Free At Last: the Movie, for dc Talk's longtime fans, has been a Christian Music legend. It was filmed eight years ago, and was going to be the first Christian Music documentary to be released in theaters all across America. But due to a fallen distribution deal, the project was abandoned and never finished.
Now on the tenth anniversary of the album Free at Last, Forefront Records is treating dc Talk fans to this piece of the band's history. It's offering a special DVD package which also includes an anniversary edition of the album.
This movie was filmed over the course of the Free At Last Tour, which was dc Talk's very first experience as tour headliners. The film documents the days when the band first exploded.
However, even though this film is noted as unfinished, it's not a joke. This is obvious from the first moment of the film, when the words "Credit" and "Title" are repeatedly flashed on the screen where the title & credits would have eventually been inserted. And all throughout the film, analogue reference numbers are displayed at the bottom of the screen; it's a tool used for editing purposes, but they've never been removed.
But as the film continued, all those little holes seem to disappear. The ninety-minute film intermingles concert set pieces (some are complete songs, others merely portions). The concert segments are shown in full color, while the documentary portions are in black & white.
We've all heard the stories about the band's personality conflicts and internal strife, and Free At Last doesn't hide it. But the conflicts are surprisingly mild; there are no shouting matches or fights. It's much more subtle, seeing them struggle not to say what they really want to. They really seem to struggle against pride, disharmony, and ego more than they fight with each other. But the proceedings have no conflict. One scene shows Toby's underlying frustration with listening to Michael complain about his voice not being 100% just before a show starts. These moments of reality are welcome reminders that the guys of dc Talk (and in fact, all artists out there) are, above all else, human. It's a glimpse behind the scenes into a level of reality that we never get to see.
The film gives each of the three guys his own moment in the spotlight. Michael Tait makes confessions about his constant fight against his own ego, and later makes a trip to a prison to visit his brother, who had been in and out of prison for eleven years at the time the film was shot. Kevin Max reveals a lot about himself and his quirky personality, much of which can be attributed to the fact that he was adopted, and at the time of the film he still didn't know who his birth parents were. He jumps into a lake in an impromptu moment that frightens everyone else, but he finds hilarious. Toby McKeehan talks about his own "split personality": the fun guy to hang out with and the perfectionist leader of the group, and how that has led to strife.
You can't help but admire dc Talk's willingness to be boldly vulnerable, to put themselves and their shortcomings on display this way. Free At Last: The Movie is a fascinating look at what it's like to be a Christian celebrity. There's an oxymoron in that, and this movie shows the struggle of being both. The guys take every opportunity to alter your notions of the "glitz and glamour of the rock star life," replacing it with the stark reality of three young guys trying to figure things out.
The DVD includes numerous extra features, including a nice audio commentary track by all three guys, in which they update us on the situations depicted in the film and how they've changed in the eight-year interim. The music videos for "Jesus Is Just Alright" and "The Hardway" are also included, as is a making-of featurette originally filmed for the movie's planned release in 1994, five deleted scenes, a photo gallery, and two trailers. The collection also comes with the full audio Free At Last CD, which has two added tracks: a completely re-made version of "The Hardway" and some audio commentaries from the guys.
So do buy the movie. Even eight years later, Free At Last: The Movie holds up as perhaps the most real footage ever committed to film by any Christian artist.
By Chris C.