The Song Remains the Same isn't the landmark in rock cinema Led Zeppelin would like it to be. In fact, it's barely a movie at all, just some concert footage interspersed with trick photography (in a fantasy sequence devoted to each member). This technique is meant to unify the best qualities of A Hard Day's Night and Gimme Shelter, but it doesn't work: there's none of the Beatles' wit, and the horror is phony. Still, in its misguided way, this blurry, pretentious monolith does offer some insights into what makes the most popular heavy-metal band tick. (p. 19)
Parsimony is one of the movie's themes, albeit accidentally. When a telegram arrives notifying Robert Plant of the impending tour, he stands and smiles at the waiting messenger. Finally, the kid shrugs and leaves: these rock stars don't even tip.
The other theme is sadism, principally expressed in the fantasy sequences, although there's an edge to the documentary footage, too. It hardly behooves a Sam Peckinpah fan such as myself to complain of gratuitous violence, but sadism is the only word for some of this. In Plant's fantasy, a hippie Camelot is transformed, without apparent reason, into a brief horror show of gore and rape; the effect is more sickening than shocking. This mood of semipsychopathic self-indulgence pervades The Song Remains the Same. Worse, the film lacks a single moment of catharsis—it's not only relentlessly vicious, but relentlessly antihuman and unthinking.
It is hard to imagine any other major rock act making a film so guileless and revealing. Far from a monument to Zeppelin's stardom, The Song Remains the Same is a tribute to their rapaciousness and inconsideration. While Led Zeppelin's music remains worthy of respect (even if their best songs are behind them), their sense of themselves merits only contempt. (p. 21)
Dave Marsh, "They Probably Think This Film Is about Them," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1976; all rights reserved: reprinted by permission), Issue 227, December 2, 1976, pp. 19, 21.