In the Court of the Crimson King: King Crimson at 50 – Interview with Toby Amies

Toby Amies on Striving to Stay in the Moment: A Walking Interview with the Director of In the Court of the Crimson King: King Crimson at 50

By Christopher Rzigalinski

Director Toby Amies : Photo courtesy of ARPR Publicity

Toby Amies is a documentarian that uses himself as a storytelling device. The sincere first-person interview style of his Great Garden series, The Man Whose Mind Exploded, and now In the Court of the Crimson King: King Crimson at 50 introduces audiences to what he lovingly calls “monomaniacal” characters in vulnerable states. Toby’s presence appears through his disembodied voice, engaging film subjects with compassion and creating space for viewers to fill. It’s an immersive style of filmmaking that adds layers to every project. 

My Zoom interview with Toby about In the Court of the Crimson King immersed me in a lunchtime walk around his London neighborhood. “I’m interested in people, experiences, and circumstances that speak to the human condition,” he said as he popped on a gray fedora and headed out the door. “In cinema, it’s not that you look for extremes, but you look for people and circumstances that inspire an audience to consider those questions [about life and death] more immediately.” His latest project wrestles with the legacy of King Crimson, whose debut record released in 1969. The film features past and present members reflecting on the band’s meaning and their relationships with exacting bandleader Robert Fripp. 

In the Court of the Crimson King: King Crimson at 50 film poster

Photo courtesy of ARPR Publicity

Fripp is best-known to many listeners for the iconic guitar riff on David Bowie’s “Heroes” (1977). Contemporary listeners might remember his name coming up in a lawsuit after Kanye West’s song “Power” used a sample from Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” in 2010. But to the global community of hardcore Crimson fans, he’s more like a shaman. During a poignant moment in the documentary Fripp discusses the band’s music as something of a spiritual experience: “Once we cast aside all our demands and expectations, return to that point of silence within ourselves, something becomes available. The direct experience of engaging in music, with silence, with the real, the authentic, the true, is readily available if we can get ourselves out of the picture.” The ability to become fully immersed in musical collective consciousness, Fripp argues, depends upon one’s ability to be fully present. 

Moving past the self and embracing the uncertainty of silence is also a theme of Amies’ film. The penultimate scene of In the Court of the Crimson King features Fripp coming to terms with his band’s import and his own mortality. Fripp reflects on his troubled youth and a teacher named Mr. Bennet, who helped Fripp feel understood for the first time. The camera is fixed on Fripp when he suddenly stops speaking, visibly shaken. The pause lasts for 90 grueling seconds, finally giving way to a solitary tear dropping from his left eye. Then Fripp reveals the inspiring words Mr. Bennet said to him: “I will remember you.” Most directors would have intervened to break the silence or edited the pause out of the final cut. Amies, however, keeps the entire scene intact. 

King Crimson bandleader Robert Fripp

Film still courtesy of ARPR Publicity

The moment demanded restraint and perspective from Toby. “My natural instinct is to say something if there’s silence. But as a documentarian, I have to train myself to listen and be quiet,” he revealed. The documentary captures the natural currents of time through heightened awareness of its unpredictability, fragility, and playfulness. “The moment also gives the audience a direct experience of the subjectivity of time.” Right after this profound revelation, Toby abruptly turned the camera to a black cat roaming the London street in front of him. “The cat’s been tarting himself around the neighborhood, so there’s a sign telling us not to feed the fucker.” Toby’s sense of time is fluid, genuine, and humorous, even in its darkest moments.  

The finest example of this delicate balance is Amies’ focus on friend and Crimson member Bill Rieflin. Rieflin drummed with many industrial rock bands like Nine Inch Nails and played with R.E.M. after original drummer Bill Berry retired in 1997, before joining King Crimson in 2013. His arrival was largely responsible for what Robert Fripp cites as his favorite incarnation of the band. Rieflin’s reflection on King Crimson’s legacy and his celebration of music as one of life’s greatest gifts coincides with his final days as years of health problems are finally catching up to him. Wondering if an interview would be the last bit filmed for the documentary, Toby tenderly tells Bill, “I will have a duty to do right by you,” illustrating deep respect. 

King Crimson on Stage

Film still courtesy of ARPR Publicity

As Toby bounced across my Zoom screen with children yelling and birds chirping in the background, he mused, “One of the reasons I make films in this way is to give the audience the opportunity to think, ‘Is this person exploiting his subjects or is he engaging with them in the best way that he can?’” Bill’s positivity despite facing certain death attests to his fortitude and to the value of King Crimson. “If you have somebody who is choosing to spend his last days on earth playing in a rock band, that would suggest to anyone that the rock band is important and meaningful,” Toby reminded me. “I think Bill was very aware that was a big element of our dance.”

Our scheduled 15-minute interview had turned into a 30-minute dialogue about art and life. Toby took a seat as the overcast London afternoon glowed over his fedora. A hum of soft dog barks percolated in the background. His voice softened and took on an even greater gravity of introspection. “You only make good films if you’re focused on the audience’s experience. But simultaneously, I don’t want the audience to feel like they’re required to think in a particular way. I want to present my experience in such a way that the audience can make up their own minds.” 

Leaving the Building

Film still courtesy of ARPR Publicity

In the Court of the Crimson King: King Crimson at 50 is the story about one of rock’s greatest bands understanding itself and its place in time. But it’s also a film about you and me. It’s a story about anyone who’s loved and lost a friend, anyone who’s been transfixed with the creative process, and anyone who’s longed to find transcendent presence in a world of distraction. It’s also about gratitude for the unknown. Near the 40-minute mark of our interview, Toby and I got disconnected. In most any other circumstance I would have been frantic at the loss of control. Being truly in that moment, however, Toby showed me the poetry of unpredictable endings.

In the Court of King Crimson: King Crimson at 50 directed by Toby Amies will be released in theaters worldwide for one day only on 19th October with a specially filmed introduction, followed by a very Special VIP screening event Live Streamed Worldwide on Saturday 22nd October on ( and available on Video On Demand with a live introduction by Robert Fripp, as well as a Q&A with the director and band members.


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