Director: Alex Winter
Running time: 106 minutes
Go ahead and admit it: You can't even remember the last time you trekked to a record store and actually purchased a compact disc. The rationale: Why waste hard-earned gas money driving to the nearest Best Buy when digital applications like iTunes and Spotify are effortlessly accessible from any desktop or laptop?
Now that online music providers are so readily available and simple to use, it's easy to forget about the cyber revolution that started it all: Napster, the file-sharing creation of a Massachusetts teenager named Shawn Fanning. Along with his co-founder, Sean Parker, and their trusty staff of mostly same-aged and similarly brilliant buddies, Fanning drastically altered the entire music industry, angered the likes of Lars Ulrich and Dr. Dre, and empowered young people by showing them that the Internet was theirs to inventively utilize, not their elders.
In his pulsating and extremely well-reported documentary Downloaded (another SXSW world premiere), actor turned filmmaker Alex Winter recounts Napster's unexpected rise and inevitable fall through firsthand accounts of all the major players, namely the usually reclusive Fanning and his more outgoing ex-partner, Parker. Upholding a balance of fairness, Winter affords nearly as much talking time to Fanning's enemies as he does to the Napster mastermind himself, interviewing several record label executives (including Columbia Records President Donny Iner) and musicians (Noel Gallagher, Beastie Boys member Mike D., Henry Rollins).
Many of Downloaded's best moments come from the clever ways in which Winter and his editor, Jacob Craycroft, weave in their surplus of archival footage—big laughs come from dated interviews with two out-of-touch Spice Girls and the pre-cyber-boom ignorance displayed by Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel as to what this whole "Internet" thing is all about. That's what makes Downloaded so fascinating: It reminds us that, merely a little over a decade ago, the World Wide Web was an open terrain for any and all whiz kids to explore.
Without the efforts of Fanning and his colleagues, there'd be no Myspace or Facebook—thus, in a way, Winter's film is the much-needed, real-life prequel to The Social Network.