Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars

Out Now On-Demand

Genius amplified.

The legendary 18-time Grammy Award-winner is profiled in this documentary tribute directed by Oscar-winning producer Lili Fini Zanuck (Driving Miss Daisy).

"Clapton grew up with an inferiority complex. He struggled with the demands of the music business, tumultuous love affairs, drug addiction, and the tragic loss of his young son. The film traces how he coped with these challenges, for better and for worse, before establishing a family with his second wife, Melia McEnery. We come away with a deeper sense of what has inspired so much memorable music." (Toronto International Film Festival)


Directed by


Documentary, Music


Rating: M Drug use & offensive language


Clapton obsessives will cream their jeans at Lili Fini Zanuck’s access-all-areas documentary. But for the agnostics the question remains: how on earth do you get to the bottom of such a confounding man?

For a start, there’s so much material. Clapton fell in love with the blues as a child, after discovering his mother was really his sister, and being rejected by her. “Something about it got me, something stirred me… it took the pain away,” he says in VO. He started playing guitar, obsessively, and in a series of Zelig-like moments, brought the blues to the UK in the 1960s, performed/partied with (and – in the case of George Harrison – cuckolded) everyone from The Beatles to Aretha Franklin, gambled it all on drink and drugs, got sober, then lost his four-year son, Conor, in a tragic 1991 accident. And that’s just the headlines.

There’s certainly some great footage to choose from: Clapton getting stoned with Hendrix, Dylan’s jaw dropping as he watches “Slowhand” play, some thunderous jamming sessions with Cream. Still, a good deal of it is Clapton staring moodily at the camera in woozy home movies, as if he doesn’t have any answers either.

Zanuck goes to extraordinary lengths to make him look less of a bastard, in particular glossing over his vociferous support of far-right politician Enoch Powell. But Clapton himself remains a cipher. A damaged, difficult man forever running away from hurt, the spotlight, himself. Indeed, you get the sense that, for all his talent, he’d rather be the star session musician in someone else’s life than the lead in his own.

Hollywood Reporter


A rock-doc less vibrant than most.

New York Times


As a musical biography, this comes up short; it plays substantially better as a story of recovery and recovered integrity.

Variety (USA)


The first 90 minutes or so here are gold ... even if fans might wish for more detail on the dizzying number of fabled bands Clapton formed and/or played with over a 10-year span.

FilmInk (Australia)


A deeply personal, finely judged tour through the dark life of one of the world’s greatest guitar players.

Los Angeles Times


Clapton simply hasn't anything profound or insightful to say about these episodes that you don't already get from his music.

The Times (UK)


This is a dark and honest heartbreaker, built around a trio of tragedies.

The Guardian (UK)


It is almost unbelievable that Clapton found peace and sobriety after this, but he did. It's an absorbing tribute.

TimeOut (London)


The first hour is particularly noodly, presenting a lonely, isolated young Clapton finding solace in music. (James Croot)


An insightful, fascinating and surprisingly frank documentary.