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"It's not people just saying, 'You'll disappoint your fans if you don't go on....the show must go on; you must go on otherwise all those people will be so upset.' It's, 'You've gotta go on, man! Otherwise, all those kids, they'll be finished! They'll have nothing to live for!' That's rock and roll."
DVD ReviewThere comes a time in one's musical adolescence when you go from casual observer to committed fan. Thanks to The Kids Are Alright, that transition happened to me overnight, but not in the way you might think. To be honest, I wasn't really all that enamored by the radio singles from their early repertoire that managed to scrape the top 40 playlist in my rock and roll challenged hometown. Happy Jack may have been a polite little ditty, but to these ears at the time, it didn't hold a candle to Last Train to Clarksville.
Hear me out.
Even Ken Russell's gloriously overblown big screen interpretation of Tommy failed to sway me; heck, I was more excited about seeing Elton John wailing Pinball Wizard in those oversized platforms. But you know the old saying that a new love finds you when you least expect it? One night while scanning the AM frequency to alleviate the doldrums of an unexciting Sunday evening, I came across the clear channel signal of then-legendary Chicago broadcasting giant WLS. As a big fan of Casey Kasem's American Top 40, I naturally gravitated to the classic rock countdown the station was in the midst of. Being the chart geek/musical history buff that I am, in most cases, I'm able to recall facts, figures, and song selections in my memory bank involving moments like that. Yet, I can recall only one piece of music from that particular listening experience in the form of a song making its debut to my ears that evening: Won't Get Fooled Again.
From it's hypnotic opening synthesizer riffs that refused to exit your mind for days to Moon's climatic snare roll that cued Roger Daltrey's larynx-threatening primal scream, not even the sonically challenged signal emerging from my rinky-dink stereo could dilute its lightning. At that moment, I became a Who fan (happily coinciding with the release shortly thereafter of Who Are You, still one of my favorites all these years later).
In praising A Hard Day's Night, one critic hailed it as "the Citizen Kane of jukebox musicals." In the case of The Kids Are Alright, I'll rank director Jeff Stein's 1979 masterpiece at the top of the pops as the Hard Day's Night of musical documentaries. Like that film, Kids has a reckless energy, spirit, and feel all its own. Thanks to Pioneer's brand new double disc special edition, this non-linear, chronology-is-for-the-dogs, attention-deficit-defying rock and roll funhouse ride looks, sounds and shines brighter than it did at the time of its original unleashing.
Since The Who were not cut from the same mold as their fellow 1960s British invaders, the lack of a point A to point B approach of Kids couldn't be more appropriate; it's a glory days career overview in the loosest sense and more visually equivalent to a killer mix tape compiled by a dyed-in-the-wool fan who dares to forgo the occasional warhorse crowd pleaser in favor of more meaningful, more powerful (and often times, vastly superior) album cuts. Save for the somewhat surprising omission of Quadrophenia-era material, all the other periods of the band's legendary oeuvre are well represented via classic television appearances (the now-famously explosive Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour performance of My Generation), stunning live performances (including a triple Woodstock whammy of See Me, Feel Me, Pinball Wizard, and Sparks) and music videos, or as they were known back in the day, promotional films (a Monkees-like Happy Jack and a fun, live-in-the-studio rendition of Who Are You). But all music and no instrumental carnage/wacky repartee makes for a very dull group of lads, so what's a Who movie without a stick penetrated drum skin here or a severed guitar fretboard there? (No wonder Kids was billed promotionally as "the first rock 'n' roll disaster movie.")
But beyond the smashed instruments and brilliant music, four distinct personalities emerge: The initially pompous Pete Townshend, who matured into one of rock's finest songwriters and a passionate, eloquent spokesman for his craft; John Entwistle's so-called "quiet" demeanor that seemed wildly at odds with his multi-instrument capabilities and excellent harmony singing; the flowering of Roger Daltrey into a confident, microphone twirling world class belter, and Keith Moon, one of rock history's most unforgettable, colorful characters in every sense of the word; a drummer with no equal whose wild exploits, both on and off stage sometimes garnered more attention than his musical abilities.
Effectively scattered throughout the film are many moments that bring forth their quirkily endearing characteristics, both collectively and individually: out-of-control talk show appearances, hilarious individual interview snippets (including a priceless bit where Townshend comes "this" close to nodding off in the middle of a host's long-winded statement on the significance of Tommy), and wacky comedy (a seemingly tranquil walk with Entwistle through his mansion leads to target practice in the yard with catapulted gold records on the receiving end; I've always felt this bit was a wicked jab at the silly fantasy sequences in Led Zeppelin's The Song Remains the Same). One such sequence that I've never forgotten is the semi-summit meeting between Moon and Ringo Starr. Sauced out of their noggins, excerpts from this one-on-one gone hilariously wrong may be the high points of the between song patter, reaching an apex when Moon searches for the words to describe the "magic" that looms about when in the company of the former mop-top, prompting Starr to crack, "Probably because we're drunk."
Like a loving uncle who can't say enough good things about a cherished nephew or niece, I could go on and on about The Kids Are Alright for a fortnight. But that would destroy the effect for those who haven't been reunited with the film in years and ruin the wonder of discovery for the uninitiated—and for those in that latter camp, I envy you; may you air guitar and phantom drum just as hard as this former geeky teenager did many summers ago. As for the select few who don't become complete converts, I will hope you at least walk away with a finer appreciation for a group of musicians that dared to be different from their more accessible peers, to create a musical legacy so powerful, that not even the passing of two founding members can dilute its thunder.
Entwistle and Moon are dead, they say. Long live rock, long live The Who, long live The Kids Are Alright.
Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+
Image Transfer Review: If you own any previous home video incarnation of The Kids Are Alright, you may now do away with them however you wish. Emulate a Townshend guitar thrashing ritual in the privacy of your living room, hurl them in the vicinity of your cranky noise complaining next-door neighbor or use them for target practice (laser disc versions will really come in handy here).
Having been exposed to the film as much as I have over the years, let me just say to longtime brethren that you're going to leap higher than Pete Townshend on a good day at the sight of this transfer. Taken from an original negative that was once thought to be lost and polished up by Post Logic's Larry Yore and Tim Gallegos, it's one of the most stunning makeovers given to a film of this type. That's saying a lot, because anyone familiar with Kids knows that all the vintage material comes from every source imaginable (8mm, 16mm, 35mm, kinescopes, home movies, 2-inch video, etc.), and while removing all traces of imperfections would have been impossible, the fact that a herculean effort was made to take out as many scratches, debris, and tears as possible without compromising the image is beyond commendable.
Another example is the intricate level of color correction given to certain segments that have always looked a tad off (even before that abomination of a home video version devotees have rightly whined about over the years). During broadcasting's change over from black-and-white to color, like any new technological innovation, it went through growing pains; even a casual observer could point out the differences in skin color when a camera transition occurred. But thanks to the marvels of technology, such moments in this film (the famous Smothers Brothers and Russell Harty Plus appearances being the best examples) now sport permanent consistency.
But ah, what would a Who-related product be without a little potential controversy? In an interesting move, producer John Albarian chose to have all the "fake" color drained from mismatched black-and-white segments, which leaves us with a true representation of what these moments looked like on television when originally transmitted. Another interesting reconfiguration comes during the band's classic performance of A Quick One (While He's Away). Old timers like me recall the picture of that sequence being about the size of a Cracker Jack prize tattoo (see our accompanying interview with Albarian for specifics). Surrounded by a flashing marquee effect, I always felt the visual trickery took away from the intensity of that performance. So, the picture in this bit has been blown up to match the disc's 1:85 aspect ratio with all traces of those distracting lights now removed. Purists will probably quibble, but despite the increased grain, the band is just so bloody good here, the majority will not care.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: Being one of the first films to be released in Dolby Stereo, The Kids Are Alright's sound mix was pretty much state of the art at the time, despite sometimes iffy, crackling source material. Nearly 25 years later, that original soundtrack sounds like a murky bootleg as evidenced by a splendid DTS mix offered here. A Dolby Digital 5.1 option and old-fashioned Dolby Stereo are included, but these should be reserved for those who do not have DTS available.
I can honestly say the music in this movie has never sounded better or more pure (the latter is a word not usually associated with The Who's brand of rock, but it's true in this case). Distortion has been lessened on much of the early material (Anytime, Anyhow, Anywhere and Young Man Blues being two notable examples) without sounding lifeless as a result. Performances compiled closer to the time of the movie, including the legendary Woodstock performances and Ramport material come across brilliantly (particularly the live renditions of Baba O'Reily and Won't Get Fooled Again from the latter show, which were mixed into discreet 5.1 from the multi-tracks by noted Who re-mastering engineer Jon Astley). Though most will prefer the warmth of the Dolby Digital option, the music sounds much more empowered to me via the more pronounced highs DTS offers. Both are expertly done, brimming with gusto from the dynamic imagery of the fronts to the resonance emerging from the rears. Also, not once did I have to crank up the center channel or increase the master volume to hear what was being said in the interview segments, which is not always the case in musical presentations like this. The DVD audio genius who handled this project is POP Sound's Ted Hall (who's only done, oh, Yellow Submarine, The Last Waltz and many Spielberg titles; just the usual stuff that gets nothing but raves).
All problems associated with speed caused by the clashing of the differing American and U.K. formats have been thankfully eliminated; everything plays at the correct speed from top to bottom.
Audio Transfer Grade: A+
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 43 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Jeff Stein, Martin Lewis (moderator) and DVD Producer John Albarian
Packaging: Amaray Double
Layers Switch: 00h:52m:34s
Disc One's sole bonus is an excellent commentary track featuring director Jeff Stein, moderator Martin Lewis, and DVD producer John Albarian. Although the latter two participants chime in every so often, this is Stein's showcase all the way—a virtual walking and talking Who encyclopedia. With only two noticeable and brief gaps, he's chock full of fascinating behind-the-scenes details and memories from a project that began taking shape when he reached the age of thirteen. Though I hesitate to give too much away, some of my favorite tales included the riotous reaction of the band after viewing a demo reel that pretty much cemented Stein's role in the film, rescuing footage from a December 1969 London performance (which gave us the blistering, aforementioned Young Man Blues), crossing paths with former Beatles Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney, the tension involved in locating unseen Woodstock footage and, most importantly, refusing to tamper with one frame of film after Keith Moon's passing, a move that is the main reason why this movie will forever retain its power for generations to come.
Moving on to bells and whistles laden second disc, See My Way: Q&A with Jeff Stein continues in the vein of the commentary via a rare on-camera talk with the director. Here's how fascinating this guy is: I couldn't stop watching. In a league with Cameron Crowe, Stein is the personification of a fan's fan. Although a lot of material from the opening disc chatfest comes up again, he's able to expand upon certain tales without the distraction of a movie to keep pace with. Although this 29-minute feature is nicely broken up in a selectable question format, if you're like me, you'll want to soak it all up in one setting via the Play All option.
Miracle Cure: Restoring the Film for DVD is one of the finest "making-of" pieces I've ever seen; a true "must-see" for anyone even remotely interested in the inner workings of prepping and restoring a film for DVD. Featuring appearances by all the main players that brought this movie back to its opening night luster, we're taken to some of the best sound and audio facilities in the business (including a brief peek at The Who's film archives in Norwich, England). Watching these pros work their magic with various technological toys while explaining their duties in layman's terms, this feature shows just how much work is involved in making a first class product (and more importantly, how to do it right).
Getting In Tune: Audio Showdown and Trick of the Light: Picture Showdown offers side-by-side comparisons that offer ample proof of just how badly Kids was previously botched for home video consumptions; speeded up vocals, tinny sound, multi-generational visuals and more haze than L.A. on a bad day.
The Ox: An Isolated Track of John's Bass Feed pays homage to the instrumental finesse of a bass player like no other. Even with his trebly sound, often times Entwistle got caught in the high decibel musical crossfire of Townshend and Moon, so certain nuances like fancy hammer-on riffs were lost in the process. But thanks to a savvy soundman, we're now able to appreciate just how intricate John was to the band's sound via these isolated tracks taken from Shepperton performances of Baba O'Reily and Won't Get Fooled Again. Although not intended as a tribute, there's no better way to honor this master craftsman.
Behind Blue Eyes: Q&A with Roger Daltrey is a nearly half-hour sit down with one of rock's premiere frontmen, still full of piss and vinegar all these years later (don't change, Roger). Although disappointingly brief in length, Daltrey still manages to rattle off on a variety of topics, among them: his memories of Entwistle; countering the legendary story of The Rolling Stones putting their Rock and Roll Circus television special on ice in the wake of The Who's stunning Quick One performance on their own turf; and the surprising, yet charming revelation that he hates the sound of his own voice, unlike another British rocker he playfully mentions by name.
The Who's London: Tour of Important Who Places in London is perhaps Disc Two's weakest feature, but travel hounds and Who fans may find this visual travelogue of birthplace, grammar schools, and important venues worth a look.
Pure and Easy: A Warm Up for the Casual Fan and It's Hard: 21 Correct Answers Wins the Prize: Two fun, challenging, and well designed pop quizzes. Even more entertaining if you get the answers wrong (for a while, at least) with entertaining sound bites from the film. If you tough it out in both contests, you'll be treated to two very special trinkets: an audio teaser for the film featuring the voice of a musician whose drums "loom large in his legend" and a brand spanking new multi-channel re-mix of a very popular crime show theme song.
Anytime You Want Me: Multiple Camera Angles is the supplement I've saved for last, because it's the best. Thanks to producer John Albarian and the band's film archivists, multiple angles of Won't Get Fooled Again and Baba O'Reily give us a chance to watch all members of the band in action via (mostly) isolated shots. In the case of a band that was equally fun to watch as to listen to, this is a special treat. Entwistle's all-business bass work, Daltrey's lasso-with-a microphone theatrics, Townshend's leap frog acrobatics and Moon's never-ending festival of animated faces—how cool is it to have the ability to focus on any band member you wish? Won't Get also features a crowd level angle that shows what a thrill it must have been to be upfront and center during their classic era. Another cool aspect of this feature is being able to witness on-stage arrivals at the beginning (including a Jolly Green Giant-sized slate) and the end of shooting sessions for both tunes.
Extras Grade: A+
Final CommentsThis double disc set is the new heavyweight musical documentary DVD champion of the world! Rock and roll's most exhilarating career overview gets a first-class makeover from Pioneer. Terrific extras, superlative video/audio and some of the best music from rock's first half-century make The Kids Are Alright a mandatory purchase and my current pick for the best DVD of 2003.
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