness as “a continuum,” evidenced by numerous sequences in which he preaches the importance of being present with both fans and bandmates. This is the same ideology that allows Bob Dylan to maintain a meaningful bond with followers, even if he doesn’t stick around to chat or fill time with career anecdotes. As for Fripp, it’s the purity of musical performances that translates to a “peak” experience for King Crimson loyalists. Amies’ revelatory rock doc succeeds by exploring the sacred and profane aspects of the subject’s musical mentality.
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Kubrickian imagery underlines themes of unity and silence throughout In the Court of the Crimson King. Amies, who worked as his own cinematographer, stages Fripp in empty auditoriums; a way to complement the subject’s belief system. The bold color contrasts align with the Crimson King’s personality (isolation, emotionally present) and practical ways of thinking (do or don’t), while the live concert visuals accentuate the spiritual aspects of the performance scenes. Midway through In the Court of the Crimson King, a fan describes Fripp’s angst as “part of the experience,” which in turn complements various commentaries from band members who recall their traumatic experiences, along with what they learned by giving in to Fripp’s perfectionism.
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Unfortunately, In the Court of the Crimson King doesn’t reveal much about Fripp’s identity outside of his band. And perhaps that’s because King Crimson is indeed his identity; a way to grapple with sacred and profane experiences without actually speaking about them. A bandmate acknowledges that Fripp used to wash his hands 10 times a day, but Amies never includes the letters “OCD” or any reductive terms that might diminish his subject’s accomplishments. At times, Fripp delivers performative answers, almost like a King on his throne cackling like a Big Bad. In contrast, tears drip down the musician’s face as he recalls a meaningful encounter with British author John G. Bennett. It’s a moment of spiritual vulnerability, one that links to later sequences in which Bill Rieflin reckons with the past, present and future while dying from colon cancer.
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“There is a party waiting for me,” Fripp says near the end of In the Court of the Crimson King — an honest moment that ties together all of the documentary’s themes. These are the words of a man with a flexible belief system, a musician who demands excellence because that’s always been the established standard. For every morally righteous and judgmental person on planet Earth, there’s someone like Fripp who knows that one doesn’t need organized religion in order to find enlightenment — just feeling a presence is enough.
In the Court of the Crimson King released in theaters on November 3, 2023. The documentary will be available digitally on December 1, 2023 via Monoduo Film.
Q.V. Hough (@QVHough) is Vague Visages’ founding editor.
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