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MPI Networks presents
"I woke up in the ambulance, right, and there wasn't nothin' but white people staring down at me. I said, 'Ain't this a bitch? I went and died and wound up in the wrong motherf---in' heaven.'"
DVD ReviewFor better or for worse, Richard Pryor is a legitimate American icon. An honest and vulgar comedian, he is also a groundbreaker whose work has inspired thousands of modern-day practitioners of comedy. Without Richard, we likely would have never seen Eddie Murphy or Chris Rock or numerous other prominent comedians, not all of them black. Richard Pryor's long career has been prolific. He has released twenty-two comedy albums. He has appeared in almost fifty films from his first in 1967 to his last 30 years later. In 1977, he even had his own primetime television series.
Some of the greatest comedic films ever released bore his name on the marquee. Notable film titles have included Silver Streak, The Wiz, Wholly Moses, Stir Crazy, Bustin' Loose, The Toy, Brewster's Millions, and See No Evil, Hear No Evil. His list of film co-stars is a veritable who's-who of comedic notables, including Jackie Gleason, George Carlin, Gene Wilder, John Candy, Dudley Moore, Walter Matthau, Madeline Kahn, Dom DeLuise, Dana Carvey, Eddie Murphy, Red Foxx, and so on.
Alas, Richard Pryor's life, from his birth in 1940 to present, has been marred both by tragic health problems and by self-destructive behavior. In 1977, he had his first evidence of serious heart problems. In 1978, he had a run-in with police after shooting up his own car while in a drunken rage to prevent his then-wife from leaving him. In 1979, he started freebasing cocaine. In 1980, he set himself on fire while heavily under the influence of drugs and spent several weeks recovering in a burn unit. In 1986 he was first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. In 1991, he had to undergo quadruple-bypass surgery. He has been married six times to five women and has six children.
Because of his battle with MS, Pryor's public appearances have been relatively few and far between in the past five years. When last I saw him, he was receiving the 1998 Mark Twain Prize during a 1999 Comedy Central special. He was so enfeebled that he was incapable of speaking or doing more than offering faint hand gestures in appreciation of the honor.
Richard Pryor was also a pioneer in the arena of stand-up comedy theatrical films. Pryor released a total of four feature length stand-up comedy concerts. His first, Richard Pryor: Live in Concert was released in 1979. Subsequent concert films from Pryor have been 1982's Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip, 1983's Richard Pryor Here and Now, and 1985's Richard Pryor: Live and Smokin' (which was comprised of footage filmed in 1971).
Filmed at the Terrace Theatre in Long Beach, CA, Richard Pryor: Live in Concert is entirely comprised of concert footage. As with virtually all Pryor stand-up, the profanity runs thick and the content is very adult-oriented. Pryor covers a wide variety of topics, including his recent arrest for assault with a deadly weapon for shooting up his own car. Other topics include dogs, his first heart attack, funerals, being a parent, his stint as an amateur boxer, and his experience of climbing into the ring with Mohammed Ali during a charity boxing event.
Taste in comedy is one of the most subjective topics on earth, but I found this concert to be amusing but not particularly uproarious. Profanity in comedy was hardly invented by Pryor, but in 1979 it was still somewhat of a novelty. I can vividly recall the delicious joy I experienced in my clandestine exposures to Pryor's material while still a child in the late 70s and early 80s. However, looking back on such material now, I was immediately struck by his overuse of profanity as a comedic vehicle in and of itself. While viewing this film, I grinned on a number of occasions, but very rarely found myself laughing out loud. Comedy, like other mediums of entertainment (or art, if you will), has advanced greatly in the past twenty years. As such, this material, while classic, proved rather dated for my palette.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B-
Image Transfer Review: The video transfer of Richard Pryor: Live in Concert is, in a word, poor. The most notable problem this image suffers from is severe ghosting. As Pryor moves across the stage, his shirt and hair follow behind him. This problem occurs consistently throughout the entire film and is very distracting. The colors are very muted, black levels are substandard, and the film is sometimes rather grainy. Some film number of film blemishes are also present. For several long stretches of the film, the video and audio are out of sequence, sometimes dramatically. These "lip-syncing" issues also proved to be very distracting at times.
While the original footage that this DVD was manufactured from was undoubtedly of less than stellar quality, there does not appear to have been any effort made to re-master the image. Furthermore, I strongly suspect that some of the problems with this transfer, namely the omnipresent ghosting, resulted not from inadequacies with the source material but from the analog to digital conversion of the image.
Image Transfer Grade: D
Audio Transfer Review: The audio transfer, while advertised as stereo, is primarily just mono sound split to two channels. This is actually somewhat understandable considering the age and likely condition of the source. While not particularly crisp and clean and generally unexceptional, the audio is adequate for the material. Volume levels maintain a natural consistency throughout. Audience noises are muddled but not distorted.
Again, there does not appear to be any attempt to re-master the transfer.
Audio Transfer Grade: C
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, and Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Extras Review: Richard Pryor: Live in Concert is very light on extras, but does contain a fair amount of text-based biographic data on Pryor. Four separate sections are provided. Biography contains a sub-sectioned brief biography of Richard Pryor. Movie Credits contains a filmography subdivided into sections on acting, directing, writing, and producing. Notable TV Performances and Albums are pretty self-explanatory. The static menu screens are attractive but unexceptional.
Unfortunately, this disc suffers from some very poor menu design. For example, the biography section is broken up into several subsections; Born, Childhood, Marriages, Children, and Health Problems. Some subsections, like Childhood are multiple screens long while others, like Born are just a single screen in length. The content would have been better served with a single, well-written biography instead of these totally unnecessary, and rather clumsy, subsections. Furthermore, the navigation button behavior is just silly. When I accessed the Childhood subsection of the biography, I discovered that the subsequent screens always default to the "main menu" button instead of the next screen button (requiring that I right cursor twice just to advance to the next screen in the series) and that there is no "return to biography menu" button at all. Once I had proceeded to the fourth screen under this section, the only two options available to return to the biography menu and read the next section were to hit the "back one screen" button four times or to hit the "main menu" button and then re-enter the biography section from the front end. While all of this presents only a minor annoyance to the viewer, it does indicate that very little thought went into the menu design on this disc.
I have also have some reason to question both the quality and the accuracy of some of the information provided. The Marriages and Children sections of the biography are simply lists of names, with no additional data (such as dates of birth or marriage years) provided at all. This is yet another reason why a single, well-written biography would have been preferable. The Albums section lists only fourteen albums. I have since discovered from other sources that Pryor actually released twenty-two albums. Where are the other six? If you are looking for a well-written, elaborative, and accurate look at the life and career of Richard Pryor, you will not find it on this disc.
Also worth a brief mention are the subtitles. Functionally, they are fine. However, the timing on the titles in relation to the speech of the film is poor. Oft times they flash by so quickly that they are nearly impossible to read. Again, I chalk this up to poor design.
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsIn a 1998 Salon.com article about Richard Pryor, columnist Jill Nelson said, "Richard Pryor is both the best and worst of a time gone but not forgotten, a reflection of our own passions, fears and self-destruction." I think this sums up the man quite nicely.
I have had reason to be rather critical of this DVD release of Richard Pryor: Live in Concert. However, if you are a fan of his stand-up and want another look at one of his vintage concert performances, this disc is likely for you. Some of its faults are glaring (and were this a special effects laden film instead of a 20-year old concert film, these faults might be fatal), but they should not completely prevent you from enjoying 78 minutes of one of the great masters of comedy at work.
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