Of all the people you expect to bring you the definitive story of the birth (and bloodbath) of the digital music movement, you certainly don’t expect the guy who played Keanu Reeves’ stoner friend in the ”Bill and Ted” movies.
But Alex Winter was a keen computer user at the end of the 1990s when Napster became the biggest name online before when Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were dreams in their founders’ eyes, and ”Downloaded” is a fascinating documentary. It charts the rise and spectacularly visible fall of creators and partners Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker, along with the artists, lawyers and politicians who weighed in, people and technology already a generation old.
Downloaded assembles a staggering amount of footage from talking heads recorded for the film itself to Fanning and Parker as little more than kids when they first launched the service, blissfully unaware of the shitstorm they were stirring up.
Episodes from the saga you remember only in fragments – like Metallica’s campaign against Napster that torpedoed their credibility amongst many fans – are revisited in detail thanks to on-screen interviews, archive footage and facts gleaned from the court transcripts and news bulletins of the day.
But even without the historical significance of what’s going on, ”Downloaded” will remind you if nothing else about how long a decade is in technology. The original, clunky Windows 95-themed Napster client looks much older than it is and reminds us how far every aspect of computing has come – from the infrastructure to the graphics capability in our devices.
The film found a tailor made audience at 2013’s SXSW festival and if you’re also a movie and tech geek who lived it but might have forgotten most of it in the flurry that’s become iTunes and Spotify since then, it’s a time capsule to another world.