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DVD Video Reviews - January 2003 Pt. 2

The Complete Monterey Pop Festival (1968-1997)

Directed by D. A. Pennebaker

Studio: HVE/The Criterion Collection
Video: 1.33:1 aspect ratio
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 & 2.0, DTS 5.1
Extras: 3 separate discs: The original 1968 film, The outtake performances, and a third disc with both Jimi Plays Monterey & Shake! Otis at Monterey; audio commentaries by Lous Adler, Pennebaker, Charles Shaar Murray, crit Peter Guralnick; Video interview of Pennebaker and Lou Adler talking about the beginnings of the festival and the film; Video interview with Otis Redding's manager; Audio interviews with John Philips, Festival publicist Derek Taylor, Cass Elliot and David Crosby; Photo essay, Monterey Pop scrapbook, Theatrical trailers, radio spots
Length: 270 min. grad total of 3 discs
Rating: *****

Performers in the original film: The Mamas and the Papas, Canned Heat, Simon and Garfunkel, Hugh Masekela, Eric Burdon and the Animals, Big Brother and the Holding Company (with Janis Joplin), The Who, Country Joe and the Fish, Otis Redding with Booker T. and the M.G.s, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Ravi Shankar.

Performers in the 123-minute Outtakes Film: The Association, Big Brother, The Blues Project, Buffalo Springfield, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, The Byrds, Country Joe, The Electric Flag, Jefferson Airplace, Al Kooper, The Mamas and the Papas, Laura Nyro, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Simon and Garfunkel, The Who, Tiny Tim.

What a package! Criterion really pulled out all the stops for this one: new hi-def digital transfers, new 5.1 mixes in both Dolby and DTS, and a mountain of audio and video extra features. This amazing one-time event that took place in June during the Summer of Love announced to the world the birth of a whole new era of rock and roll. The dizzying diversity of the performers made this a very special event, with the lengthy complete raga played by Shankar at the end of the original film contrasting with and yet fitting in perfectly with most of the preceeding music. Most of the performers played their hearts out and the vibes were the most, man. I was there. (I even shot my own little Super 8 film of the event.) Joplin and Hendrix were launched into their brief but brilliant careers by their appearances here, and Otis Redding found a new and broader audience. With a carefully rationed stock of raw 16mm film (there was a heck of a lot of music played over those three days), Pennebaker and his six other cameramen captured the really immortal moments such as the Who destroying their equipment and guitars - complete with smoke bombs, and Hendrix suggestively squirting lighter fluid onto his still reverberating guitar and then setting it on fire. The 49-minute separate Jimi Plays Monterey film - with voice-over by critic Charles S. Murray - is fascinating and a workout for your surround system.

The interviews and commentaries explain some of the many challenges in updating the filmic record of this unique event for DVD. The sound was all recorded by Wally Heider Studios but all up onstage. Pennebaker recorded in stereo with his shooting, but usually had just as single mike facing the stage - the second mike turned back into the audience. There were some sequences of footage without sound and vice versa, but when it all came together the use of the audience pickup could be skillfully mixed to the surround channels. It makes for an extreme involvement in the music, with the enthusiastic audience seeming to be all around you. The DTS surround mix is fabulous, especially with the highest-energy music (read that as LOUDEST). Extreme closeups of the performers are often used very effectively. In between shots of the colorfully-attired attendees adds to the feeling of the viewer taking part in the event. And also helps to cover places where film ran out or had to be changed while the music went on. (I noticed Pennebaker and I had zeroed in on some of the very same photogenic faces.)

In addition to the magnificent material on the screen and speakers, the set comes with a beautifully-designed booklet collecting pieces on the Festival that were all written at different times and places. One is a review written for Newsweek immediately after, one comes from Rolling Stone founder Jan Wenner and was written one year later - including details on how the Monterey City Council squashed a second festival. Another essay considers from the viewpoint of the present day the pivotal moment in popular music that the Monterey Festival was, and the closing piece analyzes the cinema verite new style of concert film which Pennebaker pioneered. This absolutely riveting visual and audio document will keep fans captivated for many hours. If rock and roll today was anything like the music being made back in l967 maybe the major labels wouldn't be crying in their beer about business being so bad and adopting unworkable copy protection schemes as a supposed solution. The Complete Monterey Pop Festival -...Purchase Here.

- John Sunier

Amadeus - Director’s Cut (1984)

Starring: Tom Hulce, F. Murray Abraham
Directed by: Milos Forman
Studio: Warner Home Video
Video: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Audio: DD 5.1, DD 2.0
Extras: Director and Crew Commentary, New Digital Transfer, Behind the Scenes Footage, Documentary, Theatrical Trailers
Length: 158 minutes
Rating: ****

Milos Forman's Amadeus has always been one of my favorite films; winner of 8 Academy Awards, this film was exceptional on every level – a great story, well acted, great cinematography, great music, great everything. I've watched the original DVD incarnation countless times, with my only real complaint being that the picture was not always quite up to scratch, but not really enough of a problem to seriously detract from the overall experience. When I first heard of a remastered Director's Cut in the works, I just couldn't wait to get my hands on it. And with 30 minutes of additional footage -- well, that's just gotta be 30 more minutes of a good thing!

Wrong! I know that most artists (and I guess directors fall into that gray area) tend to rethink things over time and decide to make editing decisions that either weren't possible or feasible during the original production -- Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now Redux comes to mind -- and I guess there's just the burning desire to remake the movie into what you intended from the beginning.
The additional footage takes the film to almost 3 hours, and while this is not unnecessarily long for a film of this nature, the Director's cut of Amadeus just draaaaaags. In the original cut, the editing was superlative and the action flowed seamlessly from scene to scene and everything just made perfect sense. While the Director's cut adds a small amount of information that does help explain certain aspects of the film, such as Salieri's interaction with frau Mozart, the overall effect is to drag the movie down to the depths. I really think that if Amadeus had been released in this Director's cut theatrically, it would not have fared quite as well as it did initially.

Now for the good news -- the restored print is a significant improvement over the original DVD, with a greatly enhanced video quality. And the 2-disc set has a generous supply of extras -- multiple commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurette, a documentary feature -- all well worth your time and very informative. My only other quibble is that a DTS soundtrack wasn't included, which has just about become the norm with all the Director's cuts and Special Editions coming out as of late. And they should have included the theatrical version as an option -- if you buy this edition, just don't discard your original DVD, you might find like I did that it's the movie Milos Forman should have stuck with.

- Tom Gibbs

WAGNER: Die Walküre

Sieglinde: Jeannine Altmeyer
Siegmund: Peter Hofmann
Hunding: Matti Salminen
Brünnhilde: Gwyneth Jones
Wotan: Donald McIntyre
Fricka: Hanna Schwarz

Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele
Conducted by Pierre Boulez

Production by Patrice Chéreau
Studio: DGG/Universal Music distr.
Video aspect ratio: 4:3
Audio: DD 5.1 Surround
Sung in German, with English subtitles
Extras: Booklet with synopsis
Length: 214 mins.
Rating: **1/2

For the novice viewer, this DVD serves as an excellent way to get acquainted with Die Walküre, the second and most dramatic opera in Wagner’s monumental Ring cycle. Thanks to the excellent acting of most of the singers, it illuminates all the dark corners of the complicated plot, imbuing this work with a realism not often found in productions of Wagner’s operas. By the same token, what this performance gains in theatricality and interesting sets it loses in meaning and depth. As the singers are busy emoting and moving around the stage (with directions that are not faithful to Wagner’s libretto), we aren’t given the time and expansiveness to reflect on the unfolding events. And in Act 2, the heavy symbolism of the pendulum and mirror is both distracting and superfluous.

There is some fine singing to be heard here. Hofmann as Siegmund holds back in the beginning, but toward the dramatic conclusion of Act 1 he rises to the occasion with his good legato and virile sounds. Altmeyer as Sieglinde is womanly and emotive. And Salminen’s sardonic expressions as Hunding are delightful, despite his large and unnecessary retinue of bearded men (director Chéreau’s invention). Schwarz as Fricka is among the best exponents of the role. Although Jones as Brünnhilde projects the Valkyrie’s youthful zeal well, her notes are often inaccurate and her loud passages escalate into piercing shrieks. McIntyre’s Wotan is the weakest of all. He has accurate technique but seems incapable of projecting the image of a god with either his voice or his stage presence.

The best part of this production is the fabulously expressive conducting. It is also visually outstanding, and its detailed set designs show up well in close-ups.

(The next issue of Audiophile Audition will feature a review of Siegfried.)

-Dalia Geffen


SHANKAR: Ravi Shankar In Portrait (2002)

Ravi Shankar and Anoushka Shankar, sitars; Bikram Ghosh and Tanmoy Bose, tablas
Studio: BBC Opus Arte OA 0864D (2 disc set)
Video: 16:9
Audio: LPCM Stereo
Extras: Ravi Shankar Between Two Worlds (documentary about Ravi Shankar’s life), Benares Ghat (documentary about Ravi Shankar teaching methods), and The Sitar and Indian Music (brief documentary about how sitars are made and ragas are structured).
Length: 184 minutes
Rating: ****

I don’t remember ever seeing or even hearing about full-length videos of Ravi Shankar’s performances. This is odd, considering he is one of the world’s most outstanding musicians, one whose career has spanned more than half a century. Anyone who has followed his career over the years will be delighted with this DVD. Shankar, who lately has had several heart bypass operations, transforms himself from an elderly gentleman lecturer of the first disc’s documentary to a fiery performer on the second disc, one who has lost little of his former heat with advancing years. First, there is the sheer musicality of these two classically composed ragas, then there is the excellent camera work that shows how Shankar ekes out those whining notes, right down to close-ups of his bloody fingertips. From the placid alaps of the openings to the rapid finger work of the climax, Shankar continues to astound. He even produces some sounds I didn’t hear on the 1960s World Pacific records (recently released on CD by EMI).

His daughter Anoushka accompanies him on the two pieces, as do tabla players Bikram Ghosh and Tanmoy Bose -- but this is Shankar’s show all the way. What a tribute to the tranformative power of music. The fifty-three minutes of music in these two ragas leave you hungering for more. Director Mark Kidel captures the players’ fingers as they race across their instruments and the facial gestures as they communicate with each other. The accompanying documentaries are not so compelling, unfortunately. In all three, the director seems too much in awe of his subject and includes far too many picturesque Indian location shots. I would have liked to have seen more talking heads discussing Shankar’s music than a tour through the musician’s new foundation building. Still, the archival shots of the younger Shankar are precious, particularly those of him visiting the West in the sixties and seventies covering his collaborations with Yehudi Menuhin and George Harrison.

--Peter Bates

Schwarzkopf: A Self-Portrait

Studio: EMI DVD
Length: 57minutes
Rating: ****

A film by Gerard Caillat, Schwarzkopf: A Self-Portrait, proves an engrossing hour of historic footage and commentary by one of the leading exponents of German art the last century produced, Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, now aged 80. Using stills and moving pictures from early in the 1920's on, we see the formation, development and legacy of a dedicated, conscientious singer and artist, particularly her influences from husband-producer Walter Legge and conductors Bohm and Karajan.

"I would have preferred to be an instrumentalist or chamber-music musician, for such I consider my voice," offers Schwarzkopf. Eschewing her luminary status as a coloratura soprano with movie-star charisma and looks, Schwarzkopf consistently insists her role is to illumine the words of the poets set to music. Whether accompanied by Gerald Moore or, as in the Marie-Antoniette salon of the Versailles Palace with Aldo Ciccolini, Schwarzkopf considers every aspect of the acoustical projection of music, measuring out the floor space, as well as the psychology and breathing for each song. By the time we witness her evolution into the Marchallin from Der Rosenkavalier, every word about the trickling of time through our mortal veins wrings our hearts.

We see Schwarzkopf in formal and informal guise, candidly discussing her courtship with Walter Legge, recalling the anti-German pickets outside her New York debut, fondly reminiscing singing Viennese waltzes with Willi Boskovsky. The black and white sequences of historic footage capture the bombing of wartime Berlin in 1942; the color footage captures Schwarzkopf's Britain appearances and studio sessions as teacher and mentor of new talent. There are fleeting glimpses of her at the Vienna State Opera and at Salzburg, with Bruno Walter's entering the theater; we see Schwarzkopf honored by the United Nations. "We can only sing in the time allotted us; there is only the illusion that we can do it twenty years from now," muses Schwarzkopf. She insists her parents kept her apolitical, but her Nazi affiliation is neither defended nor denied. But she does claim that her greatest american experience was "meeting our former enemies and making them respect and admire German art, through lieder." Glimpses of Hermann Prey and Dietrich Fischer Dieskau, engaging moments with accompanist Gerald Moore, behind-the scenes nerves with Aldo Ciccolini, lend a common humanity to the immortality of the musical proceedings. The music itself--Mozart, Schubert, Strauss, Puccini, Wolf--speaks for itself and for the artist who always saw herself the sacred vessel to preserve its spirit.

--Gary Lemco


Roger Waters – In the Flesh-Live

Studio: Columbia Music Video CVD 54185
Video: Widescreen enhanced
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 and PCM surround
Extras: Behind the scenes documentary, band biographies, still photos, lyrics, and sound system setup guide.
Length: Concert-1 hour 28 minutes
Rating: ***

and see Hi-Res section this month for SACD review of:
Roger Waters – In the Flesh – Columbia Stereo/Multichannel SACD C2S 85235

This is probably one of the best concerts ever done, especially if you are a Pink Floyd fan. I first got the DVD of this concert. I thought it was a great concert and was very happy to have it. Basically this is a Pink Floyd and Roger Waters Greatest Hits concert. And you cannot get much better than that. The video quality was tops and the music was fantastic. The sound was about the quality of a good CD. I felt the video added a lot to the experience of the concert. After being used to hearing the music on the original CDs, the sound left you wanting more. Compared to the original Pink Floyd CDs the sound is compressed. There was a lack of detail and the sound effects did not have much impact. The video really gave you a feeling for what you were missing. The drummer would be whacking away at the drums with standard drumsticks. There should have been a lot of presence and impact in the sound. But there was not. On another cut, a sax player was doing a solo. Again there was little sense of presence and the sax sounded like easy- listening sax. There was no sense of the reed in the instrument.

I recommend the DVD for video and music.The DVD has the advantage of being on one disc and available for $15-20. The SACD is on two discs and available from $35-40. Treated the SACD sounds better. A great concert and great music.

- Clay Swartz

The Art of Piano - Great Pianists of the 20th Century (1999)

Studio: NVC Arts/Warner Music Vision
Video: 4:3
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono, English or French
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Japanese
Extras: Booklet includes detailed guide to works performed
Length: 108 min.
Rating: ****

A previous film in this series, The Art of Conducting, which was available on laserdisc, was I believe one of the finest classical music videos every done. This effort is just as valuable. It evokes the greatest pianists of the century, starting with Francis Plante (born 1839) thru Claudio Arrau (died l991). Along the way, these great pianists are discussed by their peers or later devotees and footage is seen and heard of most of them performing at the keyboard: Solomon, Myra Hess, Richter, Rubinstein, Paderewski, Josef Hofmann, Rachmaninoff, Moiseiwitsch, Horowitz, Cziffra, Rubinstein, Cortot, Wilhelm Backhaus, Edwin Fischer, Emil Gilels, Michelangeli, Glenn Gould, Annie Fischer. The selections are mostly by the expected piano-wise composers: Chopin, Liszt, Beethoven, Bach, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Schumann, Scriabin, Mozart. The on camera commentaries on the talents and habits of each of the greats come from such pianists and conductors as Barenboim, Colin Davis, Gary Graffman, Evgeny Kissin, Gyorgy Sandor and Rozhdestvensky. It did seem surprising that Van Cliburn was not included. Some of the gossip about certain pianists was fascinating. Of course considering the wide range of material assembled into this production, there is considerable variance of image and sound quality. Nearly all the footage is black and white and sometimes looks as though it’s been thru the wringer. Strangely, some of the video that looks the worst has fairly good mono sound while a couple with good image quality have terrible soundtracks. It must have been a massive research job to dig up all the footage seen from film and TV archives around the world. The accompanying booklet has a detailed listing of all the selections, performers, and when they date from, plus some words about many of the pianists who are featured.

- John Sunier

MOZART: Requiem (1984)

Edith Mathis/Trudeliese Schmidt/Peter Schreier/Gwynne Howell/The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/Sir Colin Davis
Studio: RM Assoc./Image Entertainment
Video: 4:3
Audio: PCM stereo
Extras: None
Length: 59 min.
Rating: ****

This live performance was taped in the Munich Herkulessaal by the Bavarian state TV facility. It is a fiery and electric presentation by the chorus and soloists. There are plenty of video closeups of both the soloists and chorus members and they all look deeply involved to the utmost degree, which contributes to the effect felt with this stirring and timeless music. A short onscreen summary of each of the sections of the Requiem in the pause between them would have been helpful, but at least the sections are titled onscreen - which is more than some classical videos give you. The rich and powerful stereo PCM soundtrack decodes well to ProLogic II, giving a good feeling of the interior of the cathedral which also aids in the experience. The tympani used in the score were not well-reproduced however. and I did occasionally notice a bit of unsteadiness in the instrumental reproduction - a sort of subtle “wow” such as one gets on LPs that are slightly off center. Since this is a completely digital track, it must have been on the original videotape from l984.

- John Sunier

ADOLPHE ADAM: Giselle - complete ballet (1996)

Choreography by Patrice Bart
Solo dancers and corps de ballet of the Teatro Alla Scala
Orchestra of the Teatro Alla Scala/Paul Connelly
Studio: RM Assoc./Image Entertainment
Video: Shot in HDTV, 1.78:1 widescreen enhanced
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0
Extras: None
Length: 110 min.
Rating: ****

Must admit I’m about as far as you could get from a ballet reviewer, but I love ballet music and I‘d always wanted to see the complete Giselle to find out what goes with the music. This is probably the quintessential 19th century ballet and in this production an attempt was made to recreate the choreography, sets and costumes of its stagings by Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes. The story is simple: the heroine dies of a broken heart due to the duplicity of her lover. But that doesn’t stop her from dancing all of the second act as a ghost. There are many long shots showing most of the stage, rather than the super closeups which I know frustrate many ballet lovers on dance videos. Probably the fact this was shot for HDTV helps explain the looser framing. The 5.1 surround is clean and, well...surrounding. If you are a fan of very traditional classical ballet this would be a must for your video collection.

- John Sunier

Charlie Haden and the Liberation Music Orchestra - Live in Montreal (1992)

Studio: Spectra/Image Entertainment
Video: 4:3
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0
Extras: Video interview with Haden
Length: 60 min.
Rating: ****

Bassist/composer Haden put together this band of a dozen top players - including Joe Lovano, Robin Eubanks and James Williams - to present politically charged music often based on traditional melodies from Third World countries struggle for freedom and democracy. They open their set at the Montreal Festival with the American National Congress anthem, play a suite of traditional tunes from Latin America, a cry from the ill-fated Spanish Civil War, do the hymn of the Anarchist Women’s Movement, and end with the hopeful mood of Haden’s own tune, Spiritual. Most of the selections came from their current album at the time - Dreamkeeper - and the main theme of that CD is reprised several times during the concert. This is not the usual instrumentation of such a big band, so you’ll see some unexpected solos on tuba and French horn, for example. The video camera work is involving in getting close to the players from unusual angles. The sound is also tops, but there is a tiny credit for Lexicon Logic 7 again, indicating that most likely the 5.1 Dolby Surround was derived from the original two-channel recording rather than being discrete. It would be interesting to A/B that with Pro Logic II fed by the Dolby Digital 2.0 track. Next time I look at this again or another DVD with that little credit line I’ll try it.

- John Sunier

Max Ernst (1991)

Film by Peter Schamoni
Music: Stravinsky
Studio: RM Assoc./Image Entertainment
Video: 4:3
Audio: Dolby Digital mono
Extras: none
Length: 101 min.
Rating: ****

Another in the series of feature-length documentaries on famous artists of the 20th century from Image Entertainment, this one appealed to me both because I love Ernst’s work and because in an earlier documentary on Man Ray that I reviewed previously there was material on that other visionary artist’s visit to Ernst’s digs in Sedona, Arizona and I was curious to see that story from another viewpoint. He was dumbfounded when he first visited the Grand Canyon and Garden of the Gods because it looked so much like the visionary landscapes he had been painting since the 1920s.

Ernst died in l976 but there is a good deal of film footage of him working and being interviewed. He certainly led a nomadic and eclectic life, which among other things took him thru the First World War, involvement with the Dadaist and Surrealist movements, flight to America and the desert of the Southwest, and finally his return to the south of France. I wasn’t aware that Peggy Guggenheim opened her first museum entirely with Ernst’s paintings. The poor man was constantly being thrown into prison due to his German birth and passport even though he became a French citizen and later a staunch American artist. Ernst knew and loved the music of Stravinsky so it fits perfectly into the soundtrack of the film here and there. During shots of his working on his studio and artwork in Sedona one sees an acoustic phonograph (he had no electricity at first) with a huge horn. A fascinating artist and man whose creations were distinctive to say the least.

- John Sunier

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