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Shout Factory presents
The Dick Cavett Show: Rock Icons (1969-1974)

Dick Cavett: I wore my hip jacket for you.
Janis Joplin: You did? Are you sure?
Cavett: I thought I did. Yes, isn't this what all the guys are wearing?
Joplin: Ooooh...ooooh. No, not all of them.

- Dick Cavett, Janis Joplin

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: August 15, 2005

Stars: Dick Cavett, Jefferson Airplane, Joni Mitchell, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Sly and the Family Stone, David Bowie, Janis Joplin, Stevie Wonder, George Harrison, Tex Ritter, Gary Wright, Paul Simon
Other Stars: Debbie Reynolds, Pancho Gonzales, Raquel Welch, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Chet Huntley, Gloria Swanson, Margot Kidder, Elsa Lanchester, Ravi Shankar, Anthony Burgess, Jerzy Kosinski
Director: David Barnhizer

Manufacturer: 3rd Sector Entertainment
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (brief language)
Run Time: 09h:14m:46s
Release Date: August 16, 2005
UPC: 826663303094
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A-BC+ C+

DVD Review

One of the many late-night challengers to Johnny Carson during the early 1970s was Dick Cavett, whose program (or programs, more accurately) projected a hipper feel than that of, say, Merv Griffin. In addition to an antiwar bent and a somewhat intellectual approach to the talk show, Cavett's program was noted for its musical guests. With little input from Cavett himself, those in charge of selecting guests did an extraordinary job of luring top rock acts onto the program. This three-disc set collects nine of the all-time greatest episodes significantly devoted to rockers of the period. Rather than just collecting the musical performances, Shout Factory includes the complete programs, which grounds the performances and gives a context to the music that would be absent if only the songs were here.

The first program on the set, from August 19, 1969, is of incredible historic interest. It was taped the day that the Woodstock music festival concluded, and features Jefferson Airplane, Stephen Stills and David Crosby fresh off the festival, as well as Joni Mitchell, who, famously, had been scheduled for late in the festival but opted to be on Cavett instead. Jimi Hendrix was apparently supposed to come as well, but being the closing act at Woodstock, he couldn't make it as the festival ran over schedule. The performances are inspired, with Mitchell in particular giving a marvelous rendition of several of her songs. One program from very late in Cavett's run is devoted entirely to David Bowie, who rarely gave interviews of any kind. Frustratingly, the last half of the program was taped over even before it could air, which is too bad because Bowie seemed to just be getting comfortable with the format.

Dick Cavett has something of a reputation of being a good interviewer, but some serious lapses are evident in these programs. That may partly be attributable to the fact that Cavett himself really wasn't much in tune with what was happening in music, as he admits in the documentary. This is probably best seen in his ham-fisted interview with Sly Stone, which is a disaster from the very beginning thanks to Cavett's condescension and lack of desire to communicate with Stone. Instead he makes lame jokes and can't quite grasp what Stone is saying, though he's being perfectly sensible on a more laid-back sphere than Cavett chooses to inhabit. Whatever skills Cavett had as an interviewer completely desert him in this embarrassing segment.

One musical guest with whom Cavett undeniably shared a rapport, however, was Janis Joplin. That's not just hindsight, because he's clearly enjoying his time with Joplin and seems to take her attitude as both refreshing and liberating. The entire second disc is devoted to three shows that center on her (Joplin's first appearance on Cavett's morning show is apparently lost forever). The guest casting director must have had some fun setting up foils for her, since there are some outlandish combinations with Joplin, including Raquel Welch, Douglas Fairbanks, and Gloria Swanson. Joplin handles them all with aplomb, engaging in discussion that allows Welch to demonstrate that she is a fairly dim bulb. That exchange does not, however, rise to the level of catfighting that urban legends about the show insist. More intriguing is her talk with silent star Gloria Swanson as they discuss the parallels between flappers and hippies. Swanson also relates anecdotes regarding Erich von Stroheim and the disastrous Queen Kelly that was never finished. Joplin appears with both the Kozmic Blues Band and the Full Tilt Boogie Band, and gives strenuous and marvelous performances with both.

The third disc starts off with another condescending interview with Stevie Wonder that is something of a mess, but the musician redeems it with some terrific performances. As another odd combination, the show also features Elsa Lanchester discussing being The Bride of Frankenstein and the career of her husband, Charles Laughton. Tex Ritter, singing High Noon, also shows up in the surreal combination with French actor Alain Delon. George Harrison and Ravi Shankar, fresh off the Concert for Bangladesh, make a 1971 appearance. Unfortunately, Cavett (probably like most of his audience) mostly wants to talk about The Beatles, and George isn't much interested in talking about them, though he does reveal that none of them actually know much about composition. Harrison does display his dry wit and has a lot of fun with Cavett's cue cards for going to station breaks. There's some extended and frank discussion of drug use among musicians, including heroin and LSD. Finally, there's a fascinating segment with Paul Simon, performing a half-completed Still Crazy After All These Years. Cavett's lack of musical knowledge gets in the way again, since Simon is quite ready to launch into an extended discussion of his composition techniques but Cavett is only able to make more wisecracks. That program concludes with an exceedingly weird segment in which authors Anthony Burgess, Barbara Howar, and Jerzy Kosinski interview Cavett himself about his then-new book. Along the way (after the requisite fawning, which goes on too long), they make some interesting observations about the lasting quality of books, which has both positive and negative aspects.

One of the best aspects of these programs is that all of the groups are clearly actually performing live; there's no lip synching evident since frequently the lyrics differ from the recorded version, as do the arrangements. Although the musical segments are certainly the highlight of these shows, getting the full interviews, and most intriguing, the interaction of the guests, is an absolute bonus. The only exception is when Cavett and his ego get in the way of the program, but thankfully that's somewhat limited in its ill effects.

The songs performed are:

Jefferson Airplane:
We Can Be Together
Somebody to Love (with David Crosby)

Joni Mitchell:
Chelsea Morning
For Free
The Fiddle and the Drum

Stephen Stills:

Sly and the Family Stone:
Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again)

David Bowie:
Young Americans

Janis Joplin:
To Love Somebody
Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)
Move Over
Get It While You Can
My Baby
Half Moon

Stevie Wonder:
Signed, Sealed and Delivered
Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer

Tex Ritter:
High Noon

Gary Wright and Wonderwheel (with George Harrison):
Two Faced Man

George Harrison:
Bangla Desh

Paul Simon:
American Tune
Still Crazy After All These Years
Loves Me Like a Rock
Bridge Over Troubled Water

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

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

Image Transfer Review: The series was shot on videotape, but it looks surprisingly good for being more than 30 years old. Only the George Harrison program has any significant dropout and that one's quite brief. Despite a bit of video softness, there's reasonably good detail and very nice color and black levels. It's certainly watchable, even on a larger set. These masters were obviously quite well cared for.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The televisions of the time typically had two-inch speakers, and the audio is geared toward that kind of presentation. Hiss and noise are nominal (with a bit of annoying crackle during the Harrison show), but there's certainly very little in the way of bass in the musical performances. As long as you're not expecting CD quality audio, it's reasonably acceptable considering the source materials.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 9 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 26 cues and remote access
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Digipak
Picture Disc
3 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Introductions by Dick Cavett
Extras Review: There's a substantial 20-page booklet that provides an overview essay and pertinent facts about each program. Each episode comes with a one-minute onscreen introduction from Cavett today. There's also a interview (33m:07s) with Cavett as he reminisces about the performers, especially Joplin, whom he was clearly very fond of both now and then. A segment (14m:57s) from 1972 includes footage of the Rolling Stones performing Brown Sugar and Street Fighting Man and Cavett talks briefly with Jagger back stage. Presciently, Jagger notes that he expects he'll still be performing at age 60! Each disc allows you to play each program separately or all three at once, or select a song or just play all the songs at once. It's an excellent model of menu construction, both straightforward and useful.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

Some spectacular musical performances are on tap, with interesting background and context being provided through the interviews. The Woodstock show alone is worth the price of the set, not to mention a disc full of Janis Joplin.


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