As a longtime Genesis fan (in particular the Phil Collins era), I was pretty thrilled about this documentary coming out in the U.S. (it aired on the BBC under the title Together and Apart) especially when it was announced that the five members of the classic 70s lineup (Tony Banks, Collins, Peter Gabriel, Steve Hackett and Mike Rutherford) appear on screen together to discuss the band. In fact, the best scenes in this doc are those moments when the five are candid about their time together. Unfortunately, once Gabriel and Hackett’s periods with Genesis come to an end, we don’t see much of the group stuff. Nevertheless, Sum of the Parts is an excellent primer on Genesis, a band that has made more than 300 Million in album sales, and it opens the curtain to show the inner workings of one of the most popular (and reviled) bands from the 70s and 80s.
The film begins as most band bios do, with the formation of Genesis. Guitarist Mike Rutherford and fellow guitarist Anthony Phillips formed a band while attending Charterhouse School in Surrey. They invited Tony Banks to come play keyboards, and Banks brought along his friend Peter Gabriel, who would become their lead singer. The quartet recorded a demo and approached Charthouse alumni, Jonathan King, a man who’d scored some pop success with a single called “Everyone’s Gone to the Moon.” King took a liking to the band and decided to produce them. He christened them Genesis, found them a drummer (who remains unnamed in the doc… his name was Chris Stewart) and they recorded an album that promptly went nowhere.
The tide turned for the band when they brought in Hackett to take over lead guitar duties and Collins to become their permanent drummer. They quickly formed a tight unit and became a sensation in the UK. Not much footage exists from the band’s early days, so Sum of the Parts relies on photographs, grainy 8MM film and the recollections of the five men to detail their rise in popularity both at home and abroad in the U.S. Watching them talk about the old days is amusing, and the way the band functions slowly comes to light. I was surprised to see how much power Banks wields in the band. Every video and interview I’ve ever seen of Genesis gave the impression that Collins was the sort of leader. That’s not the case, as almost all of them defer to Banks in interviews.
In the mid-70s, Gabriel began receiving the lion’s share of attention. While the others don’t come right out and say that it pissed them off, you get the impression that they were at least annoyed that journalists and fans sought out Gabriel after concerts. It’s not that Gabriel was seeking the limelight; he was just the main focus on stage being the lead singer and oddball wearing fox outfits. Tension over the writing of their seminal 1975 concept record, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (which Banks admits is his least favorite Genesis album), and difficulties in the Gabriel’s personal life lead to him quitting the band.
Genesis auditioned many singers to replace Gabriel, but none could pull off the songs like he did, or even like Collins did when he was singing the songs for the auditioning singers. Hearing Collins handle the lead vocals, the band decided to move him to the front of the stage (at least for concerts) and become a quartet once again. Eventually they would hire Frank Zappa drummer, Chester Thompson, as their touring drummer, but not before they toured behind the album A Trick of the Tail with former Yes drummer Bill Bruford (who goes unmentioned in the film).
Thompson receives a nice amount of screen time in Sum of the Parts, which I was pleased to see. He was an integral part to Genesis during their most popular periods that for him to not have a voice on camera would have been disrespectful. The same goes for American guitarist, Daryl Stuermer, who would become the band’s touring bassist after Hackett quit the band in 1977.
Hackett left Genesis because he felt that his songs were getting passed over for the band’s Wind and the Wuthering in favor of material written by Banks. Hackett, who was the first member to release a solo album, says as much to Banks, Rutherford and Collins during the group interview. It’s remarkable that they all take it in stride. Did the others pick sides back in 1976? They don’t say so, but they don’t deny it (or apologize) either.
Genesis then entered their most successful period as a trio. Their first big smash, “Follow You, Follow Me,” was a composition that began as a Rutherford riff and evolved with the other three. Almost an afterthought (Rutherford claims to have written the lyrics in 5 minutes), the song propelled the band into a new area of the musical landscape: the top 40.
At this point in Sum of the Parts, the film begins to lose direction. Director John Edginton, in addition to following Genesis’ ascendance to one of the most successful bands of the 80s, chose to discuss the successful solo careers of Collins, Gabriel and Rutherford (as the leader of Mike + the Mechanics). That would have been fine if a) they kept things chronological and b) discussed all aspects of these solo careers. Instead, we get a glimpse of Gabriel’s first album (the one that includes “Solsbury Hill”) and then jump ahead to his third (the one with “Biko”). Collins’ career gets the most screen time, although there’s scant mention of his blockbuster, No Jacket Required, and Mike + the Mechanics get one quick mention when a clip of “The Living Years” is shown.
While Banks gets an opportunity to talk about his solo outings, Hackett gets short shifted, with barely a sentence or two about what he’s done after Genesis (no mention of GTR, the super group he formed that had an AOR hit in the mid-80s, though).
The lack of cohesion in the second half of the film is a shame. Everything leading up to Hackett’s departure is quite informative and entertaining. It’s not that the rest of the band’s history isn’t interesting; it’s just that it feels like the Edington bit off more than he could chew and had to cram a Cliff’s Notes version of the band’s most popular years into 45 minutes.
While I was disappointed by so many exclusions in The Sum of the Parts (Ray Wilson, the singer who took over when Collins departed in the mid-90s, also gets no screen time) I will say this: the film served its purpose. It got me excited about a band I’d not listened to in over a year. Since watching Sum of the Parts I’ve only been listening to Genesis, Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins albums (no GTR, though). I’m sure Genesis fans will enjoy the film; fanatics will nitpick, and casual listeners will probably pay no attention.
The Blu-ray features extended interviews with the band members.