Like most bands in the 1970s, Chicago was all about sex, drugs and rock and roll. And of course, horns.
With more than 100 million albums sold, Chicago has been one of the most successful bands in history. Today, nearly a half-century after forming, several of the original members continue to tour with more than 100 concerts a year.
One of those stops will include a pair of shows Friday, Feb. 19, and Saturday, Feb. 20, at the Sedona Performing Arts Center. The concerts will help kick off the 22nd annual Sedona International Film Festival.
For those fans who want to know more about the band, there will be a pair of showings of the documentary “Now More than Ever: The History of Chicago.” The film will have its premiere at the SIFF with screenings planned at noon, Saturday, Feb. 20, at the SPAC and at 3:10 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 21, at the Sedona Harkins 6 Theatres.
A private screening of the film was shown to a handful of invited guests and media on Thursday, Feb. 4, at the Mary D. Fisher Theatre. There, the film’s director Peter Pardini spoke about making the film. Having just completed film school at the time, this was Pardini’s first venture. He did have a little inside help as his uncle, Lou Pardini, is a member of the band, having joined in 2010.
Pardini was joined at the screening by Tim Jessup, a Sedona sound engineer who has worked with Chicago for years including on their upcoming live concert album to be released later this year.
The film chronicles the rock band — known for its use of a horn section in most of its songs — from its inception in 1967 to the present day. The documentary begins with the early days when the band was known as Chicago Transit Authority and follows its journey to its induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2014. In between it has had 21 Top 10 singles, five consecutive No. 1 albums, 11 No. 1 singles while 25 of its 36 albums have sold more than 1 million copies.
The film delves into the band’s highs — both literally and figuratively — but members [including founding member and Sedona resident Lee Loughnane] also talked about the lows. They included the accidental death of the band’s first lead singer, Terry Kath in 1978, to the firing of drummer and founding member Danny Seraphine, as well as changes in management and record labels. It also discussed the unceremonious departure of lead singer and bassist Peter Cetera in 1985. Cetera, who declined to be part of the documentary, was the lead singer on some of the band’s biggest hits including “You’re the Inspiration,” “If You Leave Me Now,” “Baby, What a Big Surprise” and “Hard Habit to Break.”
“I had a responsibility as a filmmaker of treating them fairly,” Pardini said. “But at the same time, I wanted to make sure it wasn’t just a puff piece. I felt the most important thing was to ask the same questions of everyone and in the end I got a slightly different perspective from each. There have been other things done on them that basically said they had a bunch of hits in the ’70s, Peter Cetera left and that’s about it.”
Pardini did add that Cetera has agreed to sing with the band — the first time in three decades — when it is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this April.
“We tried every possible way to get Peter to be in the film,” he said. “It’s too bad because he didn’t get to speak for himself. That’s why I’m so glad that Danny [Seraphine] agreed to be part of this.”
While Cetera declined to be interviewed, Pardini was able to talk with music industry moguls Clive Davis and Peter Foster. But his interview with Davis almost didn’t happen. Having set up a noon interview in New York, he and his small crew — along with all their film equipment — planned to fly from Nashville the day prior. But a massive storm resulted in a canceled flight so they drove 15 hours and made it with 30 minutes to spare.
“That was the moment that I thought to myself that this movie better be good because that almost killed us,” he said, laughing.
So how does one condense 50 years of entertainment into a two-hour film?
“It wasn’t easy — this could have been four hours long but I knew no one would want to sit through that,” Pardini said. “I edited this for two years in my apartment with no band intervention. I had all this incredible music and footage that I wanted to get in because I didn’t want this to just be a talking heads documentary.”
Once the film was complete, being a first-time director Pardini said he was understandably nervous about what his uncle and the rest of the band would think of the finished product.
“I didn’t want to watch it with them so I sent all nine of them copies,” he said. “They all got back to me and said they loved it.”