[4 December 2005]
The stage becomes a ship in flames
I tie you to the mast
Throw your body overboard
The spotlight doesn’t last
By the time the videocassettes of Shadow of Light and Archive were originally released in 1984, the musical landscape had been changed forever by Bauhaus’ mix of brooding punk, T. Rex glam, and performance art theatricality. But the band had imploded a year earlier after almost five years together, and one had to wonder if singer Peter Murphy, guitarist Daniel Ash, bassist David J, and drummer Kevin Haskins had created a genre unto themselves. The logical heir to their throne, Ian Astbury’s Southern Death Cult (which opened for Bauhaus in 1982), had morphed into Death Cult, and then quickly gave way to its final, Led Zeppelin-with-a-Maybelline-contract incarnation, The Cult. So while there may have been questions about who would follow them, any question regarding the position of Bauhaus as icons of the Goth movement were laid to rest with these visual documents.
This DVD is a direct port of the two videos released (and re-released in the early ‘90s) by Beggars Banquet, unfortunately preserving the video and audio quality where it stood 20 years ago. The cover art and menus—which seem cheaply thrown together—are merely a variation on the same shot of Murphy’s eyes used on so many other occasions, including the Behind the Mask book, and the Rest in Peace: The Final Concert CD. The images, presented in full screen on Shadow of Light and in non-anamorphic widescreen on Archive, are soft, often washed out by spotlights or muddled in dull blacks. Audio options are simply “stereo soundtrack” or “5.1 surround soundtrack,” but regardless of the option selected, the sound fades in and out, particularly on the vocals. If you were hoping for a quality 5.1 rendering of classic Bauhaus, this isn’t it. Offsetting the technical shortcomings, though, is the collection’s content itself: It is a time capsule of the Goth scene at its early peak.
Shadow of Light is a 40-minute collection of nine Bauhaus videos spanning four albums and two singles. Four of the clips are performance pieces poached from the February 24, 1982, Old Vic show captured on the Archive video, although none of the tracks are duplicated between the two anthologies. The audio volume fluctuates during Murphy’s opening lines of the Goth anthem “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”, marking the first of many flaws with the mastering. Performance art as much as musical performance, the charismatic Murphy’s work draws the viewer in, despite the overexposed lighting shots. Dressed in black from head to toe and looking younger than you’ll remember him, Murphy oozes sexuality and theatricality that make it impossible to turn away. “In the Flat Field” is of better quality than “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” and incorporates many more crowd shots, helping to establish the impact of the band on their fans. Shirtless and channeling Iggy Pop (with hints of Julian Cope thrown in) through his contortions, Murphy is unbridled during “Hollow Hills”, while Ash takes a strings bow to his guitar.
The five promotional videos found on Shadow of Light vary in quality, yet they capture the band’s compelling presence. Their cover of T. Rex’s “Telegram Sam” finds Murphy in full-on Klaus Nomi makeup, writhing in an industrial location among giant pipes and claustrophobic brickwork. “Spirit” and the Bowie cover “Ziggy Stardust” are the highest quality videos of the collection. The “Spirit” promo clip ends with the entire band sharing a microphone at the front of a proper theater stage for the “We love our audience” refrain, surrounded by ghost-like phantom performers in harlequin makeup. Released as a single, the video for “Ziggy Stardust” opens with Murphy in a cage while fans stream past for a performance of the song. Although staged, the energy is real and the crowd shots show just how adored and inciting Bauhaus could be in their heyday. The piece ends with Murphy stage diving into the crowd and carried out of the performance area wrapped in a corpse-like sheet. “She’s in Parties” is reminiscent of Duran Duran’s “The Chauffer” video, if only because it incorporates a female driver posed in front of a Cadillac. Although there isn’t necessarily a story to be told in the images, a certain mood is conveyed and that is, in large part, what the Goth scene is all about.
The disc’s second feature, Archive, is the sepia toned art film/concert footage movie by director Christopher Robin Collins. “Lagartija Nick” sets up the story convention with an old man in a top hat, cloak, and cane leaving a pub and pursued by three youths. As “Lagartija Nick” ends, the old man is in an abandoned warehouse where he finds and switches on a movie projector. From there, the viewer is treated to eight songs from the Old Vic show, with brief shots of the old man between songs for continuity throughout the 40-minute film. Beginning with “Passion of Lovers” and moving quickly to “Kick in the Eye”, it isn’t until “God in an Alcove” and “Dancing” that the show really breaks open. The visual quality is the best yet, Murphy’s vocals are exceptional, and the crowd is treated to Ash’s sax recital. The “Dark Entries” performance is a masterpiece. Opening with Murphy standing stone still and shirtless at center stage while Ash stalks back and forth amid the strobe light effect, Murphy eventually comes to life and the immediacy of the concert is fully realized. The perfect set closer has Haskins coming out from behind the drum kit to join the rest of the band at center stage again for the final chorus of “We love our audience” from 1982’s The Sky’s Gone Out.
While there wasn’t necessarily anything revolutionary about their individual skills, when they combined their talents, the members of Bauhaus became a charismatic and volatile band, breaking ground to create post-punk’s gloomy, minimalistic step-child, and inspiring legions of lost kids to don black eyeliner, nail polish, and lipstick. And this DVD preserves the founders of Goth at their definitive best.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/bauhaus-shadowdvd/