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Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars review – absorbing tribute to the blues legend

Heartbreaking … Clapton on stage in 1974
Heartbreaking … Clapton on stage in 1974

This long, patient documentary about the life and music of Eric Clapton often feels like a transcription of Job’s sufferings. Brought up in Surrey by a woman whom he finally discovered to be his grandmother, the teenage Clapton finally met his actual mother who had gone to Canada and who casually and devastatingly rejected him all over again.

His brilliance at the blues guitar made him a legend. But the great love of his life involved heartbreak and – perhaps almost as painfully – the infringement of the “bro code” of guitarists. He fell passionately for the beautiful Pattie Boyd, wife of his friend George Harrison. She at first chose Harrison over him, but then married Clapton, who was by the 1970s descending into alcoholism, drug addiction and depression. There’s a poignant moment where he appears to wonder if his greatest work was with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, way back in the 60s. (Maybe.)

The film suggests the drinking accounts for his stupid pro-Enoch outburst in 1976 – though tactfully refrains from quoting it directly – yet also suggests that there was something aggressive and self-destructive in the music itself. (I was reminded of Nick Hornby’s conundrum in High Fidelity: “What came first, the music or the misery?”) And then, just as Clapton was beginning to turn his life around, his infant son Connor died in a tragic accident in 1991. It is almost unbelievable that Clapton found peace and sobriety after this, but he did. An absorbing tribute.

This article titled "Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars review – absorbing tribute to the blues legend" was written by Peter Bradshaw, for The Guardian on Wednesday 10 January 2018 03.00pm


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