By Serena Lalani
Daniel Sarkissian, a 2013 Ryerson film grad, has spent the last eight months putting together his feature length documentary “What is Classic Rock.”
By interviewing popular names in the rock industry such as members of KISS, Twisted Sister, Jethro Tull and several others, Sarkissian critiques and analyses classic rock to figure out what qualifications are tied to the genre.
In 2014, Q107, Toronto’s rock radio station, which at the time was branded as a “classic rock” station, started playing songs by Pearl Jam, Nirvana and other grunge and alternative bands from the ‘90s. They were beginning to be categorized as classic rock and although Sarkissian loved the bands that were being featured, he started to question what classic rock really was.
“I heard these songs on the radio then several months later I just impromptu decided to make a film about the subject,” said Sarkissian.
He has been a fan of rock ’n’ roll since the age of 12, but never really considered creating an entire film dedicated to it until last summer. Sarkissian had originally planned to create a nine minute short film and had no expectations going into it.
“I didn’t really have a plan,” said Sarkissian, “It just fell into place.”
He traveled to LA to gather interviews and kick start his film. Upon arriving, he tried to connect with various names in the industry to see if he could “spice up” the film. He got in contact with Marc Canter, a close friend of the original members of Guns N’ Roses, who was also the band photographer for the first decade of their existence. According to Sarkissian, if there’s anyone who knows Guns N’ Roses inside-out, it’s Canter. After meeting with him, he realized that his short film would be soon be expanded. “It took off from there,” explained Sarkissian.
After a couple of months of gathering and scheduling interviews with various artists, Sarkissian spent some time deciding where exactly he wanted to go with the film.
“Things naturally developed,” said Sarkissian, “It came together quickly and unexpectedly.”
Sarkissian said interviewing these musical figures was an amazing experience.
The whole process beginning to end took approximately eight months and was an independent project. Sarkissian directed, produced, filmed and edited the entire two hour film.
While the title may suggest that the focal point is specifically on classic rock, Sarkissian’s film is also a critique about the music industry as a whole and how the structure of the business has evolved throughout the years. The film also touched on the difference between rock and metal and the difference between breaking into the industry in the 1960s versus today.
Another theme explored and discussed in Sarkissian’s documentary is the socio-political element behind rock and roll. “For example, the influence Vietnam had on Woodstock in 1969,” Sarkissian explained. “Or even before rock music was invented, slavery had a huge influence on the early black blues artists which were the roots of rock.” The film recognizes why mainstream music from the ‘60s and ‘70s seemed to have a political edge to it and how that has changed over the years.
“You don’t have to be a die hard rock fan to appreciate the film,” said Sarkissian. He said it was created in a way to appeal to fans of the rock industry, but also to people without knowledge of rock ‘n’ roll who want to learn about it. From an artistic perspective, he hopes the film gets people to truly understand and learn what classic rock really is.