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Music Video Distributors presents
"Some strange music draws me in..."
DVD ReviewThe years 1974 through 1976 were important times in the rebirth of American rock music, and it was centered primarily at a roach-infested hole-in-the-wall in New York City called CBGB's. Hilly Kristal's club was the new home to a legion of then unsigned alternative bands, though that term had not yet been coined to describe the music of Talking Heads, Ramones, Television and The Patti Smith Group.In 2001, Music Video Distributors compiled and released two separate, but thematically connected projects on one disc, both of which look back at a time when some of modern music's biggest names were just starting out. These were the bands that inspired the British punk movement, and though the footage is a bit rough, the music speaks volumes.Blank Generation (53m:02s)It's hard to imagine that the only existing footage of the early days of bands like Talking Heads, Blondie and Ramones exists on shaky, grainy black & white 8mm stock. Blank Generation bypasses formal narration, and simply moves from one band to another, letting the images convey the message. Regardless of my initial disappointment at the poor video and audio quality, a second viewing helped me appreciate how Ivan Kral and Amos Poe put this feature together using the crude, soundless footage with intentionally out of synch audio. The effect is distracting, but effective in a disorienting kind of way. This isn't a concert film as much as a video scrapbook, and if you look at it that way it has more raw appeal. Each group is focused on briefly for three or four minutes, and as a fan of these bands I found it somewhat exciting. Blank Generation highlights Patti Smith Group, Television, Ramones, Talking Heads, Tuff Darts, Wayne County, Blondie, Harry Toledo, Marbles, Shirts, Dolls and Heartbreakers.Dancing Barefoot (01h:01m:03s)This documentary, made in 1995, focuses on the various works of Ivan Kral, the legendary Czech guitarist who played with Patti Smith, Iggy Pop and John Cale. Kral, whose narration is supplied in his native Czech with English subtitles, also features dialogue with a whole host of key musicians, including David Byrne, John Cale, Lenny Kaye, Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantz, Debbie Harry, Chris Stein, Johny Ramone, Iggy Pop and, of course, Patti Smith herself.Kral's various musical iterations, from mid-1960 Prague pop-star-wannabe to guitarist in The Patti Smith Group and beyond, is handled with a steady mixture of recollections and insight, and includes some rather interesting backstage footage. The guy is a frigging legend, and it's nice to see him get his just rewards with this detailed documentary. His influence even extends to U2's Bono, who provides a phoned in message extolling his reverence of Kral over the opening and closing credits. If you have never been formally drenched in the music of Patti Smith, and you have a love of rock music, you should find the content here enlightening, even if you are not necessarily a fan.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: Both features are presented in 1.33:1 full-frame, and each have their own share of flaws. Blank Generation consists entirely of grainy 8mm black & white archival footage from 1974 and 1975, and it is decidedly rough. Dancing Barefoot, on the other hand, is a more formal documentary, and has the benefit of a variety of sources to balance out the visual mix. Image quality is inconsistent across both films, but it suits the content well.It's like the equivalent of a rock and roll archeological dig. Some of the finds are not as good as we would like, but they are all we are going to get.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: While the entire disc is presented in a 2-channel stereo mix, only certain moments during Dancing Barefoot actually have any depth. The later works of Ivan Kral, from around 1993, are the only songs that have true dynamic range, other than the modern day interview segments. The audio in Blank Generation, which consists of rough song fragments, is very one-dimensional, with the exception of the Heartbreakers segment near the end. The fidelity shortcomings on Blank Generation are countered by the generally clean audio on the Kral documentary. The audio flaws can be overlooked in lieu of the sheer importance of the bands represented, and their place in music history.
Audio Transfer Grade: C+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 23 cues and remote access
Extras Review: The extras here are five bonus tracks, which are essentially music videos, available with the Play All option. Studio recordings of Perfect Moon, 25th Floor, Bang Bang, Rock and Roll Nigger and Saturday Night are set to archival clips of Kral and the Patti Smith Group.Blank Generation is split into 13 chapters, and Dancing Barefoot into 10.
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsIf I had a time machine, CBGB's circa 1975 would be one of my primary destinations. It seems like ancient history, but in terms of modern music it was white hot. This collection of two very similar short films, both of which chronicle that era, are all we have to look back at these influential bands. At the very least, Dancing Barefoot is reason enough to seek this double-feature disc. If you remember that the Heartbreakers AREN'T Tom Petty's band, then this disc is certainly worth a viewing.
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