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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
Lynyrd Skynyrd: Freebird: The Movie & Tribute Tour (1996)

"Lynyrd Skynyrd is about the real world."
- Artimus Pyle

Review By: Jeff Ulmer   
Published: December 27, 2001

Stars: Allen Collins, Steve Gaines, Billy Powel, Artimus Pyle, Gary Rossington, Ronnie Van Zant, Leon Wilkeson, Johnny Van Zant, Randall Hall, Dale Krantz Rossington
Other Stars: JoJo Billingsley, Cassie Gaines, Leslie Hawkins, Teresa Gaines, Judy Van Zant Jenness, Carol Bristow
Director: Jeff G. Waxman

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: PG for for brief drug references
Run Time: 01h:42m:17s/01h:36m:18s
Release Date: December 18, 2001
UPC: 707729120575
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ AA-B- D-

DVD Review

"If I leave here tomorrow|will you still remember me?"

Signed to former Blood, Sweat and Tears member, Al Kooper's Sounds of the South label in 1971, six Jackson, Florida boys (Ronnie Van Zant-vocals, guitarists Gary Rossington and Allen Collins, bassist Leon Wilkinson, keyboard/pianist Billy Powell and drummer Bob Burns), were joined by ex-Strawberry Alarm Clock guitarist Ed King, and released their debut album, Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd in 1973. This three-guitar lineup got its name from that of a former gym coach of Collins, Rossington and Van Zant, who were in high school together. Their first album broke the Top 40, earning gold record status, and featured several great songs, including their tribute to the late Duane Allman, one that would become the band's anthem—Freebird. Their next effort, Second Helping, would hit gold again, led by their answer to Neil Young's Southern Man, in another Lynyrd Skynyrd staple Sweet Home Alabama. With a rerelease of Freebird charting in the Top 20, the line up would make a few changes, as Artimus Pyle would join as replacement drummer, and guitarist Ed King would depart after the sessions for Nuthin' Fancy were finished. That album would break the Top 10, and become the band's third consecutive gold record, on the strength of the single Saturday Night Special.

Following the release of Gimme Back My Bullets(1976) guitarist Steve Gaines, the brother of backup singer Cassie, would join the band, and the band's double live album, One More from the Road would hit platinum. The band was on an unstoppable road to worldwide success, but the fates would decide that the cost of fame would be the ultimate price, when on the night of October 20, 1977, three days into the tour for their fifth studio album, Street Survivors—ironically depicting the band engulfed in flames—their chartered plane crashed into a Mississippi swamp while on route to their next gig, killing Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines and his sister Cassie, their road manager and two pilots, while seriously injuring the rest of the band. Lynyrd Skynyrd had been dealt a devastating blow.

Freebird: The Movie

"I'm as free as a bird now, how 'bout you?"

In 1996, filmmaker Jeff G. Waxman created a documentary in tribute to Lynyrd Skynyrd's fallen members, centering on live footage shot during their 1977 Knebworth Festival show, where they played alongside The Rolling Stones. The band is in top form, with Ronnie Van Zant's haunting stage presence anchoring the triple guitar assault of Gary Rossington, Allen Collins and Steve Gaines. The energy is electric and the performance outstanding. Through this show and tracks from other live dates, the authenticity in their music, and the talent that made up this unit is plainly evident. The live footage is intercut and overdubbed with interviews of those who lost their lives, and from the surviving members and their families. Behind-the-scenes footage, captured on Super 8, also weaves into the story of the band prior to the tragedy that would await them. Presented live are a collection of fifteen of their titles, including their ode to the record industry, Workin' for MCA, along with That Smell, Saturday Night Special, What's Your Name, Sweet Home Alabama, I Ain't the One, Whiskey Rock-A-Roller and the southern national anthem, Freebird.

Although the concert footage is not up to today's standards in technical or production quality, most is very good, if containing some of my personal peeves, like shooting the audience or other band members during the guitar solos. The US footage is in black & white and of lower quality than the color film from Knebworth. Despite some technical deficiencies in both the image and the sound quality, Freebird: The Movie presents Lynyrd Skynyrd for who they were: a hard working band whose rise to fame didn't change their down home, personal character. It is a fitting memorial to some of rock and roll's finest musicians.

Tribute Tour

"I must be travelling on now..."

While the flesh may have died in that Mississippi swamp, the spirit of Lynyrd Skynyrd would live on, and like the pheonix rising from the ashes, the surviving members of the band would return to the stage ten years after the accident to carry on the legacy of their fallen comrades for the Tribute Tour. Reluctantly filling the shoes of his older brother, but with his father's blessing, Johnny Van Zant would take over vocal duties. Billy Powell, Artimus Pyle, Gary Rossington and Leon Wilkinson are joined by guitarists Ed King (who had left the band in 1976) and Randall Hall, who was chosen by Allen Collins as his replacement, after a car accident, which killed his girlfriend, left him paralysed from the waste down. Narrated by Charlie Daniels, this concert features a much better presentation and more solid sound mix, and though there is a respect for those who gave life to the music, the band demonstrates that they can still deliver this powerful Southern rock with authority.

While I might have preferred a little less chatter over the live performance, that which is left intact is brilliant. The songs presented in the Freebird film are given new life here, and they still carry all the power and richness they ever did. The background from the band's parents adds depth to the feature, as does the backstage and behind-the-scenes episodes captured. It is also nice to see Allen Collins, who died in 1989 as a result of complications from his car accident, making an appearance onstage with his bandmates, even if only for a brief moment. The placing of Ronnie's hat on the mic stand for Freebird places context on the cost of the music that will always be the heart of Lynyrd Skynyrd. This is a fitting tribute.

"Won't you fly high, oh freebird, yeah"

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: The image quality on Freebird: The Movie varies with the film stock and locations it was filmed at. The Knebworth footage looks great, though some of the black & white footage shows limitations in its source and black levels vary with the origin of the material. The Super 8 behind-the-scenes footage is understandably grainy with less color fidelity. On the whole, this looks very good, all things considered.

The Tribute Tour provides a much better viewing experience on a technical level, with well saturated colors, solid black levels and a nicely defined image.

Compression issues are nowhere to be found, as both features are well transferred here, though there is some aliasing present on both. Grading is somewhat abitrary due to the wide range of source material used in both presentations. I doubt many will be disappointed by what they get here.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Sound quality again varies with the source. As the live performances featured in Freebird: The Movie were recorded in the mid 1970s, fidelity is acceptable, but not outstanding. Instruments are fairly clear, though there is some strange perceptual issues with guitars occupying parts of the stereo field that don't correspond to the image—most notably Steve Gaines' parts, which sit at extreme left while he plays center or stage right. There are also some odd volume shifts in places, though these are most likely due to the original sound mixes. Considering their origins and vintage, this is understandable, and doesn't detract too much from the viewing experience.

Tribute Tour is much better in sound quality, though there is still a decided lack of bottom end in the frequency spectrum. The mix here does have some notable drawbacks, especially paired with the video, as parts being performed are often not being heard, most frequently the piano, bass or drums. Guitars come through loud and clear, as do Johnny Van Zant's vocals. The sound of the South is delivered quite well.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: No extras are provided, with the menu being the chapter selection screen. The option to play either movie is made awkward by defaulting to the first chapter of the Freebird movie, which requires either backstepping twice to get to the Tribute feature, or stepping through the six chapter stops for Freebird. Direct song access isn't provided for either film.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

With over 36 million albums sold, Lynyrd Skynyrd have become a legend in the history of Southern rock music. While plagued by tragedy, the band survives in its purest form—its music—and this DVD provides an encompassing look at one of America's finest rock and roll outfits, combining vintage live footage and interviews in Freebird: The Movie and a fitting comeback for the Tribute Tour. The South is alive and well in this collection of material from the band's meteoric rise to stardom, and is a must have for Skynyrd fans, as well as any self-respecting Southern rock fan. Y'all com back now, ya hear?


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