Why Led Zeppelin Fired the 1st Director of 'The Song Remains the Same'

The 1976 Led Zeppelin movie The Song Remains the Same got even worse reviews than the band’s early albums. In the New York Daily News, Kathleen Carroll called the film “a hopelessly pretentious piece of trash.” Over in the Times, the reviewer said the stage antics of Robert Plant looked like “a sheep trying to seduce a telephone pole.”

Yet Zeppelin’s loyal fans turned out and saw the film the first chance they got. (Many saw it a second time.) As with all other things Zep, The Song Remains the Same was a box-office success. But even the band members had issues with the finished product, and you could trace it back to its production.

During the making of The Song Remains the Same, the band had the original director replaced. From that point, the production dragged on another two years before making it to the screen. And there were still continuity problems in the final cut.

Led Zeppelin fired Joe Massot after seeing a cut of ‘The Song Remains the Same’

If you’ve seen The Song Remains the Same, you probably recall the concert footage coming from the Zeppelin’s three-night stand at Madison Square Garden at the close of July ’73. Director Joe Massot, who’d done 1968’s Wonderwall (featuring music by George Harrison), had put a solid plan in place.

Massot’s crew went to several Zeppelin concerts to test out camera angles and run through other logistical matters. When they arrived at the Garden, they’d made their practice run. And given the length of a typical Zep performance (about three hours), you’d think a crew could get what it needed in three nights.

It didn’t work out that way. When Zep manager Peter Grant and the band looked at the dailies, they knew they had a problem. “We quickly realized there were huge gaps in the filming,” Jimmy Page recalled in an interview included in Light and Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page (2012).

Sometime around this point (late ’73 or early ’74), the band realized it had better find a way to fix the film. So they decided to shoot the fantasy sequences that make the movie such a wild ride decades later. And they fired Massot and brought in another director to finish the job.

Massot’s concert footage was missing entire verses to songs

When Page spoke about gaps in the filming, he didn’t mean 10 different angles of him doing the duck-walk. Massot’s crew had missed major stuff. “The crew hadn’t covered the basic things like filming the verses to certain songs!” Page recalled in Light and Shade.

Page offered a theory as to what happened. “We surmised that some of them were probably stoned — simple as that,” he said. “Nearly everyone was stoned at the time, but at least we did our job.” The screening of a rough cut, arranged by Massot, was the final straw.

Zeppelin brought in Peter Clifton to clean up the mess. In order to establish some semblance of continuity, Clifton convinced the band to perform a concert on a soundstage to fill in the blanks left by Massot’s crew. So if you notice John Paul Jones’ hair getting longer and shorter over the course of the film, bear in mind it took several years to shoot.

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