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Gram Parsons: Fallen Angel (2004)

On September 19, 1973, the musician and heir to a million-dollar fortune died under the influence of drugs and alcohol near his favourite place - the Joshua Tree National Monument in the ... See full summary »




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Credited cast:
Tracey MacLeod ...
Herself - Narrator (voice)
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Himself - R.E.M.
Gretchen Carpenter ...
Herself - Gram's Widow
Herself - Writer
Herself - Musician
Chris Hillman ...
Himself - Musician
Phil Kaufman ...
Himself - Road Manager
Bernie Leadon ...
Himself - Musician
John Nuese ...
Becky Parsons Gottsegen ...
Herself - Gram's Stepsister
Diane Parsons ...
Herself - Gram's Sister
Gram Parsons ...
Himself (archive footage)
Himself - Musician


On September 19, 1973, the musician and heir to a million-dollar fortune died under the influence of drugs and alcohol near his favourite place - the Joshua Tree National Monument in the Californian desert. As the founder of the Flying Burrito Brothers, a member of the hit-making, legendary Byrds, an important influence on the Rolling Stones and the man who catapulted Emmylou Harris to fame, Gram Parsons made music history in only a few years. The film was made on location by director and musician Gandulf Hennig and American music journalist, musician and biographer Sid Griffin. Friends, contemporaries and devotees of Gram Parsons talk about the importance of his work and the bizarre circumstances of his early death. Rare footage of his performances shows why Gram Parsons has become a legend. Interviewees include Gram's wife Gretchen, his sister and his daughter, Keith Richards, Emmylou Harris, Chris Hillman and "Road Manager" Phil Kaufman. Written by Anonymous

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Feature length documentary on the musician and million-dollar-heir Gram Parsons, his exceptional life, his bizarre death, and his deep impact on music history.


Documentary | Music






Release Date:

29 April 2004 (USA)  »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs



Aspect Ratio:

1.78 : 1
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User Reviews

Beautiful story, heartbreakingly told, with a few technical weaknesses
12 January 2005 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Among the most fascinating and ultimately saddest stories in American popular music is the brief life and odd afterlife of Gram Parsons, one-time Byrd, Burrito Brother, quasi-Rolling Stone and inventor of the "cosmic American music" that became alt-country or Americana after his death. Fallen Angel: Gram Parsons, a UK-Germany television production that screened as part of the Portland Reel Music festival, is a feature-length documentary that explores Parsons' life and musical legacy with a host of the musicians and family members who knew him best. Director Gandulf Hennig — a small and hyperactive German — hosted the screening in Portland, and was clearly blown away by an audience queue that extended around the block, forcing a sold-out showing and emergency late-night screening for the remaining audience.

What is clearest about the Parsons documentary is that everyone who knew him realized they were in the presence of genius - a completely self-destructive and obnoxious genius, but genius nonetheless. His most prominent musical partners, including Chris Hillman of the Byrds, Keith Richards of the Stones, and Emmylou Harris, testify so eloquently. But the same self-assured genius made Parsons almost completely unbearable as a musical, romantic, or family partner, and he tore down relationships that could have saved him and enriched music immeasurably, alienating himself from his most dedicated allies. It's also clear that in his abbreviated life, Parsons was able to play key roles in some of the most significant musical transformations of his era - taking the Byrds into proto-country, performing on the bill with the Stones at the disastrous concert at Altamont, bringing Emmylou Harris to national attention, and playing an active role in the rediscovery of American roots and country by the rock audiences of the time. Keef in particular expresses his remorse at playing with Parsons, recognizing his gifts and his talent, and not recognizing how Parsons' own habits and weaknesses were threatening his prospects to continue his musical growth (Mick Jagger, not interviewed here, is depicted as a far more competent professional who tried to encourage Parsons to take his career, health, and family life more seriously).

I was never a huge Parsons fan; my knowledge of his musical legacy comes from the performances by other musicians of his songs. But seeing the old concert footage - from sophisticated live sets to ramshackle house jams - makes it clear that he was a true one-of-a-kind, with a gorgeous voice and spectacular physical beauty, coupled with songwriterly gifts that were just beginning to grow - before alcohol and drugs caused caused his eventual decline and death at the age of only 26.

I'm much less interested in the morbid tale of Parson's afterlife - the theft of his corpse and his partial-cremation in the desert by a road manager. But as Peter Buck of R.E.M. says in the film, that sort of mystery explains a large part of his mystique.

My only complaint about the documentary, which is incredibly detailed, loving, and sympathetic to both Parsons' survivors and his musical colleagues, is that the director puts too much emphasis into talking-head commentary and fails to show any complete performances, or any live footage longer than a minute or so long. Additionally, there were either very few interviews ever recorded with Parsons or Hennig chose not to include them. As a result it's harder to get a sense of how Parsons himself spoke or expressed himself.

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