If ever a group of musicians crossed over well from (arena) stage to screen, it was the Clash. Boldly billed as "the only band that matters" during their Kahoutek-like career, the group's approach -- agitprop gear, militant slogans and incendiary live show -- was based as much on post-modern, Foucault-like notions of subverting the medium as it was defined by any Maoist mindset.
Which would have meant exactly squat if the band hadn't been blessed with a ridiculous amount of charisma.
That raw power is on display throughout The Essential Clash, even if this DVD tells only part of the story. The collection includes all of the band's official videos, documentary footage from the group's historic two-week run at Bonds' in Times Square, as well as some early (1976) promo videos from their nonpareil debut, The Clash.
The disc also features their long-lost, B&W silent film from 1983, Hell W10. You'd think this was the real prize here, since the 51-minute film was thought to be gone forever until a fan stumbled upon a copy at a London street sale. But there's a problem: it sucks. Well, as a film, anyway. As an interesting look at West-end London in the Thatcher era, it's better, but a little goes a long way; as a cogent cinematic endeavor, no amount of clumsy Luis Bunuel references can save it, though bassist Paul Simonon's screen idol good looks (he's the protagonist, as such) are hard to ignore. So, of course, are some of the score's rare remixes of lesser-known Clash gems like "Version City," "Long Time Jerk," "Junco Partner" and "One More Dub."
The band's cinematic aspirations eventually bore fruit, at least for the late front man, Joe Strummer, who did efficient-if-unspectacular work in Jim Jarmusch's Mystery Train and Alex Cox' cult film, Straight to Hell. But Strummer was always the center that could hold when it came to the Clash, and his energy transforms these videos into something leagues beyond the average MTV-fare of the time. Try imagining the clips without him -- especially "London Calling," and "This Is Radio Clash" (an ode to Orwell that's suddenly all-too-relevant again) and you can't, really. If the Clash had a multi-media vision -- and this is proof they did -- it was Strummer's, and it was a memorable one.
One Night with Blue Note
Blue Note Records
On a February evening in 1985, the new president of Blue Note Records, Bruce Lundvall, decided to mark the occasion of the jazz label's re-launch with a celebratory reunion concert at New York City's Town Hall, gathering together some of the biggest names from the label's heyday -- 1955-1965 -- when virtually every slab of vinyl the artists delivered was a winner.
Any notion that this night was going to be the equivalent of an old-timer's game or stroll down Nostalgia Boulevard was blown away in short order with the first notes (high C, anyone?) trumpeter (and show-stealer) Freddie Hubbard blasted in his opening solo for Herbie Hancock's memorable "Cantaloupe Island."
The lineup was a ridiculous embarrassment of riches too numerous to list, but some of the obvious highlights include Jackie McLean's "Appointment In Ghana," Joe Henderson's "Recorda Mae," Art Blakey's "Moanin'," and pianist Cecil Taylor's explosive avant-garde solo performance of "Pontos Cantados."
This concert has been available on DVD since 2000, but the 5.1 surround sound mix and improved picture are worth upgrading to if you're one of those types with thousands of dollars worth of A/V equipment -- you know, stinking rich. But if you're still suffering through the VHS, or are just new to the era that was being celebrated, quit stalling: This is a great introduction to one of the most fertile periods in American music history.
Pink Floyd, Live At Pompeii
Is it possible to get a contact high from watching a DVD? If there's a litmus test, it's surely the new director's cut of Pink Floyd's Live at Pompeii. Essentially a live show with no audience filmed at the crumbling Roman amphitheater, French documentarian Adrian Maben did a surprisingly entertaining job capturing the band performing their early-era signature space-workouts from albums like A Saucerful of Secrets, Ummagumma and Meddle.
Pompeii reminds us there was a time when Pink Floyd wasn't the bloated, Classic Rock Radio carnivore it's been for the last three decades, but a (relatively) innovative band whose influence can be traced all the way down to hipster acts like Godspeed You Black Emperor!, Mogwai, and Town and Country.
But the concert is interspersed with a few dull studio scenes from the making of Dark Side of the Moon, and even during these brief few moments Roger Waters' arena-sized ego can be felt steering the band -- like some big inflatable animal, perhaps? -- toward the Styrofoam wall-sized joke they were soon to become infamous as -- somewhat sadly, judging from documents like this DVD.