Rock & roll has always had cinematic appeal and a flair for visuals that go beyond funky hairdos. Think of Elvis Presley's sneer, Jimi Hendrix burning his guitar in flamboyant rainbow raiment, Pete Townshend smashing his guitar to bits, Run-DMC posing in their treasured Adidas and leathers, and Gwen Stefani's recent punkette-meets-geisha look.
The following music DVDs that have recently swelled the CL mailbag heartily traffic in carefully constructed star images, from 50 Cent's minstrel mugging to 70s glam man Marc Bolan's fey poses. These DVDs also ride the generation gap -- between Boomers versed in heritage rock and their kids and grandkids, whose musical tastes are still in flux. Look for this feature to appear at least twice quarterly, as CL's hardy music critics attempt to provide a guide out of the glut of new visual product.
Make It Funky
ALLEN TOUSSAINT & VARIOUS ARTISTS
One of this documentary's prominent musician talking heads, Bonnie Raitt, describes New Orleans' musical legacy as "history you can dance to." An apt expression, since the beleaguered Louisiana city has always been the site of infectious genres that revolutionized global culture -- vodun drumming, jazz, rock & roll, funk and swamp boogie, just to name a few. Director and Crescent City native Michael Murphy's new film, which had a brief theatrical run last month, pays tribute to his hometown's storied musical heritage. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, vodun folk would say that homeboy Murphy's directorial prescience could be ascribed to his being "two-headed." This DVD is a magnificent gift, concisely tracing the history of the New Orleans sound, from 18th century Haitian refugees' syncretic drumming in Congo Square to the 19th century genesis of jazz and beyond. The postwar explosion of rock & roll under the auspices of hitmen like interviewees Allen Toussaint and Cosimo Matassa is explored. Exogamous Nawlinze culture devotees such as Keith Richards and Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun also make appearances. The bulk of the footage fittingly keeps an emphasis on the ancestors of the multi-faceted New Orleans sound, including the relatively anonymous players for the city's famed funerals and late piano master Professor Longhair, as well as the subsequent generations of its practitioners, chief among them the large and talented Neville family. Make It Funky was an inspired project from the git-go. Now, it's a treasure that every American (and arts lover around the world) should own.
Specials: Featurettes of New Orleans culture, a hot deleted scene of a brass showdown at the Funky Butt club. (www.SonyPictures.com) Rating: *****
50 Cent, the apparently bulletproof and definitely mush-mouthed ringleader of the G-Unit, celebrates his ongoing triumph over death, niggaz and bitches. This special edition combined CD/DVD is lengthy, mayhem-replete and tedious, as each of the disc's 21 tracks has an accompanying clip. Gat porn and undulating bronze booties aside, the relentless chiaroscuro ghetto-to-studio imagery and cheesy computer animation is ultimately less visceral than cartoonish.
The DVD's minimalist-is-more aesthetic works best on the clip for "Gatman & Robbin," which features an Eminem cameo and more dynamic pop art graphics sampled from Roy Lichtenstein's 60s oeuvre. If your worldview is limited to nines, Bentleys, rims and 'hoes (with hypocritical nods to love and the Lord for good measure), this DVD's for you.
Specials: A trailer for Fitty's "Bulletproof" videogame and a movie preview for Jim Sheridan's forthcoming Get Rich or Die Tryin', which is better at reifying the rapper-as-icon than any of the videos. (www.50cent.com) Rating: * 1/2
BACK WHERE IT ALL BEGINS
DICKEY BETTS & GREAT SOUTHERN
As the Cleveland-based Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum seeks to enshrine classic rock artists, this DVD appropriately spotlights one of the greatest of the past 40 years: founding member of the Allman Brothers Band and guitar god Dickey Betts. Filmed on location at the Rock Hall on Sept. 29, 2004, the DVD captures a live performance by Betts' post-Allmans group Great Southern. This is essentially a bare-bones concert, interspersed with brief band interviews including the other ex-Brother, guitarist Dan Toler, and the young, Juilliard-trained bassist Pedro Arevalo, who looks like a Bonnaroo-spawned Jaco Pastorius in his funky threads and dreads. Southern rock diehards will enjoy such iconic tunes as the cover of "Statesboro Blues," "Blue Sky," "Ramblin' Man" and "Jessica." Betts shines best on his masterpiece "In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed," joined by his handsome look-and-play-alike son Duane.
Specials: Just as Dickey Betts has avoided flashiness throughout his career, this -- his first-ever DVD -- isn't flashy and doesn't have any fancy extras. There's an on-site interview conducted by an invisible WCPN radio DJ, wherein Betts explores several topics of his backstory, including an admission about the inspiration for "Elizabeth Reed." A live CD from the same date is also included. (www.eaglerockent.com) Rating: ***