Tuesday, December 1, 2015

BURN OUT or FADE AWAY



Doesn’t almost everyone, at one time or another, dream of being a rock star? 
I believe this is just one reason music has had a huge impact in our culture. 
So why not highlight a musical theme with three of the films Doug Pratt reviews in the December Issue of The DVD-LaserDisc Newsletter, including this month’s featured excerpt. 
Three films, three different eras of music. And I believe each one has something to say about the rock star life. 


BOB DYLAN DONT LOOK BACK is a documentary of legendary singer Bob Dylan’s first major tour in 1965 in Britain that includes both his music and off-stage footage, the latter revealing a personal side as he interacts with other people during a transitional period in his career. Mr. Pratt writes that Dylan "kind of grows up before your eyes, allowing his defensive cynicism to subside once he is sure that everything is going well.” 

In The Motels Live At the Whiskey A Go Go 50th Anniversary Special, Pratt covers a concert by the 80s band as they perform in 2014, more than two decades after the band was popular. This is another slice of the rock star story, not about looking back, but about coming to terms with the way things are after your stardom has faded — The MTV channel is now broadcasting more TV shows than the music videos that once made you popular; and many of the fans attending your concert in 2014 have to first make sure they haven’t committed that night to baby sit their grandchildren. 
Mr. Pratt calls the film “a blast of Eighties nostalgia featuring one of the more pleasant bands to come out of the New Wave era.” 
The Motels playing for a live audience in 2014 is the good news scenario in rock and roll music compared to other ways a song can end.  

In this month’s feature excerpt from his Newsletter, Doug Pratt reviews the HBO documentary movie, MONTAGE of HECK about the troubled life and ground breaking music of Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of the era defining rock group, Nirvana. Pratt loves the film because the focus is on Cobain, the person, not the rock star. 
Many of us have dreamed about musical fame, but there’s no way we can imagine what it’s really like when it happens. I believe the tragedy of Kurt Cobain is that his real dream was hoping that being a rock star would make him feel different about who he had become after growing up with broken family bonds and emotional estrangement. However, despite his musical success, Cobain did not end up changing. He even fought at times to remain the same broken person that inspired his creativity. 
While everyone around him only saw the rock star.   




Don’t look back

It is not a hard and fast rule, but it often seems that the greatest artists of a generation were born neither in that generation nor the previous one, but in the fuzzy area between the two.  The Beatles, Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan were not baby boomers, but weren’t generally cognizant of World War II, either.  Both of Kurt Cobain’s parents were also part of that transition, and so Kurt was born on the cusp between the Baby Boomers and Generation X, his art thus inspiring the Xers who were coming into their own right behind him and responding to him as a sort of leader they could relate to.  The excellent biography of Cobain broadcast on HBO, MONTAGE of HECK, which has been released on Blu-ray by Universal Music (UPC#602547368805, $25), is filled with home movies and other personal memorabilia that charts quite clearly Cobain’s cultural growth.  In particular is his exposure to punk music, which, by the time he began imitating punk music on his guitar, had matured to the point where the good bands could be sorted from the lousy ones, but had not yet subsided to the general blip it became in the progress of rock.  The 2015 film, which runs 132 minutes, focuses heavily on Cobain’s family life, not only
because that is often where the memorabilia becomes the thickest in anyone’s history, but because it appears to have profoundly affected his psychological stability, especially getting bounced around after his parents’ divorce, just as he was becoming an adolescent.  In a 13-minute interview with director Brett Morgen
that is included on the set, Morgen explains that he was able to accomplish his comprehensive collection of interviews with Cobain’s family because it was Cobain’s daughter who was serving as producer and organizing the project.  Her grandparents, her aunt (Cobain’s little sister) and her mother (Courtney Love) could 
hardly refuse her request to cooperate.  Morgen was also given carte blanche to paw 

through Cobain’s journals, audio tapes and home movies, and uses them liberally to build a viable portrait of how Cobain’s art came to fruition.  For the audio conversations he uncovered, animation is

employed to illustrate the dialog, and animation is also applied to bring Cobain’s drawings and doodles in his notebooks to life.  
Most shows like this, covering the history of a musician or a band, give lip service to the personal life while they chart the development of each recording and song.  This show sort of does the opposite, but in a good way.  
There is certainly plenty of great music on the soundtrack, and the viewer is fully aware of the progress of Cobain’s career, but things like the formation of his band, Nirvana, kind of happen offstage. When Nirvana first reached the airwaves, it was a stunning advancement in popular music, at once raw and lyrical, and had seemed to come out of nowhere.  What the film does with great success is explain how that incredible synthesis arose from the pain and the love swirling within Cobain himself, and how he was a product of both his heritage and his environment.

The letterboxing has an aspect ratio of about 1.78:1.  The home movies and such are naturally grainy, but the transfer is sharp and the DTS sound has directional separations and is otherwise solid, although, like the picture, the quality of some of the home recordings may discourage a viewer from amplifying the audio too greatly above a comfortable loud.  The optional English subtitles seem to default to ‘on’ and must be suppressed manually.  A terrific 35 minutes of unedited interview footage with his parents, his sister and Love is also included.  Not only is it different from the footage used in the film, and a worthwhile guide to how the film was conceived and executed, but the stories not only bring out even more of the humanity in Cobain, but in each speaker, as well.