The latest chapter in the tumultuous saga of MC5: A True Testimonial, the explosive documentary by local filmmakers David Thomas (a part-time Reader employee) and Laurel Legler about the Detroit proto-punk band, has drawn to a close, and now it almost seems possible that the film could get released. (If you’re not familiar with the backstory, here’s a feature I wrote a few years ago.) Back in November of 2005, Thomas and Legler (aka Future/Now Films) were sued by guitarist Wayne Kramer and his wife, Margaret, for using MC5 music in the film without licensing permission from Warner/Chappell Music, who held the publishing rights. (There were other issues addressed in the suit, but this was the big one).
The trial finally opened in October of last year in California, and on March 31 U.S. District Judge Andrew J. Guilford finally announced his findings, which dismissed all of the claims made by the Kramers; a final decision is due in a few weeks. Future/Now still has a lot of work to accomplish before the film could be released—including ironing out issues that arose with DVD distributors after the shit hit the fan—but the judge’s findings clearly articulate sympathy and praise for the filmmakers. “This lawsuit teaches that materialism remains with us, as Plaintiffs vigorously seek money from Defendants,” Guilford writes. “Although the MC5 faded away largely due to drugs, the band lingers on in the memory of many, and would be known to many other but for pending legal feuds.
“Much of this case rests upon the credibility of witnesses, and the Court finds that Thomas and Legler were far more credible than Kramer on key issues concerning alleged promises, representations and commitments.” And later, “Defendants were first-time filmmakers who spent eight years of their lives trying to create a documentary film that would be historically truthful, a documentary that would celebrate the talent and creativity of the MC5 band, a documentary that would say something about the 60’s, and would say something about the present. They succeeded, and the film merits wide distribution for the enjoyment and edification of the masses.”