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article imageReview: Who the F**k is Arthur Fogel?

By Cate Kustanczy     Mar 21, 2013 in Entertainment
Toronto - Arthur Fogel isn't a well-known figure. But if you’ve ever been to a live concert by Madonna, U2, Lady Gaga, or The Police, you’ll have felt his influence. Now, a new documentary traces the Canadian music promoter’s rise to superstar status.
Fogel is the man behind seven of the top ten concert tours in history. The Ottawa-born promoter is Chairman of Global Touring with Live Nation and has worked closely with some of the most famous music acts on the planet. He's a key player in selling 50 million tickets to to more than 20,000 events every single year. As he told the Globe and Mail recently, "I think what I do is taking something big and making it bigger."
Fogel started out in the Canadian club scene in the late 1970s, working as a night manager at Egerton's, the popular Toronto music venue that eventually became known as The Edge. He managed popular Toronto band Martha and the Muffins before eventually joining Michael Cohl at Concert Productions International (CPI); both men realized fairly early on that they needed to expand out of their small local promotion world if they were to find any real and lasting success.
Screening as part of the Canadian Music Week Film Fest (running March 21st to March 23rd), Who The F**k Is Arthur Fogel? is a 93-minute look at a music industry mogel who’s effectively changed the way the modern music business -especially as it relates to touring -is run. Written and directed by Ron Chapman, the film is structured around U2's 360 tour (or rather, the planning, execution, and eventual stratospheric profit of said tour), and features an impressive assortment of talking heads, including Troy Carter (Lady Gaga's manager), Guy Oseary (Madonna's manager), Jonathan Kessler (Depeche Mode's manager), David Zysblat (David Bowie's manager), Kathy Schenker (Sting's manager), Larry LeBlanc (former Canadian bureau chief of Billboard), Ray Waddell (Executive Director at Billboard), Donald K. Tarlton (aka Donald K. Donald, Canadian music promoter), and Paul McGuinness (U2’s manager).
It's an industry-heavy lineup, and unless you're thoroughly apprised of the way the modern music industry works, much of what's being presented will fly right over your head. Nowhere in Who The F**k Is Arthur Fogel is the actual role of a promoter -or indeed, what sets Fogel's work apart -actually explained. He's compared to Bill Graham within the context of The Rolling Stones' gargantuate 1989 Steel Wheels tour (Graham lost the bid as promoter to Fogel and Michael Cohl, then with CPI), but all that's truly gleaned from that particular segment is a marked contrast in personality styles: Graham was loud and brash, Fogel is quiet and reserved. That's it? Really?
 Who The F**k Is Arthur Fogel?  screens as part the CMW 2013 Film Festival  running March 21st to 23...
'Who The F**k Is Arthur Fogel?' screens as part the CMW 2013 Film Festival, running March 21st to 23rd.
Crow Street Films
Just as Bill Graham is barely given a proper profile, other legendary concert promoters aren’t mentioned at all -notably Frank Barsalona. Barsalona was the founder of Premiere Talent agency, and, to quote Billboard, "is credited with no less than revolutionizing the rock concert business, which he told the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was considered "lower than the rodeo" before he founded Premiere Talent." The agency would go on to represent big acts including Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, Bruce Springsteen, and U2. Barsalona cultivated a national network of famous promoters including Ron Delsener in New York and Bill Graham in San Francisco. Inducted into the Hall in 2005, Barsalona ensured proper compensation and treatment of artists, insofar as they would be able to earn a decent portion of their living through touring and not through album sales alone. When he passed away in 2012, Bono wrote, “I don't think U2 would have enjoyed the kind of success we have had without Frank Barsalona building it with us.” Billboard noted that "(h)e is also credited with vastly improving the fan experience (and) upgrading the quality of live rock performances." Sound familiar?
 Who The F**k Is Arthur Fogel?  screens at the TIFF Lightbox Friday  March 22nd at 7pm; Fogel himsel...
'Who The F**k Is Arthur Fogel?' screens at the TIFF Lightbox Friday, March 22nd at 7pm; Fogel himself will interviewed by Larry LeBlanc earlier in the day at the Toronto Marriott Downtown Eaton Centre Hotel.
Crow Street Films
It's not only curious but vaguely infuriating to note Barsalona's absence in Who The F*ck; it's as if Chapman has a selective eye about what's important for the viewer, and has made assumptions about we do and don't need to know, presenting the subject of his film moving from success to success, without any sense of what goes into making those tours work so well -or indeed, what went wrong and why. Two notable failures in Fogel’s career are given a brief mention: the ill-fated Supremes “Return To Love” tour in 2000, and the Guns N'Roses tour fiasco of 2002. Both feature a video montage of performances and press conferences by Ross and Rose respectively -but beyond Fogel’s sighing, “That was a momentary loss of reason," and a few subtle finger-wags at the divadom of lead singers, the viewer is given zero insight into how and why those tours fell apart, and their role within a wider context of a (then) rapidly changing live music marketplace.
Equally galling is the fact the filmmaker didn’t include the 2010 merger between Live Nation and Ticketmaster, a business move that surely changed the live touring business in a big way. Chapman doesn't seem interested in asking the obvious questions: how did it affect the concert-going business? How did it affect promoters? What about the role of the internet in ticketing? These questions matter because they really define the sort of environment Fogel works in -and incidentally, which we, as concert-goers, pay for. Still, Who The F*ck Is Arthur Fogel? constantly reminds the viewer how it’s “all about the fans.” But its inclusion of the ticketing policy for U2's 360 tour (10,000 tickets at every show were priced at $30) isn't presented with any proper context; the cheaper tickets were sold through the band’s website to paid subscribers. Decent seated tickets to U2 shows are roughly $250 and up. It's all well and good to paint the Fogel/U2 partnership as some philanthropic exercise in fan-loving fairness, but it's too tidy a truth in a far messier, more complicated world where many music fans have been priced right out of seeing their favorites artists. Nowhere in the film is this notion given any credence, much less mentioned, and it's to the film’s detriment, because such exclusions imply a passive complicity by its central figure and the corporate world he's a part of.
The clumsy structure of the Who The F**k Is Arthur Fogel? (with hokey titles like "The Pity Of It All" and "A Virgin No More") doesn’t help in deepening the viewer’s understanding of Fogel’s importance in the modern tour machine; far from providing an anchor, it distracts from offering a deeper portrait. Each titled segment is meant to represent a specific phase in Fogel’s career, but the material used in each is frequently anachronistic; for instance, reference is made to U2’s PopMart tour of 1997-8 (it was U2’s first time working with Michael Cohl and his company, The Next Adventure), but segments of that tour are liberally mixed with ones from the aughties Elevation and Vertigo tours, while music from 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind is played. Casual music fans may not notice, much less care, about the differences, but they matter; the technical demands of a visually sophisticated stadium tour like PopMart differed wildly from those of the mostly-arena-bound Elevation and Vertigo tours. It would’ve been nice to hear Fogel speak to the work he (and Cohl, at the time) had to do for each, and the differences between them; not only would this have provided a good example of the varied demands of promoters through different tours (and eras), but it might’ve provided a more vivid and meaningful picture, especially since the 360 tour -its conception, its launch, its final box office tally -is the lynchpin Chapman tries to use to draw Who The F**k together.
The sole piece of thoughtful analysis in the movie comes from Elliott Roberts, manager Joni Mitchell / Neil Young / Bob Dylan. He compares demand for immediate returns in music industry to quarterly stock dividends in the financial world, and makes a keen assessment of how the current breed of promoters aren't particularly interested in breaking this culture: …there aren't a lot of people supporting this next generation of (younger) bands… that's a fault of a lot of the promoters too: they don't put any money into the young bands. They wait until they sell 3,000 seaters or better, then they become a Live Nation or AEG act. And that sucks.
It's a poignant insight, especially considering that, for all the touring industry is making, attendance is down and things aren't as rosy in the Live Nation world as the film might suggest. The film is dominated by Artist Nation and Universal Music acts, which isn't a surprise, given the 2011 merger between Live Nation and Universal Music. That’s not a bad thing -Madonna, Lady Gaga, and U2 are entertaining enough -but the issue for viewers is that such exclusivity limits comprehension of how the mechanics of modern touring affect different types of artists at different points in their careers; in a broader way, showing such a narrow range of artists puts a firm lid on just how much the music industry has become monopolized, and many would argue, homogenized. The role of the internet is given laughably short shrift, with little to no insight given as to how its ubiquity has affected artist output and tour plans.
Without more context and a wider (and more nuanced) selection of viewpoints, the viewer fails to understand what makes Fogel special, much less how his position might change and shift with the ever-transforming nature of the 21st century music business. It’s the absence of any economic, technological, and historical contexts -recent and not-so-recent -that ultimately weakens what could be a strong portrait of an important figure who expertly straddles the worlds of culture and business, representing both in the best and most celebrated of ways. Who The F**k is Arthur Fogel? comes across as an extended commercial for big-name touring acts, rather than the deeply thoughtful portrait it so wants to be -and which frankly, its central figure, along with millions of concert-going fans, so richly deserve.
More about Arthur Fogel, Fogel, Live nation, Promoter, Rock
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