Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

The Stepford Wives (1975) * * *

Joanna Eberhart (Katharine Ross) is a young wife who moves with her lawyer husband Walter (Peter Masterson) and two children from NYC to the idyllic Connecticut suburb of Stepford. Walter has dreamed of moving to the suburbs in Fairfield County, Connecticut, but Joanna doesn't enjoy suburban life. Loneliness quickly sets in as Joanna, an aspiring photographer, finds the women in town all look great and are obsessed with housework, but have few intellectual interests. They behave like zombies, constantly cleaning their houses and cooking their husbands' dinner. The men all belong to the club Stepford Men's Association, which Walter joins to Joanna's dismay. Witnessing neighbor Carol Van Sant's (Nanette Newman) sexually submissive behavior to her husband Ted, as well as her odd, repetitive behavior after a car accident also strikes Joanna as unusual. Something is going on.

Carol Van Sant: I'll just die if I don't get this recipe. I'll just die if I don't get this recipe. I'll just die if I don't get this recipe.

Things start to look up when she makes friends with another newcomer to town, Bobbie Markowe (Paula Prentiss), a sassy woman who quickly becomes Kathy's best friend in town. Bobbie says, "It's like maids have been declared illegal and the housewife with the neatest place gets Robert Redford for Christmas." Stepford once had a women's group with a healthy membership, but that dissolved some years ago. So, along with trophy wife Charmaine Wimperis (Tina Louise), they organize a Women's Lib consciousness raising session, but the meeting is a failure when the other wives hijack the meeting with cleaning concerns.

Joanna is unimpressed by the boorish Men's Club members, including intimidating president Dale "Diz" Coba (Patrick O'Neal). The men stealthily collect information on Joanna, including artist's renderings of her face, recordings of her voice, and other personal details. When Charmaine turns overnight from a languid, self-concerned tennis fan into an industrious, devoted wife, Joanna and Bobbie start investigating the reason behind the submissive and bland behavior of the other wives, especially when they learn they were once quite supportive of liberal social policies. It soon becomes plain that the women of Stepford are being coerced, brainwashed, or otherwise altered.

Dale Coba: (Joanna is brewing coffee) I like to watch women doing little domestic chores.
Joanna Eberhart: Then you came to the right town. Why do they call you Diz?
Dale Coba: I used to work in Disneyland.
Joanna Eberhart: No, really!
Dale Coba: No. Really.
Joanna Eberhart: I don't believe you.
Dale Coba: Why not?
Joanna Eberhart: You don't seem to be the kind of person that likes to make other people happy.

Joanna and Bobbie investigate Stepford. They are depicted wearing casual clothing, unfussy hairstyles, and little or no makeup. In addition, they are not wearing bras, indicating they are "Liberated Women" of the 1970s. This is in contrast to the perfect Stepford Wives. Bobbie and Joanna start house hunting in other towns, and later, Joanna wins a prestigious contract with a photo gallery with some photographs of their children. When she excitedly tells Bobbie her good news, Joanna is shocked to find her freewheeling and liberal friend has abruptly changed into another clean, conservative housewife, with no intention to move from town.

Joanna Eberhart: It'll happen to me before then. When you come back, there will be a woman with my name and my face, she'll cook and clean like crazy, but she won't take pictures and she won't be me! She'll be... like the robots at Disneyland.

Joanna panics and at the insistence of Walter, visits a psychiatrist where she explains her belief that all the men in the town are behind a conspiracy of somehow changing the women. The psychiatrist recommends she leave town until she feels safe, but when Joanna returns home, the children are missing. The marriage turns into domestic violence when Joanna and Walter get into a physical scuffle. In an attempt to find her children, she thinks Bobbie may be caring for them. Desperate, Joanna stabs Bobbie with a kitchen knife trying to prove her humanity, but Bobbie doesn't bleed or suffer, instead she goes into a loop of odd mechanical behavior, thus confirming she is a robot.

Dr. Fancher: Here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to give you a prescription that you get filled, then you get your children and get the hell out! Don't tell your husband, don't tell anybody, just get in your car and drive somewhere you feel safe.

Bobbie Markowe: (after being stabbed) Oh Joanna! My new dress! How could you do a thing like that? Just when I was going to give you coffee! How could you do a thing like that? I thought we were friends! Just when I was going to... how could you do a thing like that... just when I was going to give you coffee! Oh Joanna... I thought we were friends... I thought we were friends... friends... coffee... how could you do a thing like that? Like that? Like that? Like that? Friends... friends...

Knowing she will be the next victim, Joanna sneaks into the mansion which houses the Men's Association to find her children, but finds the mastermind of the whole operation, Dale "Diz" Coba, and eventually her own robot-duplicate. Joanna is shocked into paralysis when she witnesses its soulless, black empty eyes. It is then suggested that the Joanna-duplicate strangles the real Joanna. In the final scene, the duplicate is seen placidly purchasing groceries at the local supermarket, along with the other wives wearing similar long dresses, large hats and saying little more than "Hello" to each other. The final shot focuses on Joanna's now-finished eyes.

(last lines)
Joanna Eberhart: Hello, Bobbie.
Bobbie Markowe: Oh, hello, Joanna.
Joanna Eberhart: How are you?
Bobbie Markowe: I'm fine. How are you?
Joanna Eberhart: I'm fine. How are the children?
Bobbie Markowe: Fine.

THE STEPFORD WIVES is a great movie with a terrific premise, extremely watchable. It's a stylish triumph filled with POV shots, incredible production design, smart performances and a haunting score by Michael Small. This science fiction/horror film is based on the 1972 Ira Levin novel of the same name. To some extent it's a knockoff of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956), in that human beings are replaced with duplicates who look similar on the outside, but on the inside have lost their abilities to think and feel as individuals. One problem is the women actually seem more interesting after their transformation than before it, when they come across as whiny and petulant, and little else. The conclusion of THE STEPFORD WIVES is visible from a million miles away. If the men of Stepford are taking voice recordings and drawings of their women, there are only a few possibilities about their ultimate project. The film's tone is reminiscent of Levin's earlier work ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968), where it is unclear whether or not the film's protagonist is truly threatened or merely paranoid. In both cases, the films make the threat more concrete.

The shining star of the film is Katharine Ross. Although she was not the producer's first choice for the role of Joanna, it is hard to imagine that anyone else could have done a better job of bringing the character to life. The scene where Joanna seeks psychiatric advice about her fear of being changed by Stepford is very well acted. The worst thing for Joanna is that she knows how crazy her story sounds and she says so: "If I'm wrong then I'm crazy, but if I'm right then it's worse." Paula Prentiss is excellent as Bobbie, a fun character who is like Joanna, new to the town and just can't seem to work up that traditional Stepford cleaning spirit. The other characters are very well cast too, and Patrick O'Neal is particularly menacing as Diz, the head of the Stepford's Men's Association. He doesn't actually do a lot to be menacing, but nevertheless he exudes menace in his every scene. He is calm, cold and calculating, and from the first moment that you see him looking at Joanna you just know that whatever is on his mind isn't anything good.

The cast also includes: Carol Eve Rossen (Dr. Fancher), William Prince (Ike Mazzard), Carole Mallory (Kit Sunderson), Toni Reid (Marie Axhelm), Judith Baldwin (Patricia Cornell), Barbara Rucker (Mary Ann Stravros), George Coe (Claude Axhelm), Franklin Cover (Ed Wimpiris), Robert Fields (Raymond Chandler), Michael Higgins (Mr. Cornell), Josef Sommer (Ted Van Sant), Paula Trueman (Welcome Wagon Lady), Martha Greenhouse (Mrs. Kirgassa), Remak Ramsay (Mr. Atkinson), Mary Stuart Masterson (Kim Eberhart), Ronny Sullivan (Amy Eberhart), John Aprea (Young Cop), Matt Russo (Moving Man 1), Anthony Crupi (Moving Man 2), Kenneth McMillan (Market Manager), Dee Wallace (Nettie), Tom Spratley (Charlie the Doorman), Emma Forbes (Alison Van Sant), and Dennis Kear (Young Grocery Boy). Michael Small composed the incidental music. William Goldman wrote the screenplay from Ira Levin's novel of the same title. Bryan Forbes directed.

The original script by William Goldman was heavily revamped by director Brian Forbes. Tension developed between Forbes and Goldman over the casting of Nanette Newman. Goldman wanted the wives to be depicted as model-like women who dressed provocatively. But after casting Newman this was not to be, as Goldman stated he felt that Newman's physical appearance did not match the type of woman he imagined, and as a result this caused a change in appearance in costuming for all of the other wives. Goldman has said that he found Newman to be a perfectly good actress, but was unhappy with some rewrites that Forbes contributed. In particular, Forbes toned down Goldman's "horrific" ending. Actor Masterson, who was friends with Goldman, would secretly call Goldman for his input on scenes creating additional stress.

The film was shot in a variety of towns in western Connecticut, primarily in Darien, Westport, and Fairfield, with some location work in New York City. Forbes purposefully chose white and bright colors for the setting of the film, attempting to make a "thriller in sunlight". With the exception of the stormy night finale, the film is almost over-saturated with bright light and cheery settings. All the locations were actual places. No sets were built for the film.

THE STEPFORD WIVES debuted in theaters in February of 1975 and was only a moderate success at the time of release, but it has grown in stature as a cult film over the years. Film critic Roger Ebert wrote, "The actresses have absorbed enough TV, or have such an instinctive feeling for those phony, perfect women in the ads, that they manage all by themselves to bring a certain comic edge to their cooking, their cleaning, their gossiping and their living deaths."

The term "Stepford wife" is still used to describe a woman who is completely devoted to cooking, cleaning, and loving her man. Building upon the reputation of Levin's novel, the term "Stepford Wife" has become a popular science fiction concept and several made-for-TV sequels have been produced over the years including:

* REVENGE OF THE STEPFORD WIVES (1980) starring Don Johnson, Sharon Gless, and Julie Kavner.
* THE STEPFORD CHILDREN (1987) starring Barbara Eden.
* THE STEPFORD HUSBANDS (1996) starring Donna Mills and Michael Ontkean
* The remake of THE STEPFORD WIVES (2004) starring Nicole Kidman and Matthew Broderick

On the occasion of its 25th Anniversary, THE STEPFORD WIVES made its second DVD appearance thanks to Anchor Bay. The previous DVD was a non-anamorphic bare-bones disc. This is an improvement over that release if only because of the new anamorphic widescreen transfer. The 1.85:1 image is very grainy and shows its age. Colors seem a little washed out, but this could reflect the low budget of the film. It looks more like a movie-of-the-week than a theatrically released film. Presented with the original mono track, the disc performs adequately in the audio department. It will not wow your system, but maintains consistency with the original presentation. A 5.1 remix wouldn't have improved the experience very much, given the limited nature of the action in the film. The dialogue is crisp and clear, and the louder scored sequences are free of distortion. Also included is a French mono track.

There are some interesting supplements. First up is the 18-minute featurette "The Stepford Life" with interviews with Ross, Masterson, Prentiss and director Bryan Forbes. It's a very welcome supplement to fans of the film, as it chronicles the translation of the novel to a screenplay, the original casting of the lead role, and the film's continued cult popularity. It shows a surprising amount of bitchiness that went on behind the scenes. Co-star Peter Masterson comes across as very arrogant as he tells how he would go behind the director's back to discuss the script with William Goldman--who was no longer involved with the movie in any way. The original widescreen theatrical trailer is on hand, though it's in scratchy condition. Two 30 second radio spots shed some more light on how this film was marketed. Also included is a lengthy talent biography of Forbes. The disc probably would have benefited from an audio commentary by Forbes or the stars, but no such luck.


When successful television executive Joanna Eberhart (Nicole Kidman) is attacked and nearly killed by a disgruntled reality television show contestant, she is immediately fired and experiences a nervous breakdown. With her loving husband and work colleague Walter (Matthew Broderick) and their two children, they move from Manhattan to Stepford, a quiet Connecticut suburb for a change of scenery. Eberhart becomes friends with Bobbie Markowitz (Bette Midler), a writer and recovering alcoholic, and Roger Bannister (Roger Bart), who is homosexual and has moved to town with his longtime partner. The three of them are suspicious of the other women in the town, who are all placid and blissful and spend their days exclusively on domestic tasks.

After witnessing a quickly covered-up incident in which one of the Stepford wives, Sarah Sunderson (Faith Hill), violently malfunctions, and later, the increasingly bizarre behavior of their own spouses, Joanna, Bobbie, and Roger are moved to investigate the strange going-ons in Stepford. In the process, Roger and Bobbie are transformed into bland, unnatural, domestic versions of themselves. The inhuman nature of these new Stepford spouses is revealed to Joanna when she attempts to confront the newly-transformed Bobbie, who unknowingly places her hand on a lit stove, but does not react to the flame. Joanna attempts to flee, only to discover that her children have been taken hostage by the men of Stepford. She storms the Stepford Men's Club, angrily demanding her children to be returned, and is entrapped by the men who have been lying in wait for her. She is forced into the transformation room with her husband. Next, we see her calmly purchasing groceries alongside the rest of the Stepford wives, having apparently become one of them.

Soon after, Stepford hosts a formal ball to celebrate the full assimilation of the town, with Eberhart and her husband Walter as guests of honor. During the festivities, Joanna distracts Mike Wellington (Christopher Walken), the apparent leader of Stepford, and entices him into the garden while Walter slips away. Walter returns to the transformation room where it is revealed that the Stepford Wives are not robots after all, but cyborgs. The original human beings remained, but were put under the control of brain-implanted microchips. Walter destroys the software that controls the microchips, and all the Stepford Wives revert to their original personalities. When Walter returns to the ball, a crisis has broken out between the puzzled husbands and their vengeful wives.

Joanna and Walter reveal that Joanna had never been transformed but only pretended to be in order to assist in the destruction of Stepford. Mike threatens Walter, but before he can attack him, Joanna strikes him with a candlestick, decapitating him, and revealing that he is the only real and complete robot. Distraught over the loss of her Stepford husband, Mike's wife Claire Wellington (Glenn Close) reveals that she was the one who had created Stepford as a refuge from the evils of the world in a fit of despair after discovering the real Mike had been having an affair. Claire accidentally electrocutes herself using the remains of her Stepford husband, and the irate wives take over Stepford and force their husbands to atone for their crimes by becoming completely subject to the women's wills, placing them under house arrest, and making them complete many of the same banal domestic tasks they had forced the women to do previously. After 29 years, the Stepford wives finally have vengence.

Frank Oz brought his black comedy/science fiction remake to screens in 2004, a film that managed to waste the talents of Nicole Kidman and Bette Midler and made a mockery of both Levin’s original novel and Forbes' superior film. The first half is disappointing, but it does pick up nicely for the last half. Most of the film was shot in Darien, Connecticut and New Canaan, Connecticut. This film is notorious for the numerous production problems that occurred throughout its shooting schedule. The tension started when both John Cusack and Joan Cusack, originally slated to star in supporting roles, pulled out of the project and were replaced by Matthew Broderick and Bette Midler. After filming was initially completed, several changes were made to the new script, which created a number of plot holes, and the cast was called back for reshoots. Reports of problems onset between director Frank Oz and stars Nicole Kidman and Bette Midler were rampant in the press. Kidman was reportedly so dissatisfied with the new screenplay that she considered pulling out of the project. In recent interviews, Kidman, Matthew Broderick and producer Scott Rudin have all expressed regret for participating in this project.

In an interview with Ain't It Cool, Frank Oz's take on the film was: "I f**ked up... I had too much money, and I was too responsible and concerned for Paramount. I was too concerned for the producers. And I didn't follow my instincts."

The film was largely panned by critics. Rolling Stone wrote, "Buzz of troubles on the set... can't compare to the mess onscreen." Entertainment Weekly commented, "The remake is, in fact, marooned in a swamp of camp inconsequentiality." The New York Times wrote, "the movie never lives up to its satiric potential, collapsing at the end into incoherence and wishy-washy, have-it-all sentimentality." However, critic Roger Ebert called Paul Rudnick's screenplay "rich with zingers" and gave the film three stars. But in the "Worst Movies of 2004" episode of Ebert And Roeper, he admitted that he gave the film a "thumbs up," but said it wouldn't be "the first movie that I would defend."

The film was a commercial flop. The US opening weekend's gross was a respectable $21,406,781. However, sales fell off quickly and that one weekend would ultimately represent over a third of the film's domestic gross of $59,484,742. The film grossed $42,428,452 internationally. Its budget was an estimated $90,000,000.

Differences between the 2004 film and the 1975 version:

* The town's women were formerly successful and powerful figures in their industries--scientists, politicians, television moguls. In original film of 1975, when most women were only just beginning to attain power in the workforce equal to men's, and the feminist movement was in full swing, the men of Stepford husbands were trying to supress the freedoms feminism gave women.
* Among the couples who had recently moved to Stepford was a gay couple. In the original novel, the newest couple to move in after the protagonist is the town's first African American couple.
* Unlike previous versions, the head programmer of the wives, Mike Wellington is revealed to be a robot himself, a Stepford Husband (a nod to the changing times). The real programmer is his wife Claire.
* In the book and original movie, there is no happy ending: the town's husbands have murdered their wives and replaced them with look-alike robots. In the remake, the women are simply implanted with microchips whose effects are fully reversible.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

The Doors: Live at the Hollywood Bowl (1987) * * *


On July 5, 1968 the American rock band the Doors performed at the Hollywood Bowl. It is the only complete filmed concert of the band and shows singer Jim Morrison at his best. Their performance was captured by four cameras and recorded in 16-track audio, resulting in generally excellent stereo sound that is far better than most archive footage of this band. They play very well. Ray Manzarek's organ is haunting at times, but the drumming of John Densmore and guitar playing of Robby Krieger are good but sub-par. The Doors melded psychedelia, blues, hard-edged rock and poetry from the edge like no other band before or since.

On stage Jim Morrison has the aura of an intense and sexy artist, whose dark voice forms only a part of his complex persona. Guitarist and songwriter Robby Krieger, keyboard player Ray Manzarek, and drummer John Densmore complement Morrison's free-associative outpourings with improvisational, jazz-inspired interjections. Who else could segue effortlessly from Kurt Weill's "Alabama Song" to Willie Dixon's "Back Door Man"? "Moonlight Drive" and "Five To One", which is connected in medley with "Backdoor Man", are especially well-performed. Morrison also recites effective pieces of poetry. And just when he's in danger of becoming too pretentious, Morrison bursts any lurking self-importance with a wry smile, a joking aside, or even a belch. But the seriousness remains throughout as Morrison's sings "When the Music's Over", "The Unknown Soldier" and "The End". Morrison sings, dances, and screams like no one else. However, for all the frenzied activity, the simple and direct lines of his poetry echo softly through the years. Music by the Doors invites questions, daring the listeners to ask them. That's why they remain so fascinating decades later.

The filmed concert feels intimate, close up, and you can see the concentration. Performances are great, especially Morrison's theatrics with Densmore's cymbals on "The Unknown Soldier". Even when Morrison does his improptu poem about the grasshopper/moth the band improvise a seamless accompaniment. The DVD is worth buying just for "The End" and "Light my Fire". Both are fantastic songs, but twice as good when live and in surround sound. This video has stood the test of time and captures the event brilliantly. Audio and video restorer Michael Rubin's first project was for this concert film. There was an intermittent microphone cable fault in Morrison' track that ruined the entire concert. It could not be released until Rubin miraculously fixed it. This film is the second in the MCA 3 VHS tape Doors trilogy. DANCE ON FIRE is the first, and THE SOFT PARADE is the last.

Live at the Hollywood Bowl Track Listing:

1) When the Music's Over
2) Alabama Song
3) Back Door Man
4) 5 to 1
5) Moonlight Drive
6) Horse Latitudes
7) Celebration of the Lizard
8) Spanish Caravan
9) The Unknown Soldier
10) Light My Fire
11) The End


One of the best collections of Doors film material, DANCE ON FIRE contains some unique concert shots, and images of Jim Morrison and the legendary band The Doors. Former Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek compiled and directed this video, which brings together a number of television performances and vintage promotional films of Jim Morrison and the group along with footage of the Doors in concert and previously unseen film of the band at work in the studio. Manzarek also directed a new video for the song "L.A. Woman," which is included in this collection. Other performances include "Break on Through, "Light My Fire", "People Are Strange", "Roadhouse Blues", "Riders on the Storm", and six more. The best one is for "Break On Through," stylish, exhilarating and just as good as any music video today. "Unknown Soldier" is also very interesting and surreal, like something Salvador Dali would have put together. "People Are Strange" is weird and nice. Certain segments such as the original Elektra promo of "Break on Through, and the musical video of "The Unknown Soldier", that was banned shortly after its release, are included.

However, though the music video Ray Manzareck directs for "L.A. Woman" is well-made, it's not very good at capturing the essence of the song. It looks nice, but the images look too modern sometimes for the aged recording. The live performance of "The End" is very good and we get a kick out of seeing Jim Morrison do his primitive shaman-like dance at the Hollywood Bowl in 1968. It's also fun to see a rare film clip of the band recording "Wild Child" in the studio. A performance of "The Crystal Ship" looks nice and dreamy. There's also the fantastic performance of "Light My Fire" on the Ed Sullivan Show.

But there is a lot of filler and not enough of Morrison in this collection of song clips, which are interspersed with voice-overs of Morrison reading his poetry, and images of related subjects, like Native American dancers shown while "Wild Child" is playing. Musically it is choppy and the sound often muddy. DANCE ON FIRE is basically a good collection of great Doors material and images of the band in their prime and how they made themselves musical legends. This is the first in the MCA Doors trilogy.

The Songs:

* "Break on Through", from an Elektra Records promo clip.
* "People are Strange", includes footage taken on the streets of New York City.
* "Light My Fire", from the Ed Sullivan Show telecast.
* "L.A. Woman" is labeled as "a new film directed by Ray Manzarek", but is actually random shots of the LA area and a few clips from the past with the song as "soundtrack".
* "The Unknown Soldier" was supposedly banned for a time. It shows Morrison being bound and "shot" on Santa Monica beach, and some stuff emerging from his mouth. It also includes a few war scenes.
* "Roadhouse Blues". Clips from the 1968 tour.
* "Texas Radio and the Big Beat/Love Me Two Times". Includes clips from a live performance for Danish television. This is one of the better selections.
* "Touch Me" is from a Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour telecast, where they have given Morrison a brushed hairdo and tanned pancake on his face, leaving his neck white. The Doors have a back-up band for this, giving it added interest.
* "Horse Latitudes/Moonlight Drive", from a Jonathan Winters Show telecast, with more of the overdone makeup on Morrison.
* "The End". This is a song that is shown in full and is focused on Morrison, and therefore probably the most substantial part of this video. It was filmed at a 1968 Hollywood Bowl concert.
* "Crystal Ship" is from American Bandstand, the early days.
* Tomasso Albinoni's "Adagio in G minor" theme is used as the music for some clips of the group sailing.
* "Riders on the Storm" is played during the end titles.


This video features footage from The Doors' 1968 European tour through Stockholm, Frankfurt, and London. Paul Kantner and Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane, who shared this bill with The Doors on this tour, narrate this retrospective documentary. Fantastic live performances of the tour de force "When the Music's Over", the antiwar "Unknown Soldier", the revolution-inciting "Five to One", and many others are accompanied by firsthand anecdotes, making LIVE IN EUROPE an intriguing glimpse into the powerful, mysterious world of this seminal band. The onstage performances have a beautiful, timeless quality to them, and the musicianship of the band comes across very nicely. Any lack of polish in this production is pretty much due to the available video and film equipment of the day. That said, much of the old camerawork is quite creatively done. We are shown the band and fans showing their respects to Morrison at his burial site, though even Ray Manzareck believes the poet faked his death. To observe Ray Manzarek hunched over his keyboards, fingering some amazing riffs, is to see a rather amazing illustration of rock performances that were all about music. His organ will shake the walls with home theater.

Track Listing:

1) Light My Fire
2) Love Me Two Times
3) Back Door Man
4) Spanish Caravan
5) Hello, I Love You
6) When the Music's Over
7) Unknown Soldier
8) Light My Fire (2)
9) Five To One
10) Alabama Song


The Doors' final TV appearance in 1969 forms the centerpiece of this concert video tie in to the Oliver Stone film THE DOORS (1991). This very entertaining compilation was Ray Manzarek's retaliation to Stone's biopic debacle which effectively portrayed Jim Morrison's downward spiral, yet basically ignored his more human side. This video at least shows that Morrison cared about some people, and that there was a lot working in his mind before drugs and alcohol took their toll. This is one of the Doors calmer and more laid back performances, and yet it is stronger than the HOLLYWOOD BOWL. The final of the MCA Doors trilogy, it is not as good as DANCE ON FIRE. This video is a well assembled finale that sometimes feels like left-overs from the first two episodes. But they are good left-overs. The opening sequence cut together to "The Changeling" is an entertaining ensemble of Doors footage showing the wild side of Jim Morrison and how epic and crazy Doors concert footage can seem.

The PBS television appearance is very informative and it's interesting to see Jim Morrison give his thoughts on music and poetry. But the best part is seeing The Doors perform. Morrison is especially captivating while singing "The Soft Parade". The most entertaining piece of footage is the scene showing The Doors recording "Wild Child" in the studio. It features previously unreleased backstage interviews and notable versions of "The Unknown Soldier" and "Hello, I Love You". We hear the full version of "Build Me a Woman", which is excised on the "Absolutely Live" album. The video is much more potent because Morrison's heart, although it is obviously filled with sadness and devastation, is completely in it. His emotional connection to the music is so intense that "Wishful Sinful", which is basically a pop song, sounds like a Shakespearean ballad when he is singing it. Richard Goldstein of The Village Voice chats with the band about their music, poetry and improvisation. Morrison, with a beard and hiding behind sunglasses, smokes a cigar, and is commanding while speaking softly.


THE BEST OF THE DOORS is basically a collage of videos featured in all three of the MCA Doors trilogy with a few new additions and editing changes. Rather than relying solely on the hits, this collection also mines the darker, and often richer, recesses of The Doors material resulting in a fairly representative statement. Compiled by former Doors keyboard player Ray Manzarek, this home video collects rare live film, television appearances, unreleased footage of recording sessions, and little-seen promotional clips to provide visual documentation of 14 of the group's classic songs. The first video is "Strange Days", which is not in any of the other three. It is a surreal, Fellinisque sideshow to one of the band's darkest, most evocative songs. Doors fans will have a blast with the video's opening, which is the illusion that the cover to the "Strange Days" album has sprung to life. Ray Manzarek, the band's organist, makes a few appearances, most notably as a priest. This is followed by the video for "Break On Through", a publicity clip done for the band's debut album. It is Jim Morrison's first appearance in the video and he makes his presence known.

Next comes an interview clip from 1969 where an older-looking, bearded Morrison talks about poetry and how it is woven into the band's music. The video borrows clips also from LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL and we get footage of Morrison reciting "The Celebration Of The Lizard" and following it with a part of "Spanish Caravan". This is said to be one of The Doors' calmest, least-visceral concerts and aside from the great music, it shows. There is a well-assembled music video for "The Unknown Soldier" which skillfully mixes war footage with Doors concert sequences showing Morrison faking an execution and vomiting blood. "The Changeling" follows, showing the band in super-star mode as they walk through air-ports, perform concerts and talk to fans.

One of the more interesting pieces is footage of the band recording "Wild Child" in the studio. It's interesting to watch them put together the song and sometimes disagree on certain parts. Drummer John Densmore calls the song's ending "the stupidest thing I've ever heard". It's also fun to watch Robby Krieger play his trademark slide guitar for this song. Doors fans will especially want this video for the "Gloria" piece which was banned by MTV when first released but not anymore considering on the 30th anniversary of Morrison's death VH1 aired it. It's a fun, dirty video showing Morrison acting erotic on stage and clips of him with whom I suspect is Pamlera Courson getting intimate in a room. The video is never "pornographic" and it's a fun song. The medley of "Whiskey Bar", "Backdoor Man" and "Five To One" is one of the interesting concert moments, showing the band's ability for some good hard rock.

The "L.A. Woman" video Ray Manzarek directed never amounts to anything as interesting as the others. "Wishful Sinful" could have been left out. It's a good song by Robby Krieger, but not exactly a timeless Doors tune. However, the Ed Sullivan performance of "Light My Fire" is featured and truly evokes the Doors spirit, showing Morrison in black leather defying the Sullivan people and singing "higher" on network TV. Morrison was told backstage, "You'll never be on the Ed Sullivan Show again!" He replied, "Man, we just did the Ed Sullivan show." The real problem was that one of the band members shouted "F**k" at the end of the song. It is loud and very clear, but I AM THE ONLY ONE IN HISTORY WHO HAS EVER MENTIONED IT!

Morrison's last known interview is featured, conducted when he was getting ready to go to trial for supposedly exposing himself at a 1969 Miami concert. This is followed by an atmospheric, stylish and very recent music video done for a cut from "An American Prayer" titled "The Ghost Song". The band members, in their present aged form, perform the song to images of Morrison and dancing Indians. The ending is a fun rendition of "Hello I Love You" showing the band performing in London and a young woman dancing to the tune.

Track Listings:

1) Break On Through
2) Light My Fire
3) Crystal Ship
4) People Are Strange
5) Strange Days
6) Love Me Two Times
7) Five To One
8) Waiting For The Sun
9) Spanish Caravan
10) When The Music's Over
11) Hello I Love You
12) Roadhouse Blues
13) LA Woman
14) Riders On The Storm
15) Touch Me
16) Love Her Madly
17) Unknown Soldier
18.) The End


This is the ultimate critical review of The Doors, on record, on film and live on stage. Drawing on rare film and television archive material, this independent and highly authoritative review revisits and critically reassesses the work of this band from their 1967 debut album "The Doors", to "Strange Days" and "Waiting for the Sun". A leading team of music critics, musicologists and working musicians considers and re-evaluates vintage performances by The Doors and traces the secrets of the bands success. Using archival footage of the band and examination of their music and image, the program's panel seeks to explain the group's success outside the realm of management and labels. Featured tracks include: "Light My Fire", "Break on Through", "The End", "Love Me Two Times", "People are Strange", "When the Musics Over", "Hello I Love You", "Back Door Man", and many more.


Jim Morrison supposedly passed away in 1971, not long after the release of the album "L.A. Woman". Ray Manzarek says on this DVD's liner notes, "This is the tour that never was." The music from "L.A. Woman" was never performed live by The Doors until now and this DVD gives fans small glimpse of what it might have been like to hear these songs live on stage. The Cult’s Ian Astbury was chosen to replace Jim Morrison as singer. The performance was recorded in Houston, Texas, during the band's 2003 world tour. It has a runtime of 102 minutes, which may seem a little short, but there are enough Doors classics like "Light My Fire" and "Riders on the Storm" for the casual fan and the more obscure but equally cool songs like "Hyacinth House" and "The Changeling" to keep the diehard Doors fans glued to every note.

However, this is not The Doors. The project with Astbury fronting the band is a kind of tribute band that they have dubbed The Doors of the 21st Century. They are very upfront about the fact that they are paying tribute to Morrison and this is not an attempt to revive the actual Doors band. Unfortunately missing from the lineup of The Doors of the 21st Century is drummer John Densmore. A very capable drummer named Ty Dennis was chosen to handle the drumming duties for the tour and Angelo Barbera is the bassist for project. Most people don't realize that the Doors did not include a bass player, although a bass player was usually hired for their studio recordings.

As the show kicks off with the gritty riff from "Roadhouse Blues", the adrenaline in the crowd and on stage starts flowing. Astbury, with his convincing Morrison haircut and clothes, takes his place at the microphone stand with two hands on the mic in the famous Morrison pose. His voice is not a dead-on impression of Morrison, but the moves and the look are so strikingly similar that anyone in the front seats at the show might think the ghost of Morrison had leapt into Astbury's body. The mannerisms, the yelps and screams coming from Astbury seem to be coming from somewhere beyond the grave.

As the night progresses and the band rolls through almost the entire L.A. Woman track list, throwing in a few classics from other Doors albums, Astbury's voice warms up and he begins to sound more and more like Morrison. Keyboardist Ray Manzarek, during the extended jam session solo of "Riders on the Storm", pours every once of soul and musical feeling he has into the keyboard and the crowd and band eats it up. As the song transitions, guitarist Robbie Krieger plays a shredding rendition on his signature Gibson SG guitar of one of the most famous solos in all of classic rock. Krieger started as a Flamenco guitarist and never recorded guitar with a pick. This fingerpicking style, combined with a lightly distorted tone, gives Krieger his signature sound that is unmistakable.

The songs "When the Music’s Over" or "The End" would have seemed like obvious choices for the closing song of the night, but the band opted for the tune "Soul Kitchen" from their self-titled debut CD. The lyrics of the songs are so fitting for the end of a show and its upbeat, jamming nature was so infectious that fans started flooding the stage to dance with the band in numbers so large that the security guards were overwhelmed and just let the people rock to the music. This was the ending on a magical evening and the audience was completely in the moment as they were transported back to the tour that should have been in 1972.

The video quality of the DVD is above average for this type of production. It's apparent from the menus and amount of extras on this DVD that it was done on a fairly small budget, but the music and the performance makes this disc a winner. Other than a few short interview clips with Astbury, Krieger and Manzarek, and a photo gallery, there aren't a whole lot of extras on the disc. There is a killer DTS 5.1 mix, as well as a Dolby digital mix that sounds pretty good, too. The performances by the band members are all great. There are a few musical blunders, but that is the nature of this kind of raw, emotional music. Although not a "jam band" by today’s standards, The Doors broke musical ground with their improvisational style that was inspired by jazz. They can go off on musical tangents and then bring things back in one fell swoop. Morrison was a poet first and a singer second. To have his words brought to a live audience again in the form of Ian Astbury is a treat. The set list contains over a dozen classic Doors numbers including "L.A. Woman", "Light My Fire", "Roadhouse Blues", "Love Me Tow Times", "Love Her Madly", and "Riders on the Storm".


This entry features live performances from three rare TV appearances during the height of The Doors' career. Material also includes personal commentary and perspectives by band members Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, John Densmore and manager Danny Sugarman. It includes 12 songs and extensive interview footage of the band. There are never before seen live TV performances from Canada, Europe, and the US, from 1967-69, including the epic show stoppers "The End" and "When The Music's Over", Brecht-Weill's "Alabama Song" and the Willie Dixon blues "Back Door Man" among others. Also included is one of Jim Morrison's only on-camera interviews, shot not long after the notorious March 1969 Miami concert where the charismatic front man was arrested for "lewd and lascivious behavior." Additionally, the film includes latter-day exclusive commentary from the surviving Doors. With their genre-colliding sound and boundary-breaking poetic exploration of psychological, sexual, and political frontiers, the Doors are a fascinating gem in the 1960s rock crown.

In the interview with Jim Morrison, not long after he was arrested in Miami, he has a full beard. The film includes footage from Toronto in 1967, Denmark in 1968, and New York City in 1979. Former Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek compiled and directed this video, which brings together a number of television performances and vintage promotional films of Jim Morrison and the group along with footage of the Doors in concert and previously unseen film of the band at work in the studio. Manzarek also directed a new video for the song "L.A. Woman," which is included in this collection.

Tracks Listing:

1) Break On Through
2) People Are Strange
3) Light My Fire
4) Wild Child
5) L.A. Woman
6) Roadhouse Blues
7) Texas Radio And The Big Beat
8) Love Me Two Times
9) Horse Latitudes
10) Moonlight Drive
11) The End
12) Crystal Ship


This documentary of The Doors is less accessible to non-rock fans than the 1991 THE SOFT PARADE, but more reliable and coherent than Oliver Stone's self-indulgent THE DOORS. This hour long video is based on the Danny Sugerman/Jerry Hopkins biography "No One Here Gets Out Alive". The authors are interviewed extensively, as well as producer Paul Rothchild, and the other Doors: John Densmore, drums, Robbie Krieger, guitar, and Ray Manzarek, keyboards. They discuss the impact of their music and the influence of leader Jim Morrison. Interspersed throughout are rare glimpses of Doors concerts and TV appearances, including the notorious Ed Sullivan Show gig. Musical highlights include "The End", "Moonlight Drive", "Back Door Man", "Crawling Kingsnake", "People are Strange", and "Touch Me". THE DOORS: A TRIBUTE TO JIM MORRISON packs an awful lot into its brief 60 minutes. It's an exhausting trip backward, but a fascinating one.

John Densmore once called Jim Morrison a "Media God". It's too bad that this video is not currently available because it's a revealing look at the Media God. Densmore said that at first he wondered if Jim would be able to perform because he was so shy that he mumbled into the microphone. He also said that Jim would never pace himself. If he had a concert to do, he would show up after being up all night. Sometimes he would roam in the concert halls before a concert, talking to all the fans. After the concert, Jim was known to continue to party. He lived each moment like it was his last, and gave every performance like it was his last. This video also shows Francis Ford Coppolla's "Apocalypse Now" section of "The End," commenting that Jim would have loved how Coppolla used the song.

This is a rough sketch of Morrison's life, with many gaps, but nonetheless interesting. He comes across in the interviews as very intelligent, but somewhat spaced out and naively innocent. By contrast, the other three Doors seem down to earth, and serious, and while they were busy making music, Morrison was experimenting with life itself, even to go as far as sometimes messing up the performances. They reveal how difficult he was to live with: traveling to airports, tours, etc. He was always living on the edge, possessed with a vision of madness and fire and the road to self-destruction. He "packed 50 years of living" in 27 years, and left us a sizable musical and poetic legacy.

The video ends with this Morrison quote from 1969: "Let's just say I was testing the bounds of reality. I was curious to see what would happen. That's all it was: Just curiosity".


This 1968 concert at The Roundhouse in London's Chalk Farm by The Doors was filmed for a British television special and was released in 1991 as director John Sheppard's documentary and concert film THE DOORS ARE OPEN. The Doors are at their peak musically for this concert film, and don't even appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. It's just a straight forward G-rated set of killer tunes delivered with tight precision. The concert film is photographed in moody black & white which helps contribute to the bleak tone of the group’s compositions. Director John Sheppard integrates newsreel footage with the band’s political warnings. Some may find this irksome or distracting from the overall performance of the band.

Also interspersed between songs is interview footage with the band and the media blitz surrounding their arrival in London. Most of the songs on here contain extended jams especially on the sizzling opener "When The Music’s Over", which runs about twelve minutes. Jim Morrison and his haunting lyrics are always a treat, and watching the poetic frontman deliver his messages as only he can--with a wailing and violent anguish will send chills down your spine. Robby Krieger's guitar skills provide the impetus for the band. John Densmore's primal drumming fills out The Doors bottom end. And the band would not be the same were it not for Ray Manzarek, whose keyboard driven precision has become the signature of The Doors. The band plows through their fan favorites like "Five To One", "Spanish Caravan", and "Unknown Soldier", together with their hits "Light My Fire", "Back Door Man", "Hello I Love You", and "When the Music's Over".

THE DOORS ARE OPEN DVD is presented full frame (1.33.1) from a fairly worn print that exhibits an abundance of grain. It's obvious that Pioneer has performed absolutely no clean-up work to this decades old concert footage. The interspersing of the interview snippets and newsreel shots match well with the performance footage because it's all murky black & white. All in all, not a bad transfer given the age and recording technology, but you would think that a company like Pioneer would clean things up a bit. At least they went through the trouble of remastering the soundtrack to Dolby Digital 5.1. Though not quite true CD fidelity, this is quite an improvement over the original mono sound. The production is not overdone and still sounds quite raw and hollow at times. The drums are tinny, yet the bass guitar has plenty of depth. The Roundhouse supposedly has great acoustics and listening to the ambiance here it's easy to hear why. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio imaging allows for some separations effects but don't expect anything truly dynamic. Jim Morrison's vocals are clear and undistorted and well-placed in the mix. Overall a strong acoustic effort considering the 2 track recording originally used to capture the energy and aura of the band.

Despite the minimalisitic approach to THE DOORS ARE OPEN, this concert documentary is more of an accurate portrayal of the band than Oliver Stone’s motion picture. Too bad this performance does not have more classic Doors songs. The major disappointment with this timeless concert event, possibly The Doors best concert film, is that Pioneer didn't put up the cash to improve the visual aspects of the DVD transfer. Also missing are any extras. Thankfully, Pioneer’s audio Dolby Digital 5.1 remastering is superior to their visual presentation, which makes this disc worthy for fans of The Doors.

Friday, July 31, 2009

The Song Remains the Same (1976) * * ¾

THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME is a musical documentary of the hard rock band Led Zeppelin filmed over three nights at New York City's Madison Square Garden in July 1973, but not released theatrically until 1976. Born from the ashes of the Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin combined loud blues with other music such as rock, folk and reggae, and drew upon mysticism and mythology for its material. Considered founders of the genre known as "heavy metal", Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham mesmerize with classic live performances of many of their great songs.

Captured during their tour to promote the "Houses of the Holy" album, they give many fine performances, and the film detours into the lives of the band members. There are clips of the band back stage, as well as interesting "dream sequences" that show the band members in either their real lives or in alternate fantasy worlds. Mostly it's garish and silly, but there are some nice elements, especially insights into John Bonham's life. It's amazing to see Robert Plant atop a galloping black stallion with his luxuriously long blond hair whipping in the breeze.

A cult classic of midnight movies and laser shows from the 1970s, the cinematography does not stick to straightforward images. Concert angles go from straight shots of the whole band, to Robert Plant singing from an under the stage perspective, to a close-up of Jimmy Page making magic. Arguably the best rock band in the world throughout their 12-year reign, they remain one of the most influential and innovative groups in music history. With over 200 million albums sold worldwide, their catalogue is one of the most enduring bodies of musical composition to come out of the 20th century. Led Zeppelin is one of only three artists/groups to have four releases go Diamond, or over 10 million records sold. Their debut album, recorded in less than 30 hours, hit the top ten and every other album since reached number one. The actually untitled "Led Zeppelin IV" is one of the biggest selling recordings of all time, with over 16 and a half million sales to date. Their total sales number over 80 million, second only to the Beatles.

Despite the group's road weariness after a long tour, their final three-night stand at Madison Square Garden in 1973 was full of energy and power. The band admitted to being tired, said that it wasn't nearly their best performance, and they didn't want to release this concert footage as part of the film, but were contractually obligated to. The songs performed are nonetheless terrific, but unfortunately we don't get an unbroken performance here. Viewers have to wade through a mishmash of documentary insight into the band members' lives.

The concert was shot as a psychedelic experience. Cameras shifted, spun, and turned. Virtually every visual effect possible during the age was used to further create a surreal experience. Lighting was usually colored, often multi-colored, as you might expect from a rock concert. Perhaps the best use of lighting was the golden halo given to singer Robert Plant during "Stairway to Heaven". Jimmy Page uses a violin bow with his guitar during a 23-minute-long version of "Dazed and Confused". John Bonham has a drum solo in "Moby Dick" where he uses his bare hands and fingertips for part of it, one of the most unusual and intricate drum solos ever recorded.

Fantasy sequences, shots in outdoor locations, and scenes of home and family were shot later. Interspersed with the concert footage, the home scenes are a bit distracting. Each band member, along with their manager Peter Grant, were given a fantasy sequence. They run the gambit from a confusing mob rub-out to a knight rescuing a damsel in distress, lots of horseback riding in beautiful locales, to pure psychedelic chaos. The first is of Peter Grant, dressed in a 1930s black gangster suit, who drives a black 1928 Pierce-Arrow to a house and blasts everyone with a machine gun. Behind the scenes dramatizations of events were also shot later, and included the fact that nearly a quarter million dollars in cash was stolen from the hotel safe the last night of the tour.

Since late 1969, Led Zeppelin had been planning to film one of their live performances for a projected movie documentary of the band. The group's manager, Peter Grant, believed that they would be better served by the big screen than by television, because he regarded the sound quality of the latter as unsatisfactory. The first attempt was the filming Led Zeppelin's Royal Albert Hall performance on 9 January 1970 by Peter Whitehead and Stanley Dorfman. But the lighting was judged to be mediocre, and the film was shelved. This footage was later remastered and featured on the 2003 release Led Zeppelin DVD.

On the morning of 20 July 1973, during the band's concert tour of the United States, Peter Grant made a contact with Joe Massot, who had previously directed George Harrison's WONDERWALL (1968). Massot was already known to Grant as he and his wife had moved into a house in Berkshire in 1970, where they made friends with their neighbors, Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page and his girlfriend Charlotte Martin. Grant had previously turned down offers by Massot to make a film of the band, but with the huge success of the band's current tour, Grant changed his mind and offered him the job of director. Grant recalled: "It all started in the Sheraton Hotel, Boston. We'd talked about a film for years and Jimmy had known Joe Massot was interested--so we called them and over they came. It was all very quickly arranged."

Joe Massot quickly assembled a crew in time for Led Zeppelin's last leg of the tour starting on 23 July 1973, in Baltimore. He subsequently filmed the group's three concert performances at Madison Square Garden on the nights of 27, 28, and 29 of July 1973. The film was entirely financed by the band and shot on 35mm with a 24-track quadraphonic sound recording. The live footage in the US alone cost $85,000. Plans to film the shows at Madison Square Garden were threatened when the local trades union tried to block the British film crew from working. The band's attorneys negotiated with the union and the crew was eventually allowed to film the concerts.

The footage of the band arriving at the airport in their private jet airliner, The Starship, and traveling in the motor cavalcade to the concert was filmed in Pittsburgh, before their show at Three Rivers Stadium on 24 July 1973. For their three NYC performances, the band members wore exactly the same clothes to facilitate seamless editing of the film, except for John Paul Jones who wore three different sets of attire on each of these nights, which created continuity problems. In an interview in 1997 Jones said that the reason he didn't wear the same stage clothes was that he asked the crew if they would be filming on those nights and was told no. He said, "I'd think not to worry, I'll save the shirt I wore the previous night for the next filming. Then what would happen is that I'd get onstage and see the cameras ready to roll."

Peter Grant was notorious for being protective of his band and their finances. THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME captures an exchange between him and a concert promoter. In the scene, Grant uses the words "f**k" and "c**t" eighteen times. When Warner Bros. approved the film they insisted that these words be 'bleeped' out. The words were inaudible on the submitted film and it was given an appropriate rating. However, on every other print the words were retained and were fully audible

In the scene where Peter Grant is driven to the police station to be questioned about the theft from the safe deposit box at the Drake Hotel, he has his arm outside the police car. According to an interview conducted in 1989, he explained the reason he wasn't handcuffed was that the policeman driving the car used to be a drummer in a semi-professional band which had supported The Yardbirds on one of its US college tours in the late 1960s. Grant was the manager of The Yardbirds at that time. The money stolen from the safe deposit box at the Drake Hotel was never recovered and no one has ever been charged.

The scenes of police chasing a half-naked intruder and of Grant berating the promoter for receiving kickbacks were both shot at the Baltimore Civic Center on 23 July 1973. Grant purportedly recommended the "Dazed and Confused" sequence where the camera zooms into Jimmy Page's eyes and cuts to the fantasy scene.

Unhappy with the progress of the film, Grant had Joe Massot removed from the project and Australian director Peter Clifton was hired in his place in early 1974. Massot was offered a few thousand pounds in compensation. Peter Grant later sent someone to Massot's house to collect the film. However, Massot had hidden the film elsewhere and so instead an expensive editing machine owned by Massot was taken as collateral. Massot served a writ, leading to a period of stalemate which was finally broken when Grant and Led Zeppelin's lawyer Steve Weiss agreed to pay Massot the money he was owed, after which he delivered the film to the band. Massot was not invited to attend the premiere of the film at New York but he attended anyway, buying a ticket from a scalper outside the theater.

Peter Clifton, in recognizing that there were crucial holes in the concert footage, suggested that the entire show be recreated at Shepperton Studios in August 1974, on a mock-up of the Madison Square Garden stage. Close-ups and distance footage of the band members could then be slipped into the live sequences, which made up the bulk of the concert footage seen in the film. The other reason for re-shooting some of the "live" concert was to improve the performances. Led Zeppelin was a great live band, but better in the studio. Robert Plant could only hit his high notes in a studio. Neither the performances nor the music in this film can be considered authentic, because everything has definitely been improved in the studio. When it was agreed that the band would meet at Shepperton Studios for filming, Jones had recently had his hair cut short, so he had to wear a wig. Robert Plant's teeth had also been fixed between the 1973 and 1974 filmings.

In the May 2008 issue of Uncut Magazine, Page recalled the events surrounding the shooting of additional footage at Shepperton Studios: "I'm sort of miming at Shepperton to what I'd played at Madison Square Garden, but of course, although I've got a rough approximation of what I was playing from night to night, it's not exact. So the film that came out in the '70s is a bit warts-and-all."

For both the film and accompanying soundtrack album, the songs were heavily edited, and until both the film and album were re-released in 2007, in some cases versions of a song appearing in the film were different from the one heard on the album. A comprehensive study of how the audio sources for each song were edited is available at The Garden Tapes. Songs performed by the group at the three Madison Square Garden concerts but not included in the original film include "Celebration Day", "The Ocean", "Misty Mountain Hop", "Over the Hills and Far Away" and "Thank You". Some of these songs were included on the soundtrack album of the film and, later, on the Led Zeppelin DVD.

Following the film's completion, the band experienced a major falling out with Peter Clifton. Suspecting that he had stolen negatives of the film, Peter Grant ordered that his house be searched. They did find some footage, but this turned out to be a collection of the best "home movie" footage which Clifton had intended to give to the band members as a gift. Clifton was also annoyed at the decision to remove from the film's credits the names of all the people who had worked on editing, make up and effects. Unlike Massot, however, Clifton was invited to both the New York and London premieres of the film.

In 1976 a midnight screening of the film was organized by Atlantic Records prior to its release, at which label president Ahmet Erteg√ľn reportedly fell asleep. The film was finally completed by early 1976, 18 months behind schedule and over-budget. Peter Grant quipped, "It was the most expensive home movie ever made."

The film premiered on 20 October 1976, at Cinema I in New York and at Warner West End Cinema in London two weeks later. Reviews were lukewarm. Promotional materials stated that the film was "the band's special way of giving their millions of friends what they had been clamouring for--a personal and private tour of Led Zeppelin. For the first time the world has a front row seat on Led Zeppelin." The film was accompanied by the release of a soundtrack album of the same name.

The film performed well at the box office, grossing $200,000 in its first week, and an estimated $10 million by 1977. Despite this, the film received poor reviews from critics for its perceived amateurish production and self-indulgent content, with the fantasy sequences in particular coming in for some of the harshest criticism. The film was particularly unsuccessful in the UK, where the band had not performed live for over two years as a result of being in tax exile. The band were thus unable to promote themselves at home, leaving them out of the public spotlight. However, among fans the film has retained its popularity, largely because until the release of the Led Zeppelin DVD in 2003, THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME was the only official live visual document that followers of the band were able to access. It became a cult favorite at late-night movie houses, and its subsequent release on video and then DVD has ensured a growing base of fans.

Fantasy Sequences:

* Peter Grant and Richard Cole were filmed as hitmen driving towards Hammerwood Park estate in Sussex in a 1928 Pierce-Arrow car. Roy Harper makes an uncredited guest appearance as one of the greedy millionaires portrayed at a business meeting of multi-national corporations. Massot envisioned Grant and Cole in the hitman roles, as it symbolized the tough business decisions they made on behalf of the band. The female passenger wearing a scarf with Peter Grant driving on a country road is his wife, Gloria. Massot had originally shot Grant walking a cameraman around a collection of antique cars, but this footage was quickly abandoned.

* John Paul Jones was filmed first at home with his wife Mo, and reading "Jack and the Beanstalk" to his two daughters, Tamara and Jacinda, before receiving a call to join the band on their American concert. For his fantasy sequence, Jones initially wished to use footage from the DOCTOR SYN (1963) film, but was prevented from doing so as this film was owned by Disney. Instead, his fantasy sequence involved a reinterpretation of the film. Jones portrays a masked gentleman known as "The Scarecrow", who travels at night on horseback with three others and returns home to Sussex, an ordinary family man. The three other horsemen with him are a reference to the other band members. Jimmy Page's girlfriend, Charlotte Martin, and baby daughter Scarlet Page can be briefly seen during the closing moments of this sequence, which was filmed in October 1973. The fantasy accompanies the song "No Quarter".

* Robert Plant was captured relaxing on his Welsh country farm with his wife Maureen, and children Karac and Carmen. His fantasy sequence involves him being a knight rescuing a fair maiden, played by Virginia Parker, who is a symbolic representation for his vision of the ideal--his personal search for the Holy Grail. Scenes from the sword fight were filmed at Raglan Castle in Wales while the sailing, horseback riding and beach scenes were shot at Aberdovey then Merionethshire and now Gwynedd, in October 1973. The fantasy accompanies "The Song Remains the Same" and "The Rain Song".

* Jimmy Page is filmed sitting by a lake next to his 18th century manor at Plumpton, East Sussex, playing a hurdy gurdy. The tune played is called "Autumn Lake" and the scene was filmed in October 1973. Page's fantasy role involved climbing up the face of a snow capped mountain near Boleskine House, Loch Ness during the nights of a full moon on December 10 and 11, 1973.The act was meant to show Page on a quest of self enlightenment, and deep understanding, by seeking out the Hermit, a character featured in the Tarot deck. The mythological Hermit is seen on the summit of the mountain; Staff of wisdom in one hand, and in the other, the Lantern of Knowledge held out abreast over the world below. Being a Threshold Guardian, he represents an obstacle the seeker must overcome to achieve true enlightenment. At the final culmination of Page's quest, he reaches out to touch The Hermit only to discover paradoxically, that he himself is the Hermit.The Hermit features on the artwork or the untitled fourth album. The fantasy accompanies the song "Dazed and Confused".

* John Bonham was shot with his wife Pat and son Jason Bonham on their country estate, Old Hyde Farm in Worcestershire. It is interesting to note that part of his fantasy includes him spending time at home with his family. Bonham was known for falling into deep depressions while on tour away from his family. His heavy drinking, which ultimately resulted in his death, is partly attributed to his homesickness. The game of snooker was shot at The Old Hyde Hotel and the Harley-Davidson riding near Blackpool. His fantasy sequence is the most straightforward of all the members, with Bonham drag racing an AA Fueler at 260mph at Santa Pod Raceway, Wellingborough, Northants, UK, in October 1973. The fantasy accompanies "Moby Dick".

The cast includes: John Bonham, John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, Peter Grant, Richard Cole, Derek Skilton, Colin Rigdon, Jason Bonham, Patricia Bonham, Roy Harper, Carmen Plant, Karac Plant, and Maureen Plant. Peter Clifton and Joe Massot directed.

Page stated: "THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME is not a great film, but there's no point in making excuses. It's just a reasonably honest statement of where we were at that particular time. It's very difficult for me to watch it now, but I'd like to see it in a year's time just to see how it stands up."

Page made good on his promise. When reviewing material for the Led Zeppelin DVD in 2003, he decided to include footage from this same series of concerts. However, other members of the band were less charitable, with Jones later admitting that the film was "a massive compromise" and Plant denouncing it as "a load of bollocks." For all of its technical faults, many today view the film as an interesting historical document that captured the band at a particular point in time when its popularity was about to peak, and, on a more general level, as an accurate representation of the excesses of the music and show-business industries in the 1970s.

The DVD of the film was released on December 31, 1999. It contains an anamorphic widescreen transfer with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. There is little dirt or nicks to mar the original film stock, and little pixelization or artifacts. Colors are bright and flesh tones are fine when the colored lighting hasn't turned them blue or red. Shadows are a bit of a problem. Seeing dark objects against a light background tend to be swallowed into one silhouette looking muddy mess. Otherwise black levels are deep and inky. Imaging ran the gambit from sharp and focused to soft and muddy, though overall was more than adequate.

Although it comes with several audio tracks, including Dolby Digital 2.0, 2.0 analog, PCM, and analog 6.0, reviews are very mixed. None of them gave the type of head-banging thunder you'd want to have watching a Zeppelin concert. I had high hopes for the 6.0 track, which I had to scrounge more cables to hear, but it was muddier than the 2.0 channels, with little use of surrounds. The best two were the PCM and Digital 2.0 tracks, which gave an adequate soundstage across the front, again with little for the surrounds. The subwoofer was utilized throughout but didn't have the punch I wanted. Even the mob rubout scene where machine guns are being fired was underwhelming. It took quite a bit of volume to give Bonham's drums the kick I wanted. There are also one or two dropouts of volume early in the concert footage. Extras are lacking. The disc actually lists the band members, without biography, as a special feature. The only other content is a British theatrical trailer. There are 26 chapter stops at least, which will get you close to whatever you want to see. Jimmy Page has stated that DVD is the format to use for unearthing their archives, and lets hope that better sounding recordings and concert footage will be forthcoming.

On November 20, 2007 Warner Home Video released a new DVD edition of THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME for the first time with all fifteen songs from the original Madison Square Garden concerts. This coincided with the reissue of the accompanying soundtrack to the film, available on CD. The DVD features newly remixed and remastered sound, 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound, and includes more than 40 minutes of added bonus material, including never-before-released performance footage of "Over the Hills and Far Away" and "Celebration Day", plus performances of "Misty Mountain Hop" and "The Ocean", a rare 1976 BBC interview with Robert Plant and Peter Grant, vintage TV footage from the Drake Hotel robbery during the New York concert stand, and a Cameron Crowe radio show. This version was released on standard DVDs as well as Blu-Ray and HD DVD.

A Collector's Edition box set including a T-shirt with the original album cover, placards from the New York shows, and several glossy photographs was released as well. Due to legal complications, the band decided not to change the video portion of the original movie for the re-release. Instead, sound engineer Kevin Shirley created an entirely new mix of the three 1973 Madison Square Garden concerts so that the audio portion of the film would better match the on-screen visuals. The audio on the new CD release is nearly identical to the soundtrack of the new DVD release. One difference is that the songs included on the CDs that were not featured in the original movie are included as bonus tracks on the DVD. The T-Shirt is what holds the DVDs and the extras in the box, which is very thin cardboard. Take the T-Shirt out and you have a large space in the box where the DVDs rattle around.

DISC 1 (Full Feature Concert Performances)

* "Bron-Yr-Aur"
* "Rock and Roll"
* "Black Dog"
* "Since I’ve Been Loving You"
* "No Quarter"
* "The Song Remains the Same"
* "The Rain Song"
* "Dazed and Confused"
* "Stairway to Heaven"
* "Moby Dick"
* "Heartbreaker"
* "Whole Lotta Love"


* Tampa News Report (Airplane Footage of the arrival of the band from the PULSE in Tampa Florida)
* "Over The Hills and Far Away" (never-before-released)
* Boating Down The Thames - Interview with Robert Plant & Peter Grant – BBC vintage footage
* "Celebration Day" (Cutting Copy; never-before-released)
* The Robbery (interview with Peter Grant- vintage footage)
* "Misty Mountain Hop"
* Original Film Trailer
* "The Ocean"
* Radio Profile Spotlight by Cameron Crowe (1976)

DVD Scene Listing:

1) Mob Rubout
2) Mob Town Credits
3) Country Life ("Autumn Lake")
4) "Bron-Yr-Aur"
5) "Rock and Roll"
6) "Black Dog"
7) "Since I've Been Loving You"
8) "No Quarter"
9) Who's Responsible?
10) "The Song Remains the Same"
11) "The Rain Song"
12) Fire and Sword
13) Capturing the Castle
14) Not Quite Backstage Pass
15) "Dazed and Confused"
16) Strung Out
17) Magic in the Night
18) Gate Crasher
19) No Comment
20) "Stairway to Heaven"
21) "Moby Dick"
22) Country Squire Bonham
23) "Heartbreaker"
24) Grand Theft
25) "Whole Lotta Love"
26) End Credits ("Stairway to Heaven")

Thursday, July 30, 2009

GIMME SHELTER (1970) * * ¾

This musical documentary concerns the Rolling Stones and their tragic free concert at Altamont Speedway in the hills west of San Francisco on December 6, 1969. Over 300,000 people attended. The event known as "Woodstock West" was all but destroyed by violence that marked the end of the peace and love euphoria of the 1960s. Altamont degenerated into mayhem when drunken Hells Angels, hired to keep order in front of the stage for $500 of beer, beat concertgoers over their heads with leaded pool cues. The violence was capped by the murder of an 18 year old black man, Meredith Hunter. Captured on film, Hunter's murder cemented the festival's reputation as the official end of the 1960s counterculture. Three others also died that day. GIMME SHELTER showed that the counterculture was not going to redeem or change anything, especially human violence.

Hell's Angel: They told me, if I could sit on the stage so nobody climbed over me, I could drink beer till the show was over.

Brothers Albert and David Maysles with co-director Charlotte Zwerin constructed GIMME SHELTER to lead to the murder. They give away the ending at the beginning of the film, and don't adhere precisely to the chronology of events. The Flying Burrito Brothers played after the Jefferson Airplane. But in order to show the mounting tension and violence at the festival, the film puts the Jefferson Airplane's set before the Flying Burrito Brothers. Jefferson Airplane singer Marty Balin was knocked out by a Hells Angel when he jumped into the crowd to stop a fight. The film makes it appear that the Stones opened their set with "Sympathy for the Devil," which they did not. It also appears that the show concluded after Hunter's stabbing at the end of "Under My Thumb," which it did not. The New York Times, Variety, and Rolling Stone magazine criticized the Stones and the Maysles Brothers for exploiting the murder to their economic advantage. These accusations are as responsible for Altamont's notoriety as the murder itself.

The documentary begins with The Stones doing a bit of dressup spoofery, then cuts to Madison Square Garden for an energetic rendition of "Jumpin Jack Flash", which segues into Charlotte Zwerin's editing suite in London. A bemused Mick Jagger is watching himself on an editing screen. Next Charlie Watts is listening to Sonny Barger make excuses for the Hell's Angels: "I ain't no cop," he snarls, "They were messing with our bikes." Now jump to Jagger, looking very nervous as Barger says Jagger may be fingering the Hells Angels as the perpetrators, but that's not the way he sees it.

GIMME SHELTER depicts some of the Stones' Madison Square Garden concert, later featured on the live album "Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! The Rolling Stones in Concert", as well as the photography session for the cover, featuring Charlie Watts and a donkey. It also shows the Stones at work in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, recording "Brown Sugar" and "Wild Horses". The film also includes footage of Ike and Tina Turner opening for the Stones at their Madison Square Garden concert, with Jagger commenting, "It's nice to have a chick occasionally."

The action then turns to the concert itself at the Altamont Speedway, with security provided by the Hells Angels armed with pool cues. From the moment the Stones arrive at Altamont, we know things are going to turn ugly. In fact, Jagger can't even get from the helicopter to his trailer before he is smacked in the mouth. As the day progresses, with drug-taking and drinking by the Hells Angels and members of the audience, the mood turns very bad. Fights break out during performances by The Flying Burrito Brothers and Jefferson Airplane. Grace Slick pleads with the crowd to settle down. At one point Jefferson Airplane lead singer Marty Balin is knocked out by a Hells Angel. Paul Kantner attempts to confront "the people who hit my lead singer" in response. Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesh arrive, but The Grateful Dead opt not to play after learning of the incident with Balin. Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young also performed at the concert but are not shown in the movie.

There is a brief exchange between a few members of the Grateful Dead. Jerry Garcia is offstage talking with another person about the violence transpiring in front of the stage. Weir rushes over with a brief report. Garcia's response is a druggie cliche: "Oh, bummer." To which Weir adds that Hells Angel's beating up musicians "doesn't seem right." In many ways, this movie created the myth of Altamont, just as the music and movie shaped the myth of Woodstock. Even before the violence starts mounting, the film depicts kids who are far from all right.

The night began smoothly with the Flying Burrito Brothers opening for the Rolling Stones and performing the truck-driving classic "Six Days on the Road" and Tina Turner giving a sensually charged performance. But on this particular evening, the Stones made the disastrous decision to hire the Oakland chapter of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang as bodyguards and bouncers. Halfway through the Stones' act, the Hells Angels stabbed to death one black spectator, and injured several others who were present, including Jefferson Airplane's lead singer Marty Balin.

By the time The Stones hit the stage, it is evening, and the crowd is especially restless. The Stones open with "Jumpin' Jack Flash". They are also shown performing "Sympathy for the Devil" as tension continues to build. It is during the next song, "Under My Thumb", that a member of the audience, 18 year old Meredith Hunter, pulls out a revolver in the course of a melee near the stage, and is stabbed to death by Alan Passaro, a member of the Hells Angels. Mick Jagger is reduced to standing on stage like a frightened child with his finger in his mouth in wake of the violence.

Mick Jagger: Who's fighting and what for?

Baird Bryant, one of the many cameramen at Altamont, caught Meredith Hunter's stabbing on film. The film sequence clearly shows the silhouette of a handgun in Hunter's hand as a member of the Hells Angels enters from the right, grabs and raises the gun hand, turning Hunter around and stabbing him at least twice in the back before pushing the victim off camera. We actually get to see Meredith Hunter being stabbed, zoomed right up close and in slow motion, and unlike the visually degraded Zapruder film, this is shot in glorious 16mm color by a professional cameraman. And it's real. The Maysles used 22 cameramen and 14 Nagra-toting soundmen. Among the camera operators for the Altamont concert was a young George Lucas, who went on to become a successful film director. At the concert his camera jammed after shooting about 100 feet of film, and none of his footage was used in the final cut.

First planned for Golden Gate Park, the free concert was moved to the Sears Point Raceway after its permit was withdrawn. The stage was all but ready at Sears Point when that venue fell through. The deal to perform at Altamont was struck at the last minute, with negotiations that the Maysles reveal to the film audience. In these scenes, the air of desperation to do something that no one can stop is palpable. The final shots of scattering silhouettes are among the most desolate ever put on a movie screen. The dream is over. This picture ends on a despairing note, with the Stones repeatedly watching a film of the murder. Celebrated documentary filmmakers Albert and David Maysles directed and Haskell Wexler shot the film, with heightened instinct and control. As a result, this film is considered one of the greatest rock documentaries ever made.

The film is named after "Gimme Shelter", the lead track from The Rolling Stones' 1969 album "Let It Bleed". It was screened at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival, but wasn't entered into the main competition. This documentary is associated with the Direct Cinema movement of the 1950s and 1960s. The Maysles Brothers, who directed it, are strong figures of the era. Direct Cinema revolves around the philosophy of being a "reactive" filmmaker. Rather than investigating a subject matter through such documentary techniques as interviews, reconstruction and voiceover, Direct Cinema simply records events as they unfold naturally and spontaneously--like a fly on the wall.

Much of the film chronicles the behind-the-scenes dealmaking that took place to make the free Altamont concert happen, including much footage of well-known attorney Melvin Belli negotiating by telephone with the management of the Altamont Speedway. The movie also includes a playback of Hells Angels motorcycle gang leader Ralph "Sonny" Barger's famous call-in to radio station KSAN-FM's "day after" program about the concert.

The Songs Performed:

The Rolling Stones

* "Jumpin' Jack Flash"
* "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction"
* "You Gotta Move"
* "Wild Horses" (in studio at Muscle Shoals)
* "Brown Sugar"
* "Love in Vain"
* "Honky Tonk Women"
* "Street Fighting Man"
* "Sympathy for the Devil"
* "Under My Thumb"
* "Gimme Shelter" (live version, over closing credits)

Ike and Tina Turner: "I've Been Loving You Too Long" (at Madison Square Garden)

Jefferson Airplane: "The Other Side of This Life" (at Altamont)

Flying Burrito Brothers: "Six Days on the Road" (at Altamont)

Unlike C**KSUCKER BLUES (1972), the notorious film of the Stones' 1972 North American tour, GIMME SHELTER reeks of professional technique, clever ideas, and lots of cash. Director/Film Editor Charlotte Zwerin has to be given credit for the film's fascinating structure. She asked members of The Stones to drop round her editing suite and check out the raw footage. They agreed, and cameras were set up to catch their reactions. Suddenly the film changes from a documentary into something doubly voyeuristic. This double removal from the action means the film takes on a timeless feeling, as The Present in the film is forever locked to those moments when The Stones watch the rough cuts and watch The Stones watching the rough cuts. This reveals the story in a normal timeframe, but fragmented into flashbacks. This startling new structure means GIMME SHELTER is not a true documentary, but not really fiction. It's a powerful new combination of reality and fiction, told through action and reaction. This "time bounce" structure also takes advantage of the lack of filmed material Zwerin had to work with. GIMME SHELTER examines the Stones and Altamont with such a cold eye, it seems somehow to be examining itself.

Showing the Stones watching the footage enabled them to deflect charges that they were responsible for the Altamont disaster. "That's bulls**t," Jagger remarks to the onscreen Jagger, who has tried to be charming with a female reporter. Mick has nothing to say as he watches himself tell the media about the free concert, a concert that will show the world a large group of people can get together and behave like idealized hippies.

The cast includes: Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts, Keith Richards, Mick Taylor, Bill Wyman, Marty Balin, Sonny Barger, Melvin Belli, Dick Carter, Jack Casady, Mike Clarke, Sam Cutler, Spencer Dryden, Chris Hillman, John Jaymes, Paul Kantner, Jorma Kaukonen, Pete Kleinow, Bernie Leadon, Gram Parsons, Ronald Schneider, Rock Scully, Grace Slick, Frank Terry, Ike Turner, Tina Turner, Jerry Garcia, Meredith Hunter, Michael Lang, Phil Lesh, Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Alan Passaro, Michael Shrieve, Ian Stewart, and Bob Weir. Directed by Albert Maysles, David Maysles, and Charlotte Zwerin.

There is a lot of music and performing in GIMME SHELTER, but it is not a concert film like WOODSTOCK (1970) which took place four months earlier. GIMME SHELTER was a part of the event it recorded, in fact a commissioned movie. The proceeds were meant to help the Stones pay the costs of the free concert, although they grossed a reported $1.5 million from the other non-free concerts on their tour. Mick Jagger did not attend the London School of Economics for no reason. Cynicism is the pervading force in this 1970 documentary.

The Criterion DVD is overpriced, but you do receive a fair number of extras on this single-sided, double-layered disc. Audio commentary by Albert Maysles (his brother David died in 1987), editor Zwerin, and production collaborator Stanley Goldstein has a wealth of information. For example, Goldstein gives a clear explanation as to how the Hells Angels ended up as the security team, and he debunks myths about why the band went on late. Maysles communicates how he views film composition and the images he and his team managed to capture here. Zwerin offers perhaps the most emotional and insightful dialogue about GIMME SHELTER as she explains how she painstakingly put the film together. All three also offer a great deal of detailed technical information. A brief restoration demonstration offers before-and-after examples of the image, color, and sound restoration used to create this beautiful high-definition release.

There is a full recording of the December 7, 1969 post-Altamont KSAN Radio program with a new introduction by former DJ Stefan Ponek, and an "Altamont Stills Gallery" with photos by Bill Owens and Beth Sunflower. Also there is never before seen footage of the Madison Square Garden show that includes Stones covers of "Little Queenie" and "Prodigal Son," along with backstage outtakes. Tina Turner and Jagger try to talk while Ike seems to be purposely playing his guitar so loud that they can barely hear each other. The original and re-release trailers are included as well as a 44-page booklet with essays by Jagger's former assistant Georgia Bergman, music writers Michael Lydon and Stanley Booth, ex-Oakland Hell's Angels Chapter Head Sonny Barger, and film critics Amy Taubin and Godfrey Cheshire. This film is presented in the original full-frame 1.33:1 and the audio restoration is so good that, in the Dolby Digital 5.1 remix, it sounds like it was recorded yesterday and not on equipment from decades ago.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Kids Are Alright (1979) * * ¾

This musical documentary literally begins with a bang at The Who's only US variety show appearance. On September 15, 1967 the band appeared on THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS COMEDY HOUR on CBS in LA following the end of their first US tour. They lip-synched the songs "I Can See For Miles" and "My Generation" and flustered host Tommy Smothers by refusing to follow the script as he tried to converse with them. Moon made the biggest impact when the destructive nature of his on-stage persona reached its highest level. After The Who's performance of "My Generation", they began smashing their instruments. Moon packed an explosive charge in his bass drum which set Townshend's hair on fire and made him temporarily deaf for 20 minutes, while cymbal shrapnel left a gash in Moon's arm. Townshend then took the acoustic guitar Smothers was holding and smashed it to bits on the ground. Smothers was completely frustrated, but the audience thought the whole performance was staged. Clips of a 1973 interview from London Weekend Television's RUSSEL HARTY PLUS appear six times throughout the film. While Harty delves into the background of the members' lives, Moon again steals the show as he rips off Townshend's shirt sleeve and then strips down to his underwear.

Tom Smothers: And you must be Roger.
Roger Daltrey: Well I must be.
Tom Smothers: Are you?
Roger Daltrey: Yes.
Tom Smothers: And where are you from?
Roger Daltrey: Oz.
Tom Smothers: Roger from Oz?
Roger Daltrey: Yes!

One of the TV interviews included in the film features Ken Russell, the director of the film TOMMY (1975), who makes his mark with his exaggeratedly passionate plea: "I think that Townshend, The Who, Roger Daltrey, Entwistle, Moon could rise this country out of its decadent ambient state better than Wilson or all of those crappy people could ever hope to achieve!"

An early performance from ABC television's SHINDIG! and one of only two surviving tapes from the group's many appearances on the British program READY STEADY GO!, both recorded in 1965, are included along with numerous interview clips from BBC Radio and Radio Bremen of Hamburg. Segments filmed in each of the band member's homes include several conversations between Moon and fellow drummer Ringo Starr.

Ringo Starr: (regarding Keith Moon) Well, I'm sure most of his friends have been on here, cos I'm only one of several, and they've told you about all the mad things he's done in life. Such as, breaking up rooms... driving his car into swimming pools... and driving his car into foyers. Well, I'm not gonna tell you about any of that. I'm just here to tell you about the Keith I know and love.

Keith Moon: (asked about previous jobs) I was a rust repairer. I was a rust repairer and full-time survivor. I survived all the major earthquakes, and the Titanic, and several air crashes. My friends call me Keith, but you can call me John.

Performances from three of the band's largest concert appearances bear witness to the band's progression from the British mod scene to global superstardom. They reluctantly performed at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair on 17 August 1969. It was not an artistic success in the eyes of the band, but it helped "Tommy" become a critical and financial success. The four clips that appear in the film, besides being a completely new cut of the Woodstock performance, without the "split-screen", include three tracks from "Tommy" and "My Generation", topped off by Townshend throwing his guitar into the crowd.

Pete Townshend: When I'm on the stage--let me try to explain--when I'm on the stage, I'm not in control of myself at all. I even don't know who I am. I'm not this rational person that can sit here and talk to you. If you walked on the stage in the middle of a concert for an interview, I'd probably come close to killing you--I have come close to killing people that walked on the stage. Abbie Hofmann walked on the stage at Woodstock and I nearly killed him with me guitar. A cameraman walked... a, a, a policeman came on when the bloody building of the Fillmore in New York was burning down--and I kicked him in the balls and sent him off. It's not like being possessed, you know, it's just--I do my job, and I know that I have to get into a certain state of mind to do it. What first made us want to go to America and..."conquer" it, was being English! It wasn't that we cared a monkey's about the American Dream, or the American drug situation, or the dollars or any of that. It's because we were English kids! And we wanted to go to America and be English!

John Entwistle: We became rich later than I expected. Now I'm too old to enjoy my money.

The Who's 1975 US tour reached its peak before a crowd of 75,962 at the Pontiac Silverdome on 6 December 6, 1975. The images in the film were broadcast to large screens in the stadium so those in the far reaches could actually see the band members on stage.

Pete Townshend: If you steer clear of quality, you're alright.
Interviewer: But wouldn't you say a group like The Beatles have a certain musical quality?
Pete Townshend: Oooh, that's a tough question. Alright, actually, this afternoon, John and I were listening to a stereo LP of The Beatles, in which the voices come out of the one side and the backing track came out of the other. And when you actually hear the backing tracks of The Beatles without their voices, they're flippin' lousy.

Near the end of the film, the band's appearance at the Monterey International Pop Festival on June 18, 1967 brought about their first big media exposure in the United States. In the film, The Who's Monterey Pop appearance cuts away to footage from past concerts depicting the band destroying their equipment before returning to the destructive end of "My Generation".

THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT is a documentary film about the English rock band The Who, including live performances, promotional films and interviews from 1964 to 1978. It chronicles the development of the Who from young British mods in their early R & B period to worldwide arena rock icons. The film begins with the band's American TV debut and continues through into the 1970s with QUADROPHENIA. Twenty-two classic Who tunes are featured, including a special version of the title track, "My Generation", "Magic Bus", "Happy Jack", and "Long Live Rock". Director Jeff Stein, who was just 21 at the time, was given unlimited access to archives of the Who, occasionally butting heads with strong-willed guitarist and songwriter Pete Townsend over the direction of the film. Stein had produced a book of photographs from the band's 1970 tour when he was just 17.

In 1975 he approached Pete Townshend and attempted to convince him of his feature length movie idea. Townshend initially rejected the idea, but was persuaded by the group's manager, Bill Curbishley, to give their cooperation. Then Stein showed the band the 17-minute reel of The Who television appearances he had cobbled together. The band laughed hysterically at the footage, and Stein said, "Townshend was on the floor, banging his head. He and Moon were hysterical. Daltrey's wife was laughing so hard she knocked over the coffee table in the screening room. Their reaction was unbelievable. They loved it. That's when they were really convinced that the movie was worth doing."

Pete Towshend: A definitive end? What do you want me to do? Go out there and fall asleep on stage? Maybe I should go out there and die during my last solo? Or maybe I should hit that motherf**ker who's been yelling for "Magic Bus" over the head with me guitar?" (response to Jeff Stein's request for an encore of "Won't Get Fooled Again")
Jeff Stein: Yeah, that'd be fine.

Stein attempted to create not a linear, chronological documentary, but "a celluloid rock 'n' roll revival meeting" and "a hair-raising rollercoaster ride" that was worthy of the band's reputation. The performances which comprise the body of the film are organized around a number of encounters by the band members with various variety and talk show hosts, Pete Townshend's playful relationship with his fans, admirers and critics, and the endless antics of Keith Moon. Manic drummer Moon, who provides numerous laughs in the film, died a year before the film was released. Singer Roger Daltry said, "Most rock films are pretentious. They're made for the sole purpose of making Robert Plant's dick look big. This is totally the opposite. Within the first half hour we're made to look like complete idiots."

The film was released to theaters in October 1979. When the film was originally released on video, two musical segments were cut, paring it down from 106 minutes to 99 minutes. The 2003 video release restores the film. The performances of "Baba O' Reilly" and "Won't Get Fooled Again" were Keith Moon's last with the band before his death on September 7, 1978. So the film became a sort of "time capsule" for the band, after Keith Moon died only one week after he'd seen the rough cut of the film with Roger Daltrey. After Moon's death, the rough cut didn't suffer a single change, since neither Jeff Stein nor the rest of the band wanted to turn the movie into an homage to remember Moon's passing, but to celebrate his life and career with The Who. They were determined not to change anything.

Sound editing was supervised by bassist John Entwistle and, with the exception of a 1965 performance of "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" where Entwistle had to replace a missing bass track, most of the music is authentic. Entwistle and Townshend overdubed their backing vocals on the Woodstock footage because Entwistle considered the original backup vocals "dire."

The film is raw, edgy and explosive but always professional and focused. It is aggressively loud and consistently unapologetic, and thoroughly committed to its audience, a document of a rock band embracing its successes without ever pandering to its critics or its culture. The film offers no voice-over or neat chronology. And while Pete Townshend is at times visibly tortured by self doubts about the contradictions of pop music, art, money, and authenticity, his band mates were fearless about The Who's mission. Nothing substantial from The Who's career as a live act has been omitted, and even the most obscure performances and most subtle moments contain revelations.

The cast includes: Roger Daltrey (Himself, singer), John Entwistle (Himself, bass), Keith Moon Himself, drummer), Pete Townshend (Himself, guitar and songwriter), Tom Smothers (Himself), Jimmy O'Neill (Himself), Russell Harty (Himself), Melvyn Bragg (Himself), Ringo Starr (Himself), Mary Ann Zabresky (Herself), Michael Leckebusch (Himself), Barry Fantoni (Himself), Jeremy Paxman (Himself), Bob Pridden (Himself), Keith Richards (Himself), Garry McDonald (Norman Gunston), Steve Martin (Himself), Rick Danko (Himself), and Ken Russell (Himself). Incidental music was composed by John Entwistle and Keith Moon. Jeff Stein wrote the script and directed.

The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on 13 May 1979. The Who promoted the release of the film with some live performances with their new drummer Kenney Jones. THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT premiered in the US on 15 June 1979 in the middle of the disaster film era that featured films like EARTHQUAKE (1974), THE POSEIDEN ADVENTURE (1972), and THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974). In this environment, the original press kit for THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT drew on the band's destructive reputation and called it "the world's first rock 'n' roll disaster movie."

Critics generally liked the documentary. Michael Azerrad in Rolling Stone wrote, "Mind-boggling live footage and TV clips offer smashups, trenchant insights and hilarious pratfalls along with some of the most staggeringly powerful rock music you will ever see..." Simo wrote in Variety, "Best by far are the onstage sequences, and the older the footage, the more intriguing..." Mike Clark on USA Today said, "A storehouse of great clips, starting with the rock group's literally explosive performance on The Smothers Brothers Show..." And Janet Maslin of the New York Times wrote, "Wonderfully obscure and diverse footage of the group..."

An album was released as a soundtrack in June 1979 that included some songs and musical performances from the movie. The album reached # 26 in the UK, and fared better in the US where it peaked at # 8 on the Billboard album charts and went Platinum.

For many years the film was released on VHS in an edited 90-minute form. Several scenes were removed and the audio had several pitch problems and dropouts. In 2003, a DVD edition of the film was released. The strange thing about the DVD presentation is that it comes in two distinct and confusing packages that make you choose between a wealth of bonuses in the "Special Edition" or a standard, straightforward no-frills experience in the "Deluxe Edition". A pristine 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer melds many divergent elements (television, video, film, newsreels, and kinescopes) into a panoramic overview of the band's image and history.

The film had been transferred from the restored 35mm interpositive and the audio was extensively restored. In addition to the original film, with English subtitles, on-screen liner notes, commentary with Jeff Stein and DVD producer John Albarian, there is a 27-page booklet. This DVD was released by Pioneer Home Entertainment. Special features are extensive: 100 or so minutes of multiple-angle footage, an insightful interview with Roger Daltrey, a featurette about the film's restoration, and a mesmerizing, isolated John Entwistle audio track. The digitally-restored version of the film was premiered at the New York Film Festival in October 2003 with Daltrey, Lewis, Stein and Alberian in attendance. The DVD contains a bonus disc with over three hours of additional materials:

* "See My Way": Q & A with director Jeff Stein
* "Behind Blue Eyes": Q & A with Roger Daltrey
* "Miracle Cure": Documentary on the restoration of THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT
* "Getting In Tune": Audio comparison of old vs. new)
* "Trick of the Light": Video comparison of old vs. new
* "The Who's London": A tour of Who locations in London
* "The Ox": Isolated tracks of John Entwistle for "Baba O'Riley" and "Won't Get Fooled Again"
* "Anytime You Want Me": Multi-angle feature for "Baba O'Riley" and "Won't Get Fooled Again"
* "Pure and Easy": Trivia game. The prize: A rare recording of Ringo Starr promoting "The Kids Are Alright"
* "It's Hard": Trivia game. The prize: A slide show to the "Who Are You" 5.1 studio mix

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