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‘The Greatest Night In Pop’ review: Dir. Bao Nguyen [Sundance]

by Paul Heath

Accomplished filmmaker Bao Nguyen takes us on a trip back to 1985 and the historic recording of one of the biggest charity records of all time, ‘We Are The World’, which united dozens of A-list artists to raise money for the African famine.

Produced by Lionel Richie, one of the iconic artists and co-writer of the original song, Nguyen’s film uses archive material and contemporary talking heads (some interviewed in the original studio in which the record was made), including Richie himself.

Headed to Netflix one day off of the recording’s 39th anniversary, the film is a nostalgic trip back to the heyday of ’80s music, the year in which the likes of Cyndi Lauper, Prince, Michael Jackson, Huey Lewis, Billy Joel, Journey, Kenny Loggins and more were dominating the American and international charts, and all are included here in some form. The documentary charts production of the song itself from conception through to release, the majority of the film’s tight ninety-minute run time concentrating on the mammoth all-night-long recording on the track on the night of the 1985 American Music Awards, a date that was chosen as most of the artists were in town to attend the show (which Richie was presenting).

An informative and nostalgic piece that will definitely find its audience on the Netflix platform, for which it is headed.

We see how Richie wrote the song with Michael Jackson after they couldn’t track down Stevie Wonder to assist them (he performs on the track); how the project snowballed once they bagged the big names, all of the way through the lasting impact and continuing legacy of the song (it has raised a huge $80 million plus – well over $180 million in today’s money).

There’s tons of archive footage throughout, some of it never seen before and stand-out moments include Quincy Jones on his podium directing proceedings while Richie controls the floor – ‘putting out fires’ among the forty-something artists as and when they occur. There’s a wonderful moment when the floor is cleared for Bob Dylan to record his solo, just he, Richie and Steve Wonder in the room. There’s also another Bob – Geldof – he the co-creator of Band Aid charity track ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ – brought in by Jones to give a mood-setting speech before recording commences which completely changes the focus in the studio. It’s a powerful moment.

Bruce Springsteen, Lauper, Huey Lewis and others give interviews for the documentary, though there are some notable absences, all clearly still passionate and massively reflective on their work some four decades ago. None more than Richie himself who delivers a final note that leaves a fitting lasting impression on the audience before the track finally plays over the final credits in its entirety.

An informative and nostalgic piece that will definitely find its audience on the Netflix platform, for which it is headed.

The Greatest Night In Pop was reviewed at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival and will be released on Netflix on 29th January.

The Greatest Night In Pop

Paul Heath

Film

Summary

An informative and nostalgic doc featuring tons of never-seen-before footage that’ll definitely find its audience on the Netflix platform.

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