One of the greatest tragedies to ever hit the US music scene was when the plane carrying one of the biggest rock acts ever – Lynyrd Skynyrd – crashed outside of Gillsburg, Mississippi claiming the lives of six members of the entourage including band members Ronnie Van Zandt and Steve and Cassie Gaines. Twenty people survived the horrific crash – including drummer Artimus Pyle, and it is from his point of view that this story is told.
On Oct. 20th, 1977 the band was traveling from Greenville SC to Baton Rouge LA – their fifth studio album, Street Survivors had just been released three days earlier and the band was setting out on what was to likely be one of the most talked-about tours in music history. Instead – the plane ran out of gas and crashed – changing music history in a completely different way.
The film opens with drummer Artimus Pyle getting the call from the band to come and try out – obviously getting the gig and becoming the backbeat to one of the world’s most popular bands. From that point, we rather quickly progress to the day of the fateful crash – along the way the film is injected with actual footage of an interview with Artimus as he gives first-hand accounts of the events.
The band’s much-touted “bad boy” image is showcased in the days and hours leading up to that flight – partying, fighting, drinking, screwing – all the things that one comes to think of when you think of the 70’s rock scene. We don’t spend a lot of time hashing that scene out – just long enough to cement that the image was well earned.
The bulk of the film deals with the day of the crash – the band’s concern about the plane and ultimately the crash itself and aftermath. Pyle doesn’t pull any punches here – he places the blame fully and completely on the incompetence of the flight crew – the co-pilot in particular who for the purposes of this film is portrayed as making a series of bad choices that result in the downing of the plane. How much truth is in those claims I can not attest too but – Pyle certainly fully places the blame there. It should be mentioned here that both the pilot and the co-pilot lost their lives in the crash.
As far as the film goes – it certainly shines a heroic light on Pyle – we experience the entire accident through his eyes – his attempts at helping to radio for help before the crash occurs – his efforts to remove survivors from the wreckage – his trek to find help, which leads to him getting shot by an untrusting farmer, his insistence at leading authorities back to the crash scene – his heartfelt visits to the bedsides of his bandmates that survived – him dealing with the DEA thinking they have found illegal drugs in the wreckage of the plane and ultimately him dealing with the PTSD and survivors guilt of the horrible events.
At its core – this is a film about a survivor and the pain and hardship that comes from being one – it is a series of very public events as seen through the eyes of someone who lived them and it is his tale to tell. While Lynryd Skynyrd the band is an important part of the story – this is not about the band, it is about a horrible thing that happened to that band and how an integral member of that band remembers and recounts that event.
Pyle acknowledges the legacy and depth of the talent that died that day but ultimately I think it’s him coming to terms with the fact that fate chose to allow him to survive that day – and it’s OK to move on.
Those behind the film went to great strides to make the film look and feel authentic to its time – the casting is spot on with all involved giving solid, believable performances.
Just keep in mind – these are the events as recalled by Artimus Pyle and in my opinion – the film does that very well.