Archive for dvd review

a day for revolution

One of the few failings of Soundtrack for a Revolution is its title. While the music that served as a backdrop for the civil rights movement of the 1960s is certainly a key component of this very absorbing 2009 documentary by Bill Guttentag and Danny Sturman, the film is far more an oral history of Martin Luther King Jr.’s non-violent protests in eradicating segregation and the racial unrest that grew from it.

That alone makes the film essential viewing on King’s birthday. One World Films will present a free screening of Soundtrack for a Revolution on Monday at the Kentucky Theatre.

But music still speaks volumes in the film, perhaps more so than Guttentag and Sturman intended (more on that in a moment). The thrust is upon performances of songs of solidarity and protest long associated with the civil rights movement as performed by artists of the present day. But even here, such music is very much a “soundtrack” for the story of the movement itself, which is told by those were witnesses to it – namely Ambassador Andrew Young, Congressman John Lewis and the ever eloquent Julian Bond.

The Rev. Samuel Billy Kyles cuts to the quick, though, when exploring the implausibility of segregation extending to graveyards. “Dead people,” he says soberly, “get along with each other.”

A few of the contemporary performances miss their mark simply because the artists – specifically, Joss Stone, Angie Stone (definitely not related) and Mary Mary – sing over fussy, funkified arrangements that tend to dramatize moments in history that need no artificial embellishment. As such, Angie Stone’s performance of Wade in the Water seems a touch redundant when played almost side by side with newsreel footage of crowds singing the song in the early ‘60s accompanied only by handclaps. The sense of soul in the latter is considerably more profound.

Other performances are almost heartbreaking, especially Richie Havens’ sublimely and spiritually subdued reading of Will the Circle Be Unbroken, which is interspersed with photographs of the individuals – black and white, male and female, adult and child, military and civilian – murdered during the era’s protests.

Turning up the turbulence are The Roots who breathe new but unforced urgency into Ain’t Nobody Gonna Turn Me Around. Later, John Legend, accompanying himself on piano, serves Stayin’ on Freedom as an affirmation as the film concludes with King’s 1968 assasination in Memphis.

But there is a truly frightening musical moment early in the film that quietly underscores the depth of cultural division that existed, especially in the south, prior to the civil rights movement. It’s a film clip designed like a piece of war propaganda titled The Message from Mississippi. It details segregation and racial inequality as absurdly acceptable components of daily life in the early ‘60s. Employed as a backdrop is a bit of orchestral muzak, the kind of music one might have heard on period family TV shows like Leave it to Beaver. It chirps along unassumingly, as if to enforce the fact that social injustice was, in that day, perfectly acceptable, that life in Mississippi was fine just the way it was.

It’s an effectively disgusting reminder that we have indeed traveled far from the days before King’s dream took hold. Luckily the music that Soundtrack for a Revolution can truly call its own, speaks in louder terms of an honest and more lasting truth.   

Soundtrack for a Revolution will be shown at 2 p.m. Monday at the Kentucky Theatre, 214 East Main. Admission is free. Call (859) 231-7924. The film is also available on DVD.

`The Dress’

The Washington Post December 11, 1997 | Meg Dennison My daughter reaches for the worn cotton-knit dress in my closet, yanking it from the hanger to the floor. “How about this one?” she inquires sweetly. go to website easrer dresses

My normal uniform of jeans and T-shirts is wearing on 3-year-old Alison, but that doesn’t deter her from pulling another dress from the closet for me when I decline the cotton knit.

“This one would be bootiful,” she insists. I try another tactic. “Aren’t I beautiful to you because you love me?” I see she’s considering this. She looks at me, then the dress in her hand, then back to me with my unbrushed hair, my frumpy dressing gown, my wool socks that have fallen down below my ankles. “No,” she says firmly, shoving the dress in my direction. Alison believes in dresses for any occasion, a strict outlook on life that I only really began to understand with the arrival of the Christmas Dress. Her grandma sent her the dress to wear for Christmas dinner, a dress-up occasion in our family when I get out of jeans and even put on perfume. The children’s clothes are usually festive reds or greens, in velvet, and sometimes even the very dress that I had worn at the same age. The Christmas Dress that arrived one day in early December was a departure from the traditional. But Alison fell in love with it immediately. It is green gingham with puffed sleeves and a fitted bodice. It has a detachable ruffled white yoke that’s decorated with a hand-painted jolly red-cheeked Santa and elf. When Christmas is over, the yoke comes off and two happy green turtles, painted on the bodice, take over. Alison wore the dress that night. All night. She slept in it and wore it to the park the next day. It was on day three that I knew we were in trouble. “How about this dress today?” I suggested, holding up one of her other favorites. Alison just wasn’t interested. She wore the Christmas dress every day, and a whole bunch of nights, too. It’s hard to describe how much Alison loves this dress. She walks up to complete strangers, runs both hands down over the turtles and skirt, and says, “Do you like my Christmas Dress?” To friends, she doesn’t have to ask. They have, by now, learned to comment on its beauty. As you might imagine, washing the dress has been a problem. Logistically, much harder than snatching a kid’s blanket while she sleeps. I was forced to resort to some serious bribery. “If you let me wash it, I’ll wear a dress today — any dress you want to pick out,” I promised. This approach taught me one thing: As much as Alison dearly wants me to dress up, she wants to wear the Christmas Dress more. A friend said I should be thankful. Her daughter wore a pumpkin outfit for a year. It’s been three seasons now and the Christmas Dress is still a daily favorite. Miraculously, it still fits, although last month my mother had to sew the buttons on tighter and hem it again. The turtles are beginning to fade. We hardly notice it anymore. She wore it last weekend on a hike in the woods, and while the other kids might have thought it was an odd outfit, we saw no problem. It’s no longer catalogue-cute, but it’s a dress that can hold up to the monkey bar climbing and wrestling with a big brother. In fact, I think something here is starting to rub off. The other day I was shopping in the funky secondhand store where I buy my T-shirts and shorts and I found myself reaching past the pastels and grabbing instead a slinky, leopard print blouse. It slipped easily over my head and immediately felt just right. I stood in front of the mirror, admiring the way the gold brought out the blond highlights in my hair. I loved the way the accordion folds fell so nicely on my bare shoulders. This is it, I said. I’ve got to have this. In that moment, standing there in front of the mirror, I knew just how Alison felt. I knew, at last, the power of the Christmas Dress. And I finally had something to wear with those plush purple shoes, the ones with the rhinestones, the ones that Alison loves me to wear. web site easrer dresses

Meg Dennison

40 years ago on the isle of wight

It has often been referred to as the British Woodstock, a mammoth sized music summit designed with the high intentions of defining a generation’s artistic and social identity.

For many, the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival did exactly that, but in ways no one, least of all its audience or organizers, could have foreseen.

Four decades ago this very day, the event got underway. Unlike Woodstock, the Isle of Wight Festival entered its third year in 1970 having already triggered excitement enough to draw 6-digit attendance figures and ample animosity, especially among the locals in what has been termed “a haven of the yachting set.” Relocated at the 11th hour to the hillside East Afton Farm following residential protests , the festival notoriety’s bloomed along with its audience. The turnout was generally quoted at 600,000, though many estimates went higher.

Like Woodstock, the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival is best viewed today as a timepiece of a rapidly imploding counterculture. Attendees tore down gates and crashed the largest pop party of its generation, insuring a financial collapse that was all but inevitable in the first place. There were no melees, no riots. But the vibe wasn’t there.

By 1970, the idealism of the late ‘60s has vanished along with the decade itself. It was a greyer, meaner time. At Woodstock, promoters welcomed gate crashers to the party. At Isle of Wight, emcees openly branded patrons as “pigs.” American songstress Joni Mitchell cut to the chase, dismissing the crowd as “tourists.” 

jimi hendrix at the 1970 isle of wight festival.

jimi hendrix at the isle of wight festival.

The music, of course, was glorious. It reflected the dark energy of the times (in a very literal sense, during a dimly lit evening set by The Doors), mirrored the intensity of Woodstock’s greatest moments (with a volcanic set by The Who, still at the height of its powers) and introduced a new legion of artists that would carve out stylistic turf of their own throughout the decade ahead (Rory Gallagher, Free, Jethro Tull).

For some, Isle of Wight was a beginning. Prog-pop eccentrics Emerson, Lake & Palmer played what was only its second gig as a band there. For others, it was a farewell. A mere 18 days after his performance, Jimi Hendrix died.

A mountain of recordings have surfaced from Isle of Wight, much of it within the last few years. Complete DVD festival sets by The Who, Jethro Tull, The Moody Blues, Miles Davis, Emerson, Lake & Palmer and, most recently, Leonard Cohen are available.

Two video documents serve as essential viewing/listening. The first is Message to Love, a remarkable documentary filled with sublime performances and often deflating insight into the festival’s set-up and the collapsing generation it was designed for.

The second is Wild Blue Angel, which chronicles Hendrix’s performance. The guitarist sounds technically ragged throughout. But stylistically, it’s an amazing set that suggests a powerful rhythmic shift away from the flash and fire of The Jimi Hendrix Experience and a growing fascination with jazz and funk. Clearly, Hendrix’s creative drive never faded during his final weeks.

The Isle of Wight Festival has been resurrected in recent years and lives today as a comparatively modest-sized gathering. This year it was held in June with Paul McCartney headlining. But for a vivid glimpse into an altogether different pop mood, search out any of the eight available DVD recordings of the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, an event that encapsulates a generational spirit that was fading almost as fast as the late summer nights that surrounded it.

memoir of a gathering storm

Music DVDs tend to try my patience. Only seldom do they provide any serious clue to the intensity or innovations of an actual performance, operating instead as cloying snapshots. But in an historical context, when a great band from the past is presented in concert, DVDs become archival finds – unassuming keys into the workings of an artist.

And so we have a magnificent new find: a 1971 television performance presented initially for Germany’s famed Beat Club program by the groundbreaking jazz fusion ensemble Weather Report.

Titled simply Live in Hamburg 1971, it presents to us the earliest available live glimpse of the band. This was far from the beefy fusion and electronics showcase that marked Weather Report’s music, exemplary as it was, in the latter part of the decade. It instead presents a group that is less than a year old and still clinging to the atmospheric and heavily improvisational air initiated by Miles Davis’ landmark In a Silent Way album.

The DVD is a crisp video chronicle of what is nearly the band’s original lineup in concert. Only Airto Moreira is missing, having been recently replaced by the outstanding Dom Um Romao. In the Weather Report timeline, Live in Hamburg 1971 presents a band preparing its second album, I Sing the Body Electric, with a young Alphonse Mouzon nearing the end of his tenure. Czech-born Miroslav Vitous still handles bass – acoustic as well as electric – alongside the members who would become Weather Report’s chief meteorologists – keyboardist Josef Zawinul and saxophonist Wayne Shorter (both veterans of In a Silent Way, by the way).

The Hamburg studio is stark and applause-less, providing the 48 minute performance with a profound intimacy, from Mouzon’s merry grooves on the opening Umbrellas to Shorter’s very studied lines on tenor and soprano saxophone during Waterfall. His solos eventually collide exquisitely with the organic grooves set forth by Vitous’ acoustic bass bounce and Rumao’s eager percussive chatter.

Zawinul, as always, is the wily one. His keyboard arsenal is limited mostly to Fender Rhodes piano, which provides a light but ominous ambience that bubbles like lava under the very Miles-esque propulsion of Seventh Arrow. But at the beginning the 10 churning minutes that make up the improvisations surrounding Dr. Honoris Causa, Zawinul summons darker, punctuated keyboard drive – an evil twin, almost to the Rhodes’ animated lyricism – that could pass for clavinet if the resulting music wasn’t so thick and, well, nasty.

Zawinul and Rumao have since left us. But their abundant musical cunning abounds on this magnificent bit of musical time tripping, a slice of artistic invention that lands us back in the eye of a jazz hurricane already in devilish, unstoppable motion.

spending the fourth with the boss

With July 4th festivities, work duties, rehearsals and the like all concluded, I devoted the holiday’s late evening hours bridging American and British cultures in true Independence Day fashion by giving a spin to the new Bruce Springsteen concert DVD, London Calling.

Recorded just over a year ago (June 28, 2009, to be exact) at London’s Hyde Park before a sea of fans as seemingly tireless as Springsteen, the two disc, three hour set confirms again that The Boss’ onstage energy is every bit as solemn, arresting and combustible now that he has entered his 60s as it was during the early glory days of the E Street Band that are now over three decades behind us.

I’ve seen Springsteen with the E Streeters maybe 15 times since 1976. Every new addition to that list has never been less than astounding. In short, not even a veteran fan can fully grasp the extent of The Boss’ performance bravado until he witnesses it again. That’s exactly the impression London Calling evokes.

Springsteen stakes his turf within the DVD’s first few songs. First, an appropriately ragged show-opening cover of The Clash’s London Calling plays directly to the fans, who call out the tune’s “I live by the river” chorus as if the song were one of The Boss’ own hits. The tune slides immediately into Badlands, switching one anthemic gem out for another.

The E Streeters ignite the punctuated groove of She’s the One only minutes later, allowing Springsteen to summon the spirit of Bo Diddley as wildly, vividly and solemnly as they did with the ghost of The Clash’s Joe Strummer a few songs earlier.

And so it went, with Springsteen and the crowd working as one. The fans sang along with Outlaw Pete, one of only two songs offered from 2009’s Working on a Dream album, as if it were a monster hit. They held tough with The Boss as he churned out Seeds and Youngstown, decade-old laments for hard working times that bear a severe new topicality. They listened attentively at summery romance deflated during Racing in the Street. And they cheered like maniacs as Clarence Clemons blew his saxophone mightily into an English sunset during Jungleland.

There was only the merest suggestion that the years might be catching up with Springsteen. And he chose to make the most of it. The jubilant chorus of Out in the Street called for The Boss to race across ramps that led him directly into the stadium sized crowd. But after scaling a mighty bank of steps to return to the stage, he appeared understandably winded.

“I need a (expletive) elevator. I’m (expletive) 60!” And with that The Boss buckled down and rocked like a madman for another 2 ½ hours.


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