[12 March 2007]
Let’s begin by firmly over-emphasizing the importance of a DVD doing what it says on the box. On Green Day: Under Review 1995-2000 The Middle Years, under which is subtitled the ultimate critical review, and shadowed by a rather sophisticated photo of the three members themselves on a black backdrop, on the back is its list of ‘special’ features; ‘Live and studio performances’ and, ‘Obscure footage, rare interviews and unseen photographs.’ As a blatant warning to all and any smart consumer/s thinking about reliving the middle slug of the band’s career, do not believe in how enticing that may sound; in fact, don’t read any of it at all, because that material is non-existent.
Notice also on the flipside at the bottom, the bold print which reads: This DVD is not authorised by Green Day, their record label or management. No wonder; Green Day: The Middle Years is the equivalent of a punch in the band’s face, and more of an egotrip to the opinions of the interviewees involved than a solid, standalone documentary about the impact the three piece had when they weren’t releasing their two zillion-selling albums, Dookie and American Idiot, respectively. If you haven’t heard either of those albums yet, get yourself an education before you continue.
The production, for better or worse, doesn’t rely on the latest in video transitions and special effects to get by; instead, the ‘documentary film’ sticks to basic, formulaic film-making, interspersed with short bursts of footage of either Green Day or their influences / contemporaries (add requisite five-minute discussion about Nirvana here, and unconditional admiration for the Ramones just when you least expect it), playing a song. A grating voiceover rattles off emotional facts in between, and sounds so clunky and monotonous by the end that sensitive viewers might actually have to cover their ears. And, it seems prudent to ask, what good is an hour-long documentary about Green Day’s catalog between 1995 and 2000 when a third of that time is spent rambling about Dookie (1994) and American Idiot (2004)?
Contradictions also abound among the panel of experts, who include a Rolling Stone journalist, the singer of a metalcore band, and the overseer of Green Day’s indie debuts (for the record, the latter has the most insightful things to say about them). To cover the three albums the trio put out in half a decade, Insomniac, Nimrod, and Warning, the program states importantly that “album” was unfairly overlooked, cuts to each critic who explain why it was overlooked and, if appropriate, tell us it’s their favorite Green Day record, and then zoom in on the two most well-remembered songs. The chapter on Insomniac begins with the voiceover reciting mirthlessly , goddammit, that the band were playing with a ‘darker, more confrontational edge’ (how? the key to Green Day has always been their sense of fun, even when they’re taking on politicians), only for members of the panel to assure viewers that the band have always stuck with their sound.
They offer us a fleeting suggestion that the instrumental “Last Ride In” from Nimrod uses a technique that is overlooked, but don’t tell us anything more about it, and read far, far too much into the underrated, primarily acoustic Warning. At one point the talk even turns to the pop-punk scene Green Day have influenced; but the Sum 41s, Blink 182s and Good Charlottes only get a shrug-off before the documentary leads us back to more Ramones talk.
There is, against the odds, stuff in here which may interest the curious fan. The rundown on the 924 Gilman Club, where Green Day played their first shows, is interesting indeed, and backed up by Winston Smith, the owner. The most insightful nugget on the DVD, though, comes from a band member fifty-seven minutes in, and reminds you how special and funny the trio are, and how normal this doco makes them sound; when someone who knew them recommends to Tre Cool that the video for “Welcome to Paradise” (a Dookie number, for those who don’t know) could contain a social commentary. The guy recalls; ‘Tre thought about it for a long minute, and he said “Yeah, we could do that… Nah, let’s drive a car into the swimming pool.”’
Maybe all this is being a little unfair on Green Day: Under Review 1995-2000 – The Middle Years. How else is one meant to review a band’s three lesser-known works, if not with a lifeless voiceover and a panel of experts? The answer: there’s nothing wrong with doing a documentary on Green Day, especially with noble intentions, but this can’t even hold a matchstick up to Bullet in a Bible in terms of the Green Day we’d prefer to see. So, back to what’s written on the box: if you’re going to promise live and studio performances, put them in a separate special feature and not in the main program. Or, at the very least, give us more than a few seconds to watch their music videos in the middle of it.