DVD REVIEWS for 7/14: Shine On You Crazy DVDS
By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 07/14/06 13:57:41
In which your faithful critic looks at conventional films that include a Cock and some Prix, a pirate porno film that, strangely enough, doesn’t and Quentin Taratino’s idea of a good bedtime story.
Although it was surely a coincidence that the public announcement of the passing of Syd Barrett, the former lead guitarist and chief songwriter for the rock group Pink Floyd during their formative years, was made on the same day as the release of the long-delayed DVD version of “Pulse,” a video of a concert performance from what remains the group’s last tour to date, there is a strange sort of synchronicity between the two events. Even though Barrett left the group back in 1968, long before they achieve superstardom in the 1970's, his influence was the one constant of a band that would undergo any number of upheavals, splits and feuds and inspired many of their most lasting works, such as the legendary 1973 album “The Dark Side of the Moon” and any number of tunes on such follow-ups as “Wish You Were Here” and “The Wall.” Even on “Pulse,” his spirit can still be felt throughout even though he hadn’t actually appeared with them in more than a quarter-century.
“Pulse” was shot in 1994 and chronicled an appearance from the group–guitarist David Gilmour, keyboardist Rick Wright, drummer Nick Mason and a small army of hired guns–at Earls Court in London meant to coincide with the release of their last studio album to date, “The Division Bell.” Of course, this lineup didn’t include Roger Waters, the former bassist who served as the driving creative force of the group after Barrett’s departure and who began a long-running war of words with his former bandmates when he left the group in 1984 to pursue a solo career and attempted to legally dissolve the name by claiming them to be a “spent creative force” without his presence. Although the group was allowed to keep the name, it soon became obvious to anyone that listened to “The Division Bell” or “A Momentary Lapse of Reason,” their first post-Waters studio album, that while Waters may have been somewhat of a crank and an egomaniac, he did have a point about the music because while the two albums may have had a few good songs among them, they lacked the depth or cohesion of the group’s best efforts. With “Pulse,” Gilmour, Wright and Mason seem to have finally realized this because while the 145-minute performance features a few perfunctory run-throughs of then-recent tunes like “Learning to Fly” and “High Hopes,” the lion’s share of the material dates back to their 1970's heyday, including such FM-radio staples as “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” “Comfortably Numb” and “Wish You Were Here.” In fact, the centerpiece of these shows–the element that probably accounted for most of the millions in ticket sales that were amassed–was their nightly performance of “The Dark Side of the Moon” in its entirety–an album that was already 20-years-plus-old at the time of this particular tour.
Because so little performance footage of Pink Floyd at their peak exists today (in fact, the hallucinogenic 1982 film version of “The Wall” only came when a proposed film chronicling one of the few live performances of the elaborate work fell through because the ensuing footage was apparently unusable), “Pulse” was an enormous home video hit when it first hit the VHS market in 1995 and fans have been demanding a DVD version ever since the earliest days of the format. As a result, it will probably fly off the shelves but I suspect that even the most dedicated fans of the band may feel a little bit of disappointment once the excitement of finally owning it as a shiny little disc wears off. One key flaw with the film dates back to the 1994 decision to shoot the concert on video instead of film–although every conceivable effort has been made to bring the video portion of the program up to current standards (a long process that was responsible for many of the delays of the DVD release), the picture is still hampered by the limitations of 1994-era video technology and the results are murkier than you might imagine from a program that is only a little more than a decade old. Another problem is the simple fact that even in their heyday as a performing unit, Pink Floyd were never the most exciting live act around. Here, many years past that heyday, the group more or less stands around while cranking out renditions of their songs that are virtually note-for-note recreations of the original recordings. To compensate for their performance shortcomings, the band would always provide an elaborate stage show and this concert is no different–there are lasers and trippy films throughout, explosions a-plenty and a fighter plane even flies over the audience before crashing in flames–alas, these elements might have been impressive in person but they don’t translate that well to the small screen.
Perhaps realizing the flaws with the main program, it was decided to stuff this two-disc set with a fantastic array of extras that make it an essential purchase for any fan of the band. For starters, the audio portion has been given a new 5.1 Surround mix and it sounds fantastic throughout–I can see people putting this on their home-theater systems and playing it without ever turning on their video monitors. The various films that were projected for audiences during the shows are presented separately along with the songs they were meant to accompany and there is also a short documentary showing the various backstage goings-on. Also included are the original music videos for “Learning to Fly” and “Take It Back,” photo galleries, behind-the-scenes bric-a-brac (including itineraries, maps and plans for the elaborate staging) and footage of the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that includes a heartfelt speech from Billy Corgan, a terse acceptance from the band (again sans Waters) and a nice team-up from the two on “Wish You Were Here.” Most intriguingly, the band strikes back at those who have made a mint off of selling illegal recordings of their live shows by including four full performances (“What Do You Want From Me?,” “On the Turning Away,” “Poles Apart” and “Marooned”) taken directly from bootleg videos. The funny thing is that there isn’t a huge amount of difference between the bootleggers efforts and the official film in terms of audio-visual quality–in fact, the ragged quality of the illicit footage lends the material a certain warmth and humanity lacking in some of the other moments on display.
Directed by David Mallet. Starring David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Rick Wright. 1995. Unrated. 145 minutes. A Columbia Music Video release. $24.98.
NEW AND NOTABLE
BASIC INSTINCT 2 (Sony Home Entertainment. $27.95): It boggles the mind to realize that people labored for well over a decade to bring this sequel to the 1992 Paul Verhoeven erotic thriller to fruition and all they came up with in the end was one of the most unintentionally hilarious campfests to come around in a long time. Inevitably, this is being issued in an “Unrated Extended Cut” but the difference in running time is about two minutes and most of that seem to be an extension of the rough sex scene featuring Flora Montgomery instead of anything involving Sharon Stone. (Of course, once you get a load of Flora Montgomery, I doubt you will be complaining.) As for the deleted scenes, there is no extra skin to speak of either but the “alternate ending” and a scene in which Stone discusses her first lesbian experience (at the age of 12 and yes, there is a death involved) are so ridiculously written and performed that they are almost worth watching just to see how silly a scene has to be before it gets deleted from a movie like this.
THE BLACK SWAN (Fox Home Entertainment. $14.95): Now this 1942 adventure epic, featuring Tyrone Power and Maureen O’Hara, shows exactly how a pirate movie should be done–fast and exciting with a coherent plot, swashbuckling thrills and a running time of under 90 minutes. Fans of the film will be thrilled to discover that commentary track included here features the participation of none other than Maureen O’Hara herself.
THE CHAPLIN MUTUALS (Image Entertainment. $59.95): Now that virtually all of Charlie Chaplin’s feature films have received lavish DVD treatments, Image Entertainment has set their sights on doing the same to his equally impressive short subjects. This collection brings together a dozen restored shorts (some featuring long-missing footage) as well as the 1975 feature-length documentary “The Gentleman Tramp” (a career overview hosted by Walter Matthau and featuring excerpts from Chaplin’s autobiography read by Laurence Olivier).
CLASS TRIP (Picture This. $19.99): French filmmaker Claude Miller (best known in these parts for “The Little Thief”) gave us this decidedly odd psychological drama about a young boy who begins creating ominous fantasies in his mind in response to the paranoia of his overprotective father–of course, there may be more to the boy and both his fantasies and his father than meets the eye. Though some may have problems dealing with the abrupt shifts in tone from fantasy to grim reality, those able to handle the mood swings will be rewarded with a compelling little drama that doesn’t easily fade from the mind once it ends.
GRAND PRIX (Warner Home Entertainment. $22.98): Okay, so this 1966 racing epic, chronicling a year on the international racing circuit and focusing on an American driver (James Garner) who begins racing for a Japanese team (owned by Toshiro Mifune) after getting fired by his original sponsor after critically injuring a teammate in a race, goes on a little too long (at nearly three hours) and contains far too many dull romantic subplots for its own good. However, one does not watch a film like this for the human drama–they go for the high-speed thrills and the late John Frankenheimer provided them in abundance with what remains some of the most spectacular racing footage ever captured on film. Although even the best home theater systems cannot hope to recreate the experience of seeing the film in its original Cinerama format, this two-disc set comes pretty close and features a nice set of extras that include vintage promotional material along with new interviews with some of the film’s participants.
KOKO–A TALKING GORILLA (The Criterion Collection. $29.95): In 1977, filmmaker Barbet Schroeder and cinematographer Nestor Almendros shot hours of footage of Koko, the gorilla who became a worldwide sensation when she was taught American sign language as part of a controversial experiment designed to see if she could indeed learn to communicate with humans, as research for a fictional film loosely based on her story. That film fell through and the resourceful Schroeder pieced together the footage into a film that is still as thoughtful, troubling and fascinating to watch today as ever. Although he doesn’t offer a commentary, Schroeder does sit down for a short interview in which he discusses the history of what remains one of the oddest works of his entire career.
PIRATES (Digital Playground. $24.95): So you are in a mood to watch a full-scale pornographic film but darn it, you just don’t want to be bothered with any of that pesky penetration–what do you do? Lucky for you, the kind people at Digital Playground have answered your prayers by taking their recent pirate-porn extravaganza–an epic that did “Pirates of the Caribbean 2" one better by putting its cast of lissome lovelies in tri-cornered hats and little else while showing just how common breast implants and genital piercings were back in pirate days–and releasing it in a version that removes all the hard-core footage. Having only seen the original version (don’t ask), I can’t possibly imagine what the results of this recut are but I suspect that even this version will still be somewhat more exciting and coherent than “Cutthroat Island.”
SHOGUN ASSASSIN (Animeigo. $24.98): Hey, if this supergory martial-arts extravaganza–in which an impassive samurai travels the countryside with his young son and a baby carriage filled with weapons that wind up being used every few minutes–was good enough to serve as bedtime entertainment for young Beatrix Kiddo, it should be good enough for the rest of you. Although an Americanized patchwork made up of bits and pieces of the first two films in the long-running “Lone Wolf & Cub” series from Japan, this film does have its share of proponents as well and, if I recall correctly, Sandra Bernhard can be heard as one of the voices dubbing in the English dialogue.
TRISTRAM SHANDY–A COCK & BULL STORY (HBO Home Entertainment. $26.98): How to describe Michael Winterbottom’s adaptation (for lack of a better word) of a seemingly unfilmable 18th century novel so complicated and digressive that it has been described as a post-modern novel that just happened to be written before modernism itself came into being? Okay, imagine a hellacious and hilarious mash-up of “Barry Lyndon,” “Adaptation” and one of those DVD special features where the movie pauses to take you behind-the-scenes to see how everything was done in which Steve Coogan brutally skewers himself by playing a vain, shallow, glory-grubbing, potentially adulterous actor named “Steve Coogan” who is attempting to navigate the production of a film version of the seemingly unfilmable novel “Tristram Shandy.” All this–and a womb with a view to boot–unspools in 94 of the funniest, strangest and most head-spinning minutes you’ll spend watching a movie this year.
WEEDS–THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Lion’s Gate Home Entertainment. $39.98): Come to this first-season set of episodes from the Showtime comedy series to experience the sight of a recently widowed suburban mom trying to keep things together by selling pot to her neighbors. Stay with it in order to bask in the glory of the goddess among mortals that is Mary-Louise Parker, who is a blast as a woman trying to simultaneously juggle soccer games and dime bags.