[14 June 2011]
Radiohead is a great band, but there’s little evidence of that to be found in this lethargic, infuriating two-disc cash-in. Arms and Legs: The Story so Far has no connection with the band itself and is in no way authorized by anyone associated with the group. So what is its purpose, exactly? Good question.
Viewers hoping for interviews with Thom Yorke or others in the band will be disappointed. Neither is there any original concert footage, or any footage at all besides scraps of live performances available elsewhere; even these are limited to snippets of 10 or 15 seconds, presumably due to copyright/fair use laws. In other words, this is a documentary made up of people who have about as much connection to the band as I do. If this sounds interetsing to you, dive right in!
The two-disc set is divided into “A Classic Album Under Review”, a feature that purports to examine OK Computer track-by-track in the context of the times it was recorded and released, and “Homework”, a more general overview of the band. The second disc is marginally more interesting, because of the contributions of a few people who at least knew the band back when they were schoolkids at Oxford. The main feature, “A Classic Album Under Review”, is eye-wateringly dull and a complete waste of time. Let’s start there, shall we?
Your ability to stomach “A Classic Album Under Review” will depend directly on your ability to endure middle-aged white guy talking heads spewing meaningless and not especially eloquent balderdash about OK Computer. If this is your cup of tea, you will love such moments as:
Middle-aged white guy talking head #1: “At the time it seemed like something radically different, but now stands as like, you know, one of the most, kind of, you know valid and lasting musical monuments of that era.”
Middle-aged white guy talking head #2: “The heavy heavy riff [of “Paranoid Android”] that Johnny comes in on, which is kind of in, in line with the “Creep” riff where he’s trying, almost trying to destroy the song because he doesn’t like it, ah… trying to make it a little less soppy.” (You read that right: it’s not a complete sentence.)
Middle-aged white guy talking head #3: “[“Subterranean Homesick Alien”] has that kind of orchestral presence, and I think it’s, it’s very heart-rending, and I’m sure that’s to do with the way the, the chords are structured, et cetera.”
These nuggets—chosen at random—all appear within the first 22 minutes, and the doc as a whole stretches for nearly an hour, so there’s plenty more where this came from. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: none of these people has any connection to Radiohead. It’s as if you and your friends made an hour-long documentary about, I don’t know—the summer you spent listening to Oasis. Or Otis Redding, or Lady Gaga, or Beethoven. These guys are perfectly friendly, but they’re just yammering on about the band, and we’re stuck in the unenviable position of listening to them.
The second disc, as mentioned, is slightly more engaging, due to the contributions of such figures as Radiohead biographer Tim Footman, who is entertainingly prissy, and local music figure Ronan Monroe, who interviewed the band in its early days. Dave Newton, who worked as manager of Oxford band Ride and later knew Radiohead, makes an appearance, as does Mark Gardener from Ride, lending at least a little credibility to the film. Later, Radiohead’s response to 9/11 and its implicit criticism of George W. Bush on Hail to the Thief also get a mention.
Nevertheless, the doc remains low-budget, static, and a long ways from being enjoyable due to the complete absence of the band being discussed—the same handful of still photos are used over and over, so much so that any number of drinking games could be invented: “Take a shot every time they show Thom in sunglasses!” (This would also have the unintended effect of rendering this DVD far more entertaining than it would be otherwise.) It does have the advantage of being a few minutes shorter than the other feature, so there’s that.
After we shut it off, my wife, who is a big Radiohead fan, put it this way: “You know you’ve just watched a crap documentary about a band when you turn it off and the last thing you want to do is go listen to that band.”
Well, yeah. Radiohead deserves better. Avoid this cash-in at all costs.