The director Toby Amies’s documentary “In the Court of the Crimson King” is part road chronicle and part retrospective, and captures King Crimson, the adventurous British rock ensemble, at what may be the end of its existence. Robert Fripp, for years the band’s sole original member, has strongly suggested that its 2021 tour would be its last. (It hasn’t toured since.)
One of the originators of the subgenre called progressive rock or art rock, King Crimson is, depending on whom you ask, either impossibly pretentious or startlingly adventurous. Fripp, an endlessly thoughtful and meticulously articulate guitarist, is the group’s most tireless and paradoxical explainer in the film. He’s fond of pronouncements like, “For silence to become audible, it requires a vehicle. And that vehicle is music.”
At one point Fripp describes his experience in the band from 1969 to 2016 as “wretched.” What changed in 2016? He put together a group of stellar musicians who did as he requested. The film features their thoughts along with interviews with past members who had strong differences with Fripp.
While the YouTube videos Fripp and his wife, the singer Toyah Willcox, began making during the pandemic reveal the guitarist as a mild-mannered, eccentric, uxorious madcap, he can come off like an egghead martinet in the context of the band he has helmed for half a century. But he is as hard on himself as he is on anyone else, practicing the guitar four to five hours a day and subjecting himself to other forms of discipline such as taking a cold shower in the morning: “Your body doesn’t want to go under a cold shower,” he says in the film. “So you’re saying to your body, ‘Do as you’re told.’”
Bill Rieflin offers another perspective on the band, as a musician who chose to spend his last years alive touring with Crimson. He died of cancer in 2020. His devotion renders Fripp’s adages about the sacred nature of music-making palpable.
In the Court of the Crimson King: King Crimson at 50
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 26 minutes. In theaters.