Both informative and wonderfully nostalgic, I Want My MTV is a fascinating journey through rock n’ roll history that tells MTV’s story while teaching about human emotions.
It’s 12:01 AM Eastern Time on August 1, 1981, and the Apollo 11 is about to take off. It’s “one minute, twenty seconds and counting” before the launch, and the Space Shuttle’s engines are preparing for ignition. The countdown begins, signalling its immediate departure. The main engines roar, and the Apollo 11 takes off. As the television screen shows images of the moon, the voiceover announces the moment of history that’s being broadcast: “Ladies and Gentlemen, Rock N’ Roll“.
Because what appeared on the screens of the few lucky owners of cable television, that night in 1981, was not the beginning of the Apollo 11’s mission to the Moon: that had already happened in 1969, over ten years in the past. What America was witnessing, on August 1, 1981, was another historical event, one much less scientific but that still had a huge impact on the world as we know it: it was MTV’s very first broadcast.
I Want My MTV is, quite simply, one of those films that you really don’t want to miss. Informative, captivating and wonderfully nostalgic, Tyler Measom and Patrick Waldrop’s documentary tells the story of how MTV came to be, and it does it with a great deal of heart. After all, the story of how this “new kind of non-stop television” was born is quite a gripping one, and one that is about so much more than the addition of a new TV channel to the network. When MTV co-founders John Lack and Bob Pittman set out on the mission to create a new kind of TV for young people, no video had ever been associated to music before. Which is precisely why their idea wasn’t understood by everyone, at first: a kind of television that focused exclusively on entertainment was seen as having “no message and no attempt to educate”. It’s only when the channel went live, with the Apollo 11 signalling its existence – a move that the founders regarded as a “rock n’ roll thing to do” – that people started to understand what MTV really was. What the channel represented, to generations of younger audiences, was a means to express themselves freely and as part of a community.
But this is just the first fragment of MTV’s long and fascinating history. I Want My MTV takes you through various defining moments of the channel, from the decision not to stick to just one colour for the logo to the inventive ways in which they got celebrities to record the notorious “I Want My MTV!” promotional message for next to no money at all. But the documentary also does so much more than that: as you witness hilarious moments in MTV history and find out the true meaning of the expression “runaway camera”, you also learn about the history of music itself. Among I Want My MTV ‘s captivating speakers are Billy Idol, Tori Amos, Sting, Pat Benatar, Eurythmics’s Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, Poison’s Bret Michaels, The Monkees’s Michael Nesmith, Teagan and Sarah, Alice in Chains, Twisted Sister, Run-DMC and many more musical legends. There’s plenty of anecdotes that will bring you closer to a time you might or might not have experienced, and you won’t be able to resist smiling as you watch the many clips appearing in the film – including OK Go’s famous treadmill routine, Michael Jackson’s Thriller dance and pretty much every single music video you’ve ever loved.
Whether you witnessed the 80s and 90s first hand or you’ve never heard of most of the bands featured in the movie, you’re guaranteed to fall in love with this fascinating gem of a movie and its special brand of nostalgia. Heartwarming, entertaining and pure, infectious fun, I Want My MTV will bring you back to a special time in music history and teach you about freedom, creativity and universality. It will leave you with a big smile on your face, and, when it’s over, you’ll want to watch it all over again.
I Want My MTV premiered at the Glasgow Film Festival today, and will be screened again on Sunday, 1st March at 1:15pm: click here for tickets and information.