George Harrison: The Dark Horse Years 1976-1992 [DVD]

George Harrison

Earlier this year, all of the albums George Harrison released through his own Dark Horse label were reissued, both individually and in a big ol’ box set entitled The Dark Horse Years 1976-1992. Diehard fans would’ve wanted all the discs anyway, so they’d have no problem plunking down the bucks for the box, but, for those on the fence, the big selling point for the set was a bonus DVD not available elsewhere.

Not, that is, until now.

You can probably imagine the level of annoyance being experienced by those folks who bought the set solely because they wanted this exclusive DVD, only to find out that someone decided, “Hey, now that we’ve made our sales off the jokers who bought the box set, let’s go ahead and release the videos in time for the Christmas season!” This writer is decidedly sympathetic… if, admittedly, a little relieved, since he couldn’t afford the set upon its initial release but was indeed planning to buy it more for the DVD than anything else.

The disc consists of a featurette on the Dark Horse label, several of Harrison’s videos, a few songs from his early ’90s tour of Japan with Eric Clapton, and three selections from the soundtrack he composed for the flop Madonna/Sean Penn vehicle Shanghai Surprise. While the material is something that Harrison fans will be excited to watch, as most of it hasn’t been readily available for ages, it’s far from definitive.

The documentary on the Dark Horse label consists predominantly of interviews done with Harrison during the Cloud Nine era, i.e., the late ’80s, and tells very little about the actual history of the label. The elaborate booklet that’s included with the DVD does a far better job of tackling Harrison’s desire to form his own label, how the records were distributed, and who was signed to Dark Horse besides Harrison. It would’ve been so easy to have someone read the booklet’s essay… Harrison’s widow, Olivia, perhaps, since she wrote it… over a series of still photos from that era, and would’ve resulted in a far more effective history. Instead, someone decided to throw together a disparate collection of interview clips and call it a “feature” on the label. Though the clips make for interesting viewing, as a discussion of the legacy of Dark Horse, it’s pretty shoddy.

Of Harrison’s videos, the earliest of the clips, “This Song” and “Crackerbox Palace”, are the most interesting. “This Song” was Harrison’s chance to mock the ridiculousness of being sued over the similarity of “My Sweet Lord” to “He’s So Fine”; meanwhile, if “Crackerbox Palace” seems to have a Monty Python feel to it, chalk it up to having been directed by Eric Idle. “Faster”, taken from Harrison’s self-titled album of the late ’70s, is kind of a snooze, jumping between car racing and Harrison playing guitar; neither prove terribly compelling. Inexplicably missing are the videos for “Blow Away” and “True Love”. A more tragic omission, however, is “All Those Years Ago”, George’s tribute to his former bandmate, the late John Lennon; a staple of MTV’s early years, it may consist solely of old footage of the Fab Four, but it’s extremely touching and its exclusion is downright painful. At least the videos from Cloud Nine are present and accounted for, including the groovy “When We Was Fab”, which features cameos from Ringo Starr, Jeff Lynne, and, if you hit “pause” at just the right moment, Elton John.

The selections from Shanghai Surprise and Live in Japan are both enjoyable, but the latter only serves to remind that there’s a full-length concert in the vaults that really should be released. As far as the Shanghai Surprise material, it may be the best bit about this DVD; the songs are very nice, and, this way, you never have to sit through the actual movie.

As noted, Harrison fans will certainly find enjoyment in watching this DVD, but knowing that it could’ve been so much more without a great deal more effort… that’s just downright depressing.