The Ventures: Stars on Guitars (2020)

The Ventures are the number one instrumental rock group in the world and everyone has heard at least one of their tracks. To celebrate their 60th anniversary in the business, this documentary digs into where they are from, what makes them so popular, and what’s next for a group that’s been around since the 1960s.

Written and directed by Staci Layne Wilson, daughter of Ventures founding member Don Wilson, this documentary takes a personal, yet informational approach to the subject mixing archival footage and new interviews, including footage and interviews with the members of the Ventures, some of their famous fans, industry pros and influential people, as well as those who knew/know them best. The fact that the director is so close to the subject and knows so much about it adds a layer of personal interest that is actually good in this case. It gives the film an approach that is not always there in films about musical acts. Here, she doesn’t come at things from a fan girl angle, but from a filmmaker angle which the advantage of having access to one of the founding members a lot easier than others might have had. She also grew up in that world to an extent and it shows. Her background in film journalism gives her another special aspect to add to this having a lot of contacts in the music and film industries that allowed her to pull from a large group of fun interviewees.

Part of the interviewees includes Don Wilson, Billy Bob Thorton, Jimmy Page, Marky Ramone, The Sufragettes, and so many more. The variety in people being interviewed, from their musical styles to their background to their ages, shows the impact of The Ventures in the music industry and in the artistic world. The international footage shows where the band was and still is popular shows that they have a worldwide connection with people, which was only made easier with the fact that they didn’t have lyrics on their pieces.

All these interviews were shot by a very small crew composed of, John Gulager, Diane Ayala Goldner, and Staci herself, their work in inter-cut with archival footage which in some cases has not aged well, but is updated in a way to keep it looking and sounding decent. The editing here by Nina Helene Hirten shows a care in how it all comes together and the use of images in-between these pieces of footage and interviews adds an element of fun that is very fitting for the music that is being explored. This editing and these additions give the film a peppy feel that is fun and keeps the viewer interested. The way the film is put together and presented shows a real knowledge of both the band and documentary films about bands which get the result to be really fun and interesting to watch.

The Ventures: Stars on Guitars is a fun music documentary that works for anyone who is a fan or barely knows who The Ventures are. It’s well-done with a care for details and the band itself that could only be done by Staci Layne Wilson. This is the kind of documentary that is easy to watch, where everyone from casual viewer to die hard Ventures fans can learn something, and one that is done with a genuine interest in the band. The director’s closeness to the subject matter works here as she has a special eye on the subject as well as easy access to some of the elements needed to make this a great documentary, which it is. The Ventures: Stars on Guitars is the a great film overall with a great approach to its subject. As each viewer will have their own level of familiarity with the band, they will come in with different levels of interest, but once they get into the movie, they should see how much they have been surrounded by The Ventures’ music since they were kids and they have loved at least one piece of their work through the radio or films (like Pulp Fiction). It’s the most popular instrumental rock group in the world for a reason.