Monday, May 31, 2004


Ugh! After fifteen years of gobbling up loads of old TV shows, 1940s B-movies, silents and other entertaining highmarks of civilization on videotape, items which certainly made me a more mentally and spiritually-developed man in a world of unwashed intellectuals (I mean, who's the real smart feller, some guy who who watches Bowery Boys films and NAKED CITY reruns, or one who spends his free time wallowing in Bravo and PBS-styled programming thinking he's naturally and inherently better than everyone else for his impeccable and cultured tastes?), along comes the DVD making one of my favorites forms of entertainment gobbling guess what...OBSOLETE!!! Yeah, the DVD is the new plaything for people who want their favorite programs, want them NOW, and certainly don't want them cluttered up with all of the extraneous stuff like cable network ID logos and upcoming programming come-ons mucking up their screens! Not to mention all of those boss scenes cut out so a few more ads can be thrown into the mix, and you can bet that as soon as I get the technology I'm gonna transfer all of my faverave VCR tapes onto DVD, starting with the ones I taped off distant, fuzzy stations complete with all of those wonderful bits of fly specs and dust hanging in the corners and film jumps and snaps and outta-sync dialogue that bring back hefty nostalgic memories of classic low-budgeted UHF programming! It's this sorta stuff that's gotta be preserved for future generations, not all of that high-minded art that highbrows think symbolizes this dank gulcher you and I live in!

Until then I got myself a whole buncha DVDs, certainly not as many DVDs as I have of videotapes, just the essentials mind you, but enough nonetheless. I wrote about getting the entire SUPERCAR and FIREBALL XL-5 series in the last BLACK TO COMM and if you think I haven't been enjoying those immensely you sure don't know who your humble blogger is! Since then I got a few more that I thought I'd clue you faithful fans in on, since I know you're the type of person who clings to my every word, anxiously awaiting news of my personal likes and dislikes so you can all go back to living...right?????

The DVDs in question today have nothing to do with the variety of old film and television programming that I had been incessantly flogging in the pages of my fanzine ten or so years, these shiny silver dollars more or less tilt towards the (ahem!) rockism mode of my cranial pleasure, and really, for a guy who back in the eighties never thought he'd ever see classic performances by the likes of the MC5, Velvet Underground and Von Lmo on video, it's sure an eye-opening experience eyeballing all of these groups and more on my video (and computer) screen in the here and now. Sure, the impact would have been better had I viewed this stuff when I was younger and even more rabid about the existence of high energy rock & roll than I am now (if that is a possibility!), but as the old sage said better late than never, and when I come down to it all I gotta say is I am a better man for possessing these wonderful DVDs which have enriched my life more than a leather-bound edition of THE CHRISTGAU CONSUMER GUIDE ever could!

The first two DVDs in question deal with a very important part of my listening makeup, mainly krautrock. Again, there was a time when I thought I'd never see any surviving footage of these once-obscure and extremely secretive groups, but thanks to the miracle of laser technology (and an audience finally big enough to support such ventures) we've got a number of fine product that, guess what, we can now enjoy in the privacy of our living more trekking to some rundown picture parlor in the big city to watch these rarities amidst a whole lotta pervos and other urban drek!

The CAN DVD set is what they used to call in the pre-pagan world a "godsend." This package consists of three disques, two of them being DVDs filled with rare and obscure Can material not only from old kraut TV programming but wonders never-before-seen by just about anyone's eyes, while the third is an audio CD filled with newer sounds and interview kadoodle for the really anal retentive amongst us. Both DVDs have a not-so-well-balanced mix of old and new material on 'em, but fortunately for us the old outweighs the new because I never really did cozy up to the post-Can bands which seemed too cerebral for my garage-bred tastes. It's the classic material from the proto-punk early seventies included here that lights my pitted butt!

Disc one has Peter Przygodda's "Can Free Concert" film, a nice though typically early-seventies jump around from scene to scene cinematic excursion that does capture the Can spirit despite the arty editing. It's great seeing Can romping through their TAGO MAGO/EGE BAMYASI material live and in a fashion making you wish that PBS would've aired this strangely fun film back in '75 when we certainly needed it rather'n that Pink Floyd Fillmore thing over and over. The other DVD has a Can documentary and although I usually hate documentaries because they more or less tell you what to think rather than let you make up your own mind, I like the melange of old footage (especially the one with Irmin Schmidt casually yet intensely lecturing the German establishment on the ways of the young while the entire band sits on a stairway!) that strikes a chord, and it's good for me to not only hear, but see the late-eighties reunion with Malcolm Mooney that wasn't quite as bad as naysayers led me to believe!

There are a lot of hidden treasures on these discs, like biographies, photo galleries and even this DVD Rom link where you can see a Brian Eno tribute, and if I were to explore the inner reaches of these DVDs it would probably take me months to dissect and enjoy it all. Worth the money you'll put into it even if you don't cozy up to the group's later work and would undoubtedly be bored silly by the third audio CD featuring a lotta current material that's, well, a fine substitute for Sominex.

Fellow krautrockers Amon Duul II score with their own DVD, which features a twenty-minute scratchy film of the band performing "Phallus Dei" a whole year (1968!) before they committed the thing to vinyl! Yet another treasure that was shown only at a few select European spots before making it to disque, AMON DUUL II PLAY PHALLUS DEI is more of that experimental film-making that was so in vogue at the time flashing between an opening of the sun rising, Warhol-esque static shots of Renate Knaup and Shrat moaning into microphones while a light show bleeps all over, German countryside footage that looks like the opening to a kraut version of GREEN ACRES back to more footage of the band, thankfully now with a wider shot where you can see 'em moving around and adjusting microphone stands, making goony sounds into the mike sorta like what Beaver and Gilbert used to do on LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, and other neat stuff. The resultant stew's even more primal than on the album version, at times getting artfully sophisticado like Frank Zappa while at others raging on a lot like the early-Velvet Underground during the height of the Exploding Plastic Inevitable. For the most part the band looks like the Jefferson Airplane with a Germanic attitude fortunately washing away the peace and love nausea that Grace and company could exude on many an occasion. You get the special extras too like a discography and all, but it's not that important.

Speaking of San Francisco, the Big Brother and the Holding Company ("With Janis Joplin" as you'd expect) ONE HUNDRED NIGHTS DVD is a major surprise. Big Brother were always the more troublesome group on the SF hippie scene, at odds with a lot of the ideals and directions that the rest of the local big names were banking their bucks on, and this surprisingly engrossing documentary (narrated by Rip Torn of all people!) goes on to prove to you why this was so. With band interviews, recollections from Lenny Kaye (yay!) and Ellen Willis (yuck!), and best of all loads of Big Brother footage not only from their 1967 KQED TV appearance but ancient interviews (with David Getz admitting to the interviewer that the main thrust of the Big Brother sound is primitivism!), ONE HUNDRED NIGHTS makes for a much better time encapsulating the best of what SF hadda offer without the peace and love hijinx of too many look backs. What's best about this DVD is that, unlike most rock & roll documentaries which show a quick, fleeting moment of greatness before the narrator barges in to explain to you all the wonderful things you were experiencing before switching to a totally different scene, you get large portions of performances with the original energy and verve intact, with Torn coming in well after you've gotten your peak pleasure out of the song and it doesn't bug ya at all.

One thing I like about this is how Janis, although the definite selling point for this disque, is NOT the star of the show. Janis is treated as just another member in the Big Brother history, someone who joined the band, was on equal footing with the others, and eventually took over the show leading to undoubtedly bigger things. Attention certainly is paid to the other Big Brothers, especialy guitarist James Gurley whose mighty talent is not only talked about, but shown in classic footage which affects you the same way listening to Lou Reed's similarly-styled guitar playing affects you even years after you first heard it!

And what's really surprising about this documentary is how I ended up feeling about Janis afterwards. Believe me, I never was a big fan of Janis and I still profess a strong dislike for her post-Big Brother recordings (which seemed to bring out even more of the hippie tendencies in her style complete with the bad horns and hokey takes on the San Francisco blues and folk roots), but after watching this I gotta admit that I've come away with a more sympathetic attitude towards the woman. Yeah, I know that she's still just a yammering one-dimensional dyke, but, I dunno, the whole story about her being some ugly duckling loathed by everybody she grew up with who went to the big city and made it humongous (hopefully embarrassing everybody who made her life miserable) struck a receptive chord within this oft jaded reviewer! I mean, I still think she dragged Big Brother down in many ways and was way over-hyped at the expense of her by-now "backing band," but that doesn't mean I have to hate her!

(Oh, and you also get the additional DVD attractions of varying interest here, the best being an audio-only take of their version of "The Hall of the Mountain King" which probably best reveals what the original avant garde-y pre-Janis Big Brother sounded like at those live ballroom shows. I would love to hear more of this version of the band especially when they were channeling their sound through a synthesizer not unlike what Eno would be doing with Roxy Music years later, and hopefully that will also see the light of day soon!)

So there you have it...three DVD packages guaranteed to give your tee-vee or computer more honest-to-Lmo action especially in these times where you have over 100 channels to chose from and the only thing on worthwhile is MR. ED at three o'clock inna morning! In the past only the rich and powerful could afford to have film collections brimming with rare necessities such as these, so thank your local capitalist for raising the standards of living so that we can all enjoy these once-obscure items at our beck and call in the here and now, just like the well-off did with rare silent film stock back in the forties!

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