Category Archives: DVD

Here to Be Heard: The Story of The Slits [DVD]

Here’s a “punk” band that rarely gets talked about here in the USA, THE SLITS. A new documentary, Here to Be Heard: The Story of The Slits, shows that the initially all-female group deserves more accolades than they generally get. There at punk’s inception, the girls – lead vocalist Ari Up was only a teenager when The Slits got going – embraced the DIY ethos that was part of punk, taking up instruments because they figured if someone like Sid Vicious or Billy Idol could do it, then why not them?

First guitarist Kate Korus, first bassist Suzy Gutsy, drummer Palmolive and Ari put together the band and started to work up songs, eventually landing their first gig with The Clash, Buzzcocks and Subway Sect. In rapid succession Viv Albertine and Tessa Pollitt joined, taking over The Slits’ guitar and bass slots, went through numerous managers, got signed to Island Records, put out an album, etc. All of that is your standard “story of the band” fare. But what lies at the bottom – the foundation of The Slits’ story and their ongoing legacy – is that they were pretty much the first all-female punk or new wave band. And what gets to its original members (Albertine says so herself in the doc), is that they weren’t setting out to be an all-girl band in the first place. That is just how it initially shook out. We learn in Here to Be Heard that quite soon Palmolive was sacked and a guy called Budgie took over the drum throne. He, of course, went on to an amazing career as the drummer for Siouxsie and the Banshees. And he wasn’t the only male to serve.

William E. Badgley does a pretty tidy job of telling The Slits’ slightly convoluted story, taking over on a project executive producer Jennifer Shagawat had worked on with Ari Up herself until Up died in 2009. All of the band’s original and subsequent members, aside from Up, are interviewed here, as well as punk/reggae legend Don Letts, Neneh Cherry, former managers, punk scholars and more. (What, no Henry Rollins or Elvis Costello? Were they busy??) Here to Be Heard is a highly interesting and watchable documentary, and the DVD contains an additional twenty minutes of bonus material, including live footage.

Ari Up, it should be noted if you don’t know already, was only 14 when she started the band. A very strong personality she was, and an amazingly talented, driven and complex woman she turned out to be. The band’s 1979 debut album, Cut, still stands as a punk music must-have. Here you get a chance to hear her and the band’s story from the band members themselves. That is pretty rare these days, if you’ve spent any time watching the numerous and sometimes dubious documentaries available on Netflix and Amazon.

3/5 (MVD Visual CADIZDVD166, 2018)

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The US Festival: 1982 The US Generation [DVD, BD]

The Woodstock of the ’80s? In a way. The US Festival was Steve Wozniak’s “brainchild,” in quotes because the Woz didn’t quite know what he was doing when he decided he wanted to put on a bigger-than-Woodstock festival to “unite us in song.” But somehow he put together a crew that was able to avoid most of the issues that plagued the iconic ’60s rock fest. The US Festival: 1982 The US Generation is a documentary film that tells the story of the ’80s event, which was attended by some 400,000 people over three days. The doc also features a few artists performing complete songs, including Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (“Refugee”), The B-52’s (“Strobe Light”), The Police (“Can’t Stand Losing You”), The Cars (“Bye Bye Love”), Santana and Fleetwood Mac.

Benefiting from the participation of a number of the people who helped put the festival on, like Wozniak, Bill Graham and associates, and numerous members of bands who played at US, this documentary is a complete look at everything and everyone that made it a one of a kind event. Performers like Stewart Copeland of The Police, Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead, Mick Fleetwood and Eddie Money are included in recent interviews, and many more of the musicians and event coordinators are featured in contemporary interviews shot during the festival.

Besides the music, technology was a big part of the event, too. Remember, in 1982 big overhead DiamondVision screens were still new to rock shows. A satellite linkup to bring the show to Russia was also a new thing, though Bill Graham – who helped get the bands onto the bill and stage manage it – thought it was “bullshit,” that the video put up on that big screen was originating not from the USSR but some studio somewhere in California. (I guess he didn’t believe man had walked on the moon, either.) Some of what they did for US has been incorporated into today’s Bonnaroos and Coachellas.

Regarding the complete band performances, The Cars and Tom Petty do solid versions of the songs already mentioned in this review. But, it’s kind of a bummer that Fleetwood Mac’s take on their own great “The Chain” includes flubs by bassist John McVie (during the iconic bass riff, no less). And it should be noted that Stevie Nicks seems to be streaming Yoko Ono during some of her vocals. To be fair, Fleetwood Mac probably performed in the middle of the night and who knows what drugs the band were on.

If you’re looking for the concerts themselves, you’ll have to go elsewhere. But if you’re interested in the nuts and bolts of how it got put together, The US Festival documentary is worth checking out. I’m not sure why it comes in a combo Blu-ray/DVD pack (maybe it’s cheaper to just produce one set instead of having two separate SKUs?), but that’s the way it comes and it appears to be reasonably priced, so give it a go. The handful of complete performances certainly adds a little frosting to the cake.

3/5 (MVD Visual ICONTVMUSIC 3, 2018)

 

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The Move • Magnetic Waves of Sound: The Best of The Move [CD+DVD]

move-magneticMagnetic Waves of Sound: The Best of The Move gets its name from a line in the immortal song, “I Can Hear the Grass Grow.” A CD+DVD digipack from the UK’s Esoteric Recordings, it’s a right plethora of audio and video highlights of Birmingham, England’s THE MOVE. Each disc contains 21 tracks; the CD is a greatest hits compilation featuring a majority of their singles and some key B-sides and album cuts. Most Move fans will already have a serviceable compilation of one vintage or another that probably covers most of what you’d want, though, and for them the attraction here is the DVD. On the region-free, NTSC video disc you get a whole lotta seldom seen footage, including the band’s complete performance on the BBC’s Colour Me Pop program from 1969, appearances on German TV’s Beat Club, and the original promo film of the title song (“I Can Hear the Grass Grow”). Video quality is pretty amazing when compared to what little is available on YouTube and other video ports, though some of the songs aren’t complete (probably due to cutting out the announcer overlapping the beginning or end of a song) or appear two or three times. Still, it’s a DVD that compiles a great many interesting and historic TV appearances.

move_3some_333pxThis isn’t to say that you don’t need the CD, oh Move fan you. It’s rare to get a best-of that includes their later, Harvest Records singles like “China Town,” “California Man” and Jeff Lynne’s classic “Do Ya,” the original version recorded by The Move. By the time they recorded these last few tunes in ’71-’72, the band consisted of Lynne, Roy Wood and Bev Bevan (the latter two the only original members left in the band). At that point the three were creating the new Electric Light Orchestra on the side, and of course, that’s the group that more people are familiar with today. But it’s here that you hear a unique alloy of the beat group that The Move started out as and the much more expansive, cello-fied group they became. It is a little odd that they chose the LP version of “Cherry Blossom Clinic” instead of the snappier single version (the version here appeared on their Shazam album and was farther out than the original) – it breaks up the momentum established by the first half of the CD. Regardless, sound quality is pretty top notch considering the combination of mono and stereo mixes and the time span covered (1966-1972).

Magnetic Waves of Sound is an audio/video document that covers all the ground The Move did during their decade together and deserves a slot in every rock fan’s CD collection.

4/5 (Esoteric Recordings ECLEC 22554, 2017) – My review of the live album, Something Else from The Move, is here.

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Ron Howard, The Beatles • Eight Days a Week: The Touring Years [Blu-ray/DVD]

In 1995 The Beatles created or at least oversaw Anthology, a three part, six hour documentary that aired on television to edify the world on the band’s story. The three surviving members of the band were interviewed specifically for the project, except John Lennon, who had passed away in 1980. Sure, since the documentary was funded and curated by the band, there were probably some subjects that were cleansed or completely avoided in order to show the band in a better light, but over three nights you got a very good examination of their story without any obvious revisionism. When it came out on DVD, VHS and Laserdisc, there was an additional chapter included that didn’t make the final cut. That’s not to mention the three volumes of Anthology on CD and LP that came out, loaded with unreleased outtakes, live versions and more, and a coffee table book with tons of photos. It was a Beatles bonanza.

Eight Days a Week BD/DVDFast forward twenty years to 2016 and Ron Howard‘s Eight Days a Week: The Touring Years. Here we get a 105 minute documentary that covers only three to four years of the band’s history and uncovers hardly anything new or revelatory. (There’s both a standard one disc version and a “Special Edition,” both on Blu-ray or DVD, with an extra disc of bonus material.) The fact that the project started out as a highly publicized idea to examine the band as a live act is interesting. Either Howard and his pals were unable to come up with a good story (hard to believe, given: The Beatles!), even enlisting the public to share their stories and/or audio or video, or for some other reason they changed horses midstream and scrubbed the original plot. Well, you may have guessed that I think they botched it up, big time.

In order to keep this short, I’m just going to bullet-point what I didn’t like here:

  • The subtitle to this documentary shows that the filmmakers were hedging their bets after changing the concept for the film – they end up telling a very disjointed story with no clear mandate or viewpoint;
  • Only the two remaining Beatles were able to contribute, and those contributions don’t really add anything that existing interviews already covered;
  • Consistency! Howard covers the subject from a very U.S.-centric standpoint, yet uses The Beatles’ U.K. album releases as timestamps throughout;
  • Audio and video don’t sync up properly. At the beginning it seemed like the live footage was synced but the talking-head footage wasn’t; by the end it seemed like nothing was synced (not sure if this may in part be due to problems with Blu-ray vs. DVD, as I’ve encountered in the past);
  • Colorization of some of the footage looked unnatural. The Beatles were the most photographed, filmed pop group of all time. People know what they’re supposed to look like! So if you’re going to colorize these guys, don’t make them look like Donald Trumps in nehru jackets.

I’ve already reviewed the “accompanying” reissue of The Beatles Live at the Hollywood Bowl and how that was riddled with problems, so it’s real disheartening to see that Imagine Entertainment, White Horse Pictures and Apple Corps itself let things get so out of hand. I seem to remember some words to live by uttered to me as a kid and over the years to the tune of if you’re gonna do something, do it right. That tune apparently wasn’t in Ron Howard and Company’s hit parade, and that’s too bad. They had a great opportunity to bring something unique to the story of The Beatles and they blew it.

At least you can still pick up a copy of Anthology on DVD to try and put this one out of its misery and out of your mind.

2/5 (UMe/Capitol)

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The Damned • Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead (Documentary)

damned_dontyouwish-DVDWes Orshoski‘s latest documentary, The Damned: Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead, has just come out on DVD/Blu-ray – finally allowing über fans like me to get a look at it beyond the compelling trailer that’s been out for over a year. (You can view that below.) First seen at various film festivals and even in some theaters in the larger bergs, the documentary details the rise, fall, rise and plateau that The Damned has been through since they first formed in the mid 1970s. Unlike other bands in UK punk’s first graduating class, these guys weren’t fronted by a headline-grabbing, snot-nosed git, didn’t blow up in the press, weren’t managed by an egotistical svengali, and somehow missed the boats promising stardom, money, infamy or anything like it. What The Damned did do is legendary: they were the first punk band to put out a record, the first to tour the USA, and one of only a few that are still playing today. They were also one of the very few bands that actually looked like they were having fun playing their music, playing the press, or just generally sticking it to whoever needed sticking to.

Orshoski filmed the band for three years, with apparent carte blanche to document anything going on. Along with current interviews of the original band members (Dave Vanian, Captain Sensible, Brian James and Rat Scabies), there are appearances by most of the rest of The Damned’s roster (though for some reason Patricia Morrison is missing), as well as colleagues from the UK scene like Mick Jones (The Clash), Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols), Chrissie Hynde, Steve Diggle (Buzzcocks), Lemmy (subject of Orshoski’s other great documentary) and Don Letts (DJ, filmmaker), and modern scenesters and US punkers like Dexter Holland (The Offspring), Jack Grisham (TSOL), Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys), Jesse Hughes (Eagles of Death Metal) and more. The band didn’t always get along (really?) and to this day there are rifts in their friendships. Saddening, but not unexpected. Combining his own enlightening interview footage with archival footage from around the world, Orshoski has put together a highly watchable documentary.

damned-clowning-duoThe characters that make up The Damned, both past and present, are to the fore in Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead. You get a great sense of the enigma that is Vanian, the cutup clown that is Sensible, the real live punk that is Scabies, et al. You also see and hear for yourself that the reason The Damned never “made it” is because they steadfastly held to their belief that punk was about doing things your own way, regardless of what the press, the record label, or even Malcolm effing McLaren wanted them to do. So The Damned are rarely mentioned in the corporate/network/big business “celebrations” of punk… so what?! They did what they wanted to do, didn’t suck up to the press or major record labels or do anything just to get publicity, just to get a big paycheck, or just to impress whoever it was that needed impressing. And that is what impresses me. Sticking to your guns sometimes means that you don’t get to partake in the bounty of riches that others do, and that, unfortunately for The Damned, is the breaks. All of this makes for a story that is compelling even if you don’t give a, errrr, damn about them.

The film, which premiered at SXSW in 2015, is now available (at least in the US) as a combo Blu-ray/DVD pack that gives you the movie and a handful of extras that didn’t make the final cut. I’ve read interviews with Orshoski where he indicated there were tons of extra footage, so I’m surprised that there really isn’t that much included here. (I’m saying this without having access to playing the Blu-ray in the pack, so there may be more on that disc than on the DVD.) Yet, considering the film showed only once where I was living when it did play my town and likely only once (if at all) in your area, you can now see it for yourself. I’m frankly glad they aren’t dead, and you may end up feeling the same way.

4/5 (Cleopatra/MVD Visual)

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THE BEATLES • 1 & 1+ (CD, Bluray, DVD, Vinyl)

Beatles-1-DVDBluraysThe Fab 2+2 don’t miss a chance to pry as much Beatle money out of our pockets as they can, do they? Now, the 2 surviving Beatles and the other 2’s ladies have announced the new DVD and Bluray video compilations, 1 and 1+, which will ship the first week of November… just in time for another Beatles Christmas! You’ll get all 27 of their #1 hits in video format – either the original “promotional film” (as videos were called back then) or live footage of one origin or another that has made it this far down the line without being tossed into the proverbial rubbish bin. And if you plunk down the extra dinero for 1+, you’ll get a second disc with even more of the promotional films and live footage. AND… there’ll be NEW stereo and 5.1 mixes! Yippee!

Oh, uh, If you missed it on CD or vinyl the last two times it was released or reissued, have no fear. Those Beatle people, they don’t miss a… errr… beat. (Ugh.)

If only I were cynical enough to exclaim, “Bah! I don’t need this shite!” But I’m not. As a matter of fact, I think there are some 19 or 20 different configurations of this thing (that ain’t cynicism, bud, that’s sarcasm!), so once I figure out which version to get and can afford the most expensive one – naturally! – expect my review in this very blog.

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