Playing to press and public in Toronto last week, Greetings From Tim Buckley, the film exploring Jeff Buckley's relationship with his father and his first tentative steps into the music industry, has received mainly positive assessments. The Hollywood Reporter labelled it a “lyrical recreation of a father-son relationship", while Variety championed the lead actor, saying, “Badgely does a thrilling job capturing the mix of siren sweetness and caterwaul in Jeff's vocals”.
Having seen it ourselves we can happily announce that fans of both Buckleys will find no need for terms like “grave spinning” or “cash-in” as Greetings... is at once an affectionate tribute and an interesting insight into the life of two supremely talented musicians. But it isn't exactly what you'd expect from “That Jeff Buckley film”...
Greetings From Tim Buckley isn't a straight up biopic of Jeff Buckley's life and untimely death. Or for that matter Tim Buckley's life and untimely death. And it doesn't purport to be either. Instead it's one section of Jeff's life, namely the few days before he joined a number of musicians in a tribute concert to his late father. Played as a cathartic experience for the then 24-year-old who never knew his father, his involvement with the tribute put him on the musical map as a star in his own right. The film intercuts Jeff's decision to play the concert with patchy memories of his father's life on the road.
He's got the gestures and sounds, got the timing down, it's uncanny but you wouldn't think it is Jeff. And that's a good thing. He's not out to imitate the late singer, but rather become a version of him. With a tendency to amplify his wide-eyed nature as opposed to his intensity. It's a wise move and one that comes with the fact that he's playing Jeff before he was a star. As for the vocals, he nails it. In one stand-out scene, set in a record store, Penn apes Jeff's Led Zeppelin mimicry, reaching every high note with relative ease. And also expect to fall in love with Imogen Poots if you haven't already.
There's a fair amount of artistic licensing going on in Greetings From Tim Buckley, including the aforementioned lovely Imogen Poots. As far as we can make out her character, Allie, is a work of fiction, invented to give Jeff somewhere to vent his feelings and frustrations. We're guessing that the name Allie is a sly nod to Jeff's infatuation with Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn, who also gets name checked in the final film. Nusrat not really being a suitable identifier for a love interest.
Huh?! A film about a musician that doesn't feature any of his songs, and you're still saying it's a decent effort. Well, yeah. For starters Jeff's discography circa 1991 was pretty thin. Secondly the concert - which is central to the film - is all about Tim, and at said concert, Jeff only played Tim's songs. The factual bullshit police would have a field day if Jeff started warbling a medley of Grace's choicer moments while everyone else is trying to get through a rendition of 'Once I Was'. What we do get is a scene involving Jeff and his writing partner working on an early version of 'Grace' and 'Lilac Wine' over the credits. Which is, somewhat surprisingly, enough to capture a musician on the cusp of greatness.
As much about the father as the son, Greetings... offers a collection of Buckley Senior's hits performed by actors Ben Rosenfield (via Jann Klose) as Tim, Penn Badgley as Jeff and archival footage of the folk singer himself from TV performances of the 70s. As lousy as Tim was as the damn paterfamilias there's no doubting his musical ability and also his work load, putting out eight albums in what would also be a career cut much too short.
As Greetings... met with a positive response at the Toronto International Film Festival, its rival project, Mystery White Boy, hit another snag as it became rooted in development hell. At one point the 'official' film, Mystery White Boy, a much more exhaustive look at Jeff's life, was due to go head-to-head with Greetings.... Now the original director, Jake 'Son Of Ridley' Scott, has left the project, handing over the reigns to documentary maker Amy Berg with original choice for Jeff, Reeve Carney, also rumoured to be flying the coop. Whether it will get back on track before the 20 Year Anniversary of 'Grace' no-one really knows. So, for now, Greetings From Tim Buckley will be your only Jeff fix. That's when, or perhaps if, it gets a UK distributor. Fingers crossed that it will.