The last three or four years have seen some mind-blowing DVD repackaging of a wide variety of musically related films, concerts, jam sessions, television broadcasts and other assorted media. But 2007 could go down in history as the most robust year for such fare, given the long awaited, beautifully repackaged reissues of these 10 examples of seminal sonic treasure.
The Other Side of the Mirror: Live at Newport Folk Festival 1963-1965
(Sony; US DVD: 30 Oct 2007)
Bob Dylan’s decision to go electric at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival produced near-riotous anger in the crowd. The Other Side of The Mirror, culled from clips shot by Murray Lerner for his 1967 Newport documentary Festival, collects Dylan’s seminal performances at Newport, from his 1963 debut with Joan Baez to his final performance in ‘65, when, backed by members of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, he ripped through defiant, confrontational runs through “Maggie’s Farm” and “Like a Rolling Stone”.
However, the perfect portrait of Dylan in the 1960s remains D.A. Pennebaker’s Dont Look Back, documenting Zimm’s three-week tour of England in the spring of 1965. This definitive box set contains a remastered version of the original film, plus a second disc loaded with candid outtakes and previously unreleased performances and rehearsals, as well as a recreation of the Ballantine mass market promotional paperback of the film’s script and a tre cool flip-book featuring the video for “Subterranean Homesick Blues”. Now then, when is Eat the Document going to rise up from the underground?
John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Leo McKern, Eleanor Bron, Victor Spinetti
Richard Lester’s second feature punches up the comedy behind the Fab Four’s exquisite musicianship. In this Monty Python-cum-James Bond caper, an Indian death cult chases after Ringo’s sacrificial ring, a dubious storyline that might not fly today, but in 1965 was comic gold. If you’re a fan of that ‘65 Beatles, you already know the soundtrack contains a handful of their greatest songs, including the title cut, “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”, “Ticket to Ride”, and “The Night Before”, lively performances of which are brilliantly interwoven with the nonsensical plot. Help!‘s debut on DVD includes a half-hour documentary, a missing scene, and theatrical trailers. Admit it: you would still totally live in that zany apartment the Beatles shared.
Its debut on the BBC in 1968 marked an effort to explain the psychedelic pop phenomenon to the general public. And All My Loving is still one of the finest rock-docs ever to air on television, capturing the multi-tentacled hubris of pop’s acid evolution through performance footage and a series of interviews with the Beatles, Frank Zappa, Cream, Hendrix, the Who, and a bunch of crusty old British guys who can’t understand why the kids prefer Sgt. Pepper over Stravinsky. Hey, at least Macca dug Stockhausen.
The Best of the Johnny Cash TV Show
(Legacy; US DVD: 18 Sep 2007; UK DVD: 24 Sep 2007)
From 1969 through 1971, as America split over the Vietnam War, the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, and the rise of the Woodstock generation, Johnny Cash’s variety show brought folks together for one hour every Wednesday night. Filmed at the Grand Ole Opry before a live audience, his was the most genuine variety television show south of Ed Sullivan. Sure, the Statler Brothers’ comedic interludes and June Carter’s stabs at poetry were a little goofy, but viewers loved the music, all of it. Cash introduced hippies to George Jones, Conway Twitty, and Loretta Lynn, and hicks to Neil Young, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. This outstanding two-disc set gathers 66 of the show’s finest performances, including Cash and Bob Dylan performing their then-new Nashville Skyline nugget, “Girl from the North Country”, Ray Charles’ bigging up Johnny with a wonderful version of “Ring of Fire”, Chet Atkins’ medley of his classic guitar ditties, and a visibly stoked Eric Clapton leading Derek and the Dominoes through “Matchbox” with Carl Perkins and Johnny. For all those who fancy yourselves Cash fans after seeing Walk the Line, come aboard and ride this train for a real education on the Man in Black.
While some may lament this DVD release to be a case of “too little, too late” on the part of Rhino after holding onto it for nearly a decade on VHS, the gorgeous digital transfer of Charlie Ahearn’s 16mm more than makes up for the lack of bonus material (although it does offer some cool deleted scenes and graffiti footage). Anyone who grew up in NYC in the early ‘80s will feel a bit nostalgic for the gritty charms of the Koch era, before greedy developers sanitized the landscape, as soon as that first graf-riddled train rattles over the El. The amphitheater concert featuring Grandmaster Flash, Busy Bee, and the Cold Crush Brothers deserves its place with Wattstax, Altamont, Woodstock, and Monterey as one of a determining moment in concert film history.
The Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett Story
David Gilmour, Nick Mason, Roger Waters and Richard Wright
(Otmoor Productions; 2004)
The death of Syd Barrett in 2006 was tragic, not only because he was a pop genius, but also because he lived in mystery since his self-imposed banishment from public life in the early ‘70s. This exceptional film, directed by John Edginton, gathers rare early concert footage, home movies, early TV appearances, chats with friends, lovers, managers, and admirers (including primary heir apparent to the Syd throne, Robyn Hitchcock), and new interviews with all four surviving members of Pink Floyd. All this provides an expansive look at this most misunderstood and mythical figure in rock iconography. A bonus disc features unedited interview feeds with Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Rick Wright, and Nick Mason, as well as great acoustic performances of Syd songs by Hitchcock and Blur guitarist Graham Coxon, making this as indispensable as The Wall itself.
James Taylor, Warren Oates, Laurie Bird and Dennis Wilson
Though not a music film per se, Monte Hellman’s existential road film does star two of pop’s brightest talents, James Taylor and Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson. They play a cople of drifters, cruising through California in this Vanishing Point-meets-Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance cult classic. The Criterion treatment features never before seen screen tests, outtakes, and a documentary of the impeccable restoration of the now legendary ‘55 Chevy, as well as essays by fans Richard Linklater and Tom Waits.
If it wasn’t for the commercial overkill of Nirvana during the early 1990s, chances are that Kurt would still be with us today. Admirably, Nirvana never kowtowed to a mainstream audience, as revealed by this show, recorded right in the lion’s mouth that was MTV. Rather than cobbling together acoustic renditions of their most ravenous anthems, they opted to revitalize deep album cuts, covers of Leadbelly, the Vaselines, and David Bowie, and invite the Meat Puppets to the stage. This DVD offers the full Unplugged performance for the first time, including rehearsals and genuinely witty banter between Cobain and the audience. Unplugged lets us celebrate the promise of an artist who had yet to make his masterpieces.
December 10, 2007 marked the 40th anniversary of the plane crash in Madison, Wisconsin that killed soul legend Otis Redding and all but two of the original Bar-Kays. And before Tyler Perry or whoever else decides to bring Redding’s story to the big screen, the newly rejuvenated Stax imprint has compiled this pivotal documentary. It includes new interviews with Redding’s widow Zelma and daughter Karla, as well as collaborators like Stax house guitarist Steve Cropper, Mark-Kays/Memphis Horns’ Wayne Jackson, and Stax Records founder Jim Stewart, alongside vintage interviews with Otis and clips from his most famous concerts. These weave his story more effectively than Hollywood ever could.