Cher - The Best Of - The Video Collection Review

You have to hand it to Cher. 40 years of relationship angst, plastic surgery, bizarre outfits and going in and out of fashion like distressed denim, and she’s always been able to take it on the chin, even when it really belonged in her left buttock. This DVD celebrates her video hits, or at least the ones to which Warner Music Vision have the rights. So, if you’re looking forward to seeing “I Got You Babe” or the rather wonderfully camp “Dark Lady” then prepare for disappointment. Fans of power balladry, nipping, tucking and a women setting a bad example for other pensioners will. however, be more than satisfied.

1. Believe (1997)

Now, come on, be honest. Have you ever listened to “Believe” without trying to imitate that special effect which makes her voice sound like a Stylophone ? You may think you don’t like the song but statistics suggest that, sometime during 1997, you bought it. In fact, I have it on good authority that Lambeth Palace is the only address in Britain not to have a copy of the CD Single lying under the sofa, somewhere between a faded copy of “No Jacket Required” and a green Bic biro. During the oasis of good taste which constitutes the four minutes of this disco ballad, a cross between late Donna Summer and a Communards B-Side , Cher cries “I know that I’ll get through this”, which demonstrates admirable fortitude considering that her vocal cords are having to compete with the worst drum sequencing since the DNA remix of “Tom’s Diner”. The theme of the song appears to be the ability to “make it through”, a subject which recurs frequently throughout this collection. Make it through what though ? The verbal diarrhoea which passes for lyrics ? The lighting which suggests a cross between a Turkish brothel and an exhibit at Madame Tussauds ? Cher’s appearance in the video – seemingly filmed in a carpet warehouse somewhere near Esher – is as some kind of goddess, wearing a baggy white jacket and sporting a hairstyle which suggests that a bull has just ejaculated over her head. She’s singing in the middle of what might pass for an all-night rave if you’ve never been to one (and believe me, I haven’t). To confuse matters, another Cher suddenly turns up wearing snow-washed black jeans and a comfy cardigan that might conceivably have once belonged to Ken Barlow. Although I’m no expert on this, I’m fairly sure that Cher has about the same relevance to the rave scene as Daniel O’Donnell has to thrash metal.

2. If I Could Turn Back Time (1989)

The archetypal Simon Bates song; all that’s missing is the sepulchral tones of the Radio God himself saying, “We’ll be back after the news with Our Tune”. This is the one set on the American warship in which Cher wears that outfit, the one where she’s got her knickers neither on top of or underneath her tights and wanders around exciting a group of the last 200 heterosexual sailors still to be found in the American Navy. My suspicion is that this video was actually responsible for the Second Gulf War. Saddam realised that the only way to get off with Cher was to march into Kuwait and stay there until the Americans finally sent in the ship with her on. Her hair expanding to fill the space available like mould in an alcoholic’s kitchen, she sings up a storm and is so exhausted by the end that she has to have a little lie down. Bless. The song is about regrets, missed chances and broken promises. Aren’t they all ? At one point, Cher puts on a sailor’s cap and trolls around the deck like John Inman. You can only feel sorry for her teenage son, playing bass and wearing a tie-dyed T Shirt that may once have belonged to Sonny for all we know. I know we’ve all been embarrassed by our mothers, but at least ours usually kept their clothes on and didn’t flash their bottoms at members of the US Navy. I became a little confused here, since for reasons best known to herself, Cher appears at occasional intervals straddling a massively thrusting cannon, rubbing her groin against it in a vaguely arousing manner and managing to sing audibly without the otherwise omnipresent microphone. The scene fades out on five erect guns standing proud as half the American GNP is spent on enough dry ice to, if you’ll forgive me, sink a battleship.

3. Save Up All Your Tears (1991)

A surprise here, because this is actually a halfway decent song. I’m fairly sure it was written by Diane Warren – but that’s a fair bet given that she and Richie Sambora had a government monopoly on songwriting for seven months in 1990. The lyrics are coherent, the lead guitar seriously rocks and Cher puts her heart and soul into it. You wouldn’t buy it, but considering the awfulness of some of the stuff on this DVD, one is thankful for small mercies. The video is baffling and leaves me nearly, but not quite, lost for words. Cher appears in half-shadow while a lot of homoerotic imagery erupts around her, principally involving half-naked young twinks in cruciform poses. Perhaps this was directed by Derek Jarman ? It’s abundantly clear that none of these chaps are likely to be saving up any tears for Cher or indeed any other woman, although they might conceivably envy her place on that warship. It all gets rather scary and intimidating when Cher points her fist at the camera and warbles “You’ll be crying over me”. As crying over women has defined most of my adult life, I genuflected at the screen – which is legal, incidentally, as long as no minors are present. The hair and costume changes in this video number a paltry three – although the fetishistic black number she wears for the most part may require weaker men than I to have a glass of water. Ample time is provided in this one to admire Cher’s tattoos. I’m not sure what they’re of, but the one on her arm looks remarkably like a map of El Salvador. Or possibly Silverstone racetrack. I won’t venture to comment on the tattoos on her derriere, but it’s obvious that some tattoo artist in Los Angeles has a very interesting tale to tell his grandchildren. Question – if you were crying, would you really want Cher to wipe the tears away ? I mean, those hands have been in close proximity to the pubic hair of Sonny Bono, Nicolas Cage, Jack Nicholson, Bob Hoskins and, er, Meryl Streep. I think I’d prefer the safe, if boring, option of a box of Kleenex.

4. Walking In Memphis (1993)

In which Cher follows Celine Dion’s patented example of taking a good song and ruining it by singing every line at top volume. Mark Cohn’s original was a picaresque oddity but it had a nice melody and a carefully crafted structure. Cher has no notion of phrasing and the relative subtlety of the original is replaced by a bizarre drum track and a wailing gospel choir. The video seems to have a plot all about a K.D.Lang lookalike going to Memphis and is shot in arty black and white. Cher spends the entire time sitting on a bus, suggesting that if she had been born in another time that she might have made a good clippy. Indeed, if she’s ever stuck for a job she could perhaps star as Jack in a remake of “On The Buses”, perhaps with Michael Bolton as Stan and Celine Dion as Olive. The song is also patently lying, because despite her statement in the first line, Cher never wears a pair of blue suede shoes, preferring black stilettos. Indeed, her costume is disappointingly restrained; legs are waved around quite a bit but knickers are not flashed. Interest naturally drifts to wondering why Cher insists on employing backing singers who can sing a lot better than she can – I was reminded of Bruce Willis’ unwise decision to attempt a career as a soul singer by using The Temptations as his backing group.

A second viewing, incidentally, indicated that this is all more complex than I had suspected. The K.D.Lang lookalike is in fact Cher with a wig and a bad suit. I point this fact out to prove my essential human fallibility and to avoid fans of the lady sending me too many nasty e-mails accusing me of inattention. However, more questions are raised. Why K.D.Lang ? Why black and white ? Do those knickers chafe in hot weather and is the gusset in danger of garrotting her rectum ?

5. One By One (1996)

I had always thought this was an upbeat number and was prepared for a bit of bubblegum entertainment. But oh no, Cher has decided to go in for a stab of unexpected arrangement and we get a mediocre rock song presented as a mediocre blues number. More fishnet here and more confusing duplication of Cher, who appears not only waving her arms around to show off her underarm growth but also singing in a smug manner on a TV screen. Why does she insist on flinging herself about ? The effect is like one of those adverts for sanitary protection where women gyrate to the point of insensibility in order to demonstrate how well guarded they are. More to the point, who are the woman and the man who eventually meet each other ? Will they meet each other ? Will they escape from this tedious song ? “Give up resisting” trill the backing group as Cher ploughs her fingers through her hair like she’s practising to be a junior stylist in a particularly scuzzy beauty salon. For those of us who couldn’t be bothered to resist in the first place, this advice is supererogatory at best, but I’m sure Cher has our best interests at heart.

6. Main Man (1987)

This very, very minor entry in Cher’s back catalogue comes from 1987 and you might wonder who this haggard, chubby, elderly looking singer is. The explanation is simple; she was, of course, a lot older then than she is now. The song is a nonsensical power ballad – “Ooooohhhh, you’re my main man. I am your only woman” and that kind of thing. Cher spends a lot of the video wandering through empty rooms and singing to herself in a wistful manner. Her costume is remarkably demure, although fans will be pleased to note that she is wearing earrings the size of chandeliers and white basketball boots with black leggings. Charmingly, she also appears singing ‘in concert’, attempting to give us the impression that someone has been unwise enough to pay to hear this ‘live’. Given that her miming skills are on the same level as her son’s air guitar skills, the word ‘live’ is maybe a misnomer but at least she’s trying her best, which is more than can be said for the drummer who appears to be on tranquilisers. If I’m not mistaken, that’s Professor Roy Bittan on piano, which explains what he was doing for the five years that Bruce wasn’t returning his calls.

7. I Found Someone (1987)

Fans will recall that it was this song which heralded Cher’s re-emergence as a pop star and, truth be told, it’s not bad for a ludicrously over-inflated power ballad. The video sees our heroine cavorting in a roadside bar, possibly the same one in which she pulled Meat Loaf all those years ago – reminding us that, sadly, the all-time classic promo for “Dead Ringer For Love” isn’t included here. She wears a bizarre black body stocking affair, rather similar to the one which she flaunted on the warship two years later, and looks like a million dollars. The men in the video are a different matter. They’re all wearing black leather jackets, ripped t-shirts, jeans which are three sizes too small and the kind of hairstyles which remind you why Patrick Swayze isn’t a star any more. Fantastic camera moves here and a couple of groovy jump cuts which suggest that the editor has seen “Medium Cool” a few too many times. Some of the scenes are shot with a frightening pink filter which will may well test your equipment to its limits. At one point, Cher dances with a bloke and manages to look uninterested while he runs his hands up and down her body in a hysterical attempt to suggest sexual infatuation. This reminded me of too many drunken nights in clubs during the early eighties, when the lucky ladies being manhandled by yours truly managed to look even more bored.

8. Strong Enough (1997)

More of the same – I’m strong enough to live without you so fuck off and die and all that malarkey. A lot of ravers appear but, as with “Believe” it strikes me as unlikely that Cher was quite so integral to the New York club scene as this video suggests. A man is at a computer and he makes Cher appear on his screen. Strange wallpaper choice you might think, but then she appears on his telly as well. Finally, she turns up on the wall of his apartment block. This is taking pop-ups too far in my opinion. The rest of the video seems to abandon out hero and expand to display a load of social rejects watching Cher perform this song while a string quartet plays in the background. One group looks like a house party where Justin Timberlake has invited Eminem, Michelle McManus, Sonya from “Eastenders” and Jason from “Big Brother”. This was so terrifying that it made me lose concentration and the song was suddenly over. I don’t know if the young man at the computer reappeared so I can’t appraise you of the resolution of his particular subplot. My apologies. The song, incidentally, is turgid nonsense that makes “Believe” sound as complicated as “Sympathy for the Devil”.

9. Song For The Lonely (2001)

I left the room for a moment when this began and when I returned, Cher was wearing a Dr Seuess woolly hat and wandering through 19th Century New York. I wondered if this might be an acid flashback from that bad trip I had in Leeds in 1978, but it appears that this is Cher’s response to September 11th. Everywhere she runs, buildings are instantly created and she ends up wearing a parka and singing at us from a rooftop in an aggressive manner which brings to mind Arthur Scargill during the Miners Strike. “We all forgive, we all forget” insists Cher, sentiments which might not have made it to the White House judging by recent events in the Middle East. The awesome tastelessness of all this is such that it almost defies comment. “It’s gonna be alright” apparently. If I had lost a loved one in the attack on the World Trade Centre, I would be very tempted to throw a brick through the screen at this kind of patronising, sermonizing, platitudinous bullshit. The song is crap as well, not that it matters in the circumstances. Cher also appears in a black room, dressed in white and obviously meant to look like some kind of angel. Frankly, some things are beyond a joke. When she dedicates a song to “the broken hearted, battle scarred”, it doesn’t mean anything because all her songs are dedicated to these people to one extent or another, to a point where they have become an amorphous mass of emotional wreckage. When you bring real pain and tragedy into this, the effect is one of horrendous triviality.

10. Half-Breed (1980ish)

Jesus Christ, what in the name of arse is this ? Cher is dressed up as a, er, Native American squaw, sitting on an understandably bemused looking horse with cut-price hooker make-up and the kind of gold jewellery even David Dickinson might consider a touch outré. The nostalgically bad video effects are highly amusing – dig those flames daddy-O - and the song is gibberish but surprisingly diverting. It’s the kind of number which would be camp today but passed as good, wholesome family entertainment half a century ago. At the end, we get riotous applause, suggesting that either this was a clip from a TV show or the crew were simply delighted to get it over with. Cher’s body, presumably pre-op, is quite staggeringly delectable. I hate to sound sexist, but this inadvertently demonstrates the benefits of natural over plastic. There is a heartening anti-racist message behind this, but I was distracted from making a full analysis of this declaration against the abominable hegemony of the white male by gazing in open-mouthed wonder at the younger Cher’s muscular thighs.

11 We All Sleep Alone (1987)

Back in 1988, there used to be a radio show on Radio Tees on Sunday nights presented by a syrup-tongued American called Diana Luke. The programme was dedicated to people on their own and feeling lonely for one reason or another. Hysterical self-pity has always struck me as an underrated virtue and Diana Luke’s show was responsible for many nights of pointless weeping and wailing in the Sutton household. Anyway, if that show were to have a tune of its own, this could be it. “Sooner or later, we all sleep alone,” avers Cher and I have to say that I agree, although in my case it’s usually been sooner. Mind you, since the video sees Cher wearing a sparkly basque and sleeping in a studio apartment decorated with stained sheets, I’m not surprised at her lack of company. She wants to get some nice cheerful wallpaper and put up a few personal bits and pieces, make it a bit more homey.

12. Heart of Stone (1990)

All terribly postmodern this one. Well, postmistress maybe. Post something anyway. Cher sings about having a ‘heart of stone’ while watching a lot of clips from her past life. The lyrics are bizarre – “Big crowd at the crazy house, long queue at the joke machine, ten rounds in the ring with love, do we win or lose.... or lose and win ?” If anyone can produce a coherent explanation of what this could mean then they are either naturals at practical criticism or on a dangerously strong dosage of prescription drugs. If my eyes do not deceive me, we also see Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy. Oddly enough, cuddly old LBJ is absent, something for which he would no doubt be profoundly grateful. The relevance of someone daubing an anti-nuke symbol on their armpit escapes me. At one point, Cher explicitly associates herself with Jimi Hendrix – a case, I think, of a minor talent suffering from a major delusion.

13. The Shoop-Shoop Song (1991)

Not only Cher to contend with here, but also junior wannabe divas Christina Ricci and Winona Ryder. Given that this is a promo for that appalling waste of celluloid Mermaids, I was fully expecting to see Bob Hoskins done up in a polka dot frock and sporting a giant beehive. It’s noticeable, incidentally, that even as a pre-adolescent, Christina Ricci can dance a lot more convincingly than Cher. The song is a novelty number with an irksome bass line and a riff with the half-life of plutonium. There’s also some leather-jacket, ripped-jeans action going on which slightly puzzled me but instantly dates the video to within three months during 1991. This song, for the younger readers out there, was number one in what I believe you youngsters call ‘the hit parade’ for about five years, only being knocked off the top spot by Bryan Adams offering to do it to you before you do it to him. Or something.

14. Dov’e L’Amore (c.2000)

An overwhelming sense of ennui was setting in by this point. Sartre once stated, “What is hell ? I submit to you that it is the agony of being unable to love.” Close, Jean-Paul, but it’s actually this song playing endlessly in a freezer in the ninth circle of hell with everyone, including Judas Iscariot, forced to listen for all eternity. The number, and the accompanying video, is one of those Latino-inspired affairs with a lot of passionate dancing, costumes with impractical ruffles, men licking the necks of their senoritas and Cher made up like Barbara Cartland after one too many Pimms. At any rate, she looks about 90 and about as sexually alluring as Dr Rowan Williams. She may, however, conceivably have a place reserved on so not all is lost.

15. Love Can Build A Bridge (1995)

Oh dear. What can I possibly say about this, probably the worst charity song I’ve ever heard in my life. Even Right Said Fred’s “Stick It Out” was better than this saccharine concoction. The original song by the Judds was bad enough but usually easy to avoid so long as you don’t listen to ‘Bob Harris Country’ on Radio 2. This version brings together Cher, Chrissie Hynde and Neneh Cherry in a hellish trinity which somehow suggests Cerberus at the gates of Hell. Eric Clapton, plucking at his guitar with all the enthusiasm of a eunuch on an 18-30 holiday, at least manages to keep his dignity by not singing along, even if he looks increasingly like a Geography teacher on a field trip. The three women try to outdo each other for sheer obnoxious effrontery and it’s hard to judge which of them makes the worst impression. The video alternates footage of them emoting with genuinely moving scenes of human suffering in a manner which begins as simply irksome but soon becomes genuinely offensive. It is, however, worth sticking with the video for the final image in which the three women are posed together in a way which makes them look like the Knights Who Say ‘Ni!’.

The Disc

What can I say about the disc ? The videos are presented in what are presumably their original aspect ratios, varying from fullscreen for the eighties stuff to 2.35:1 for “Song For The Lonely”, and all are non-anamorphic. The image quality ranges from absolutely stunning – “Believe”, “Strong Enough”, “Song For The Lonely” – to mediocre and filled with artefacting – “I Found Someone”, “Main Man”. The age of the videos clearly comes into play here. The videos in the stunning category have particularly glorious colours, so rich and vivid you could daub them onto your hands. There is, incidentally, a clear correlation here to the amount of dry ice and the quality of the image. Something for you to think about there.

There is a choice of two soundtracks; Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo and Dolby Digital 5.1. A PCM 2 channel track might have benefited some of these songs, especially the earlier ones. The 5.1 sounds very good on the more recent videos and a little screechy on the ones from 1987. The Stereo, conversely, is more than adequate for the 1980s numbers but not as satisfying for the later songs like “Believe”.

It’s devoid of anything interesting whatsoever in the way of extras. No lyrics are included, sadly, which makes it impossible for non-addicts to fully relish the lunacy of some of the songwriting on display. You can jump to a particular video, thanks to the special magic of DVD or you can “Play All Videos”. How innovative can you get ?

Let's face it, you either already own this DVD or you would actively cross the road to avoid it. Although I found it about as intellectually stimulating as a Rick Astley concert, I can't pretend that the hours I spent on this review were wasted. Trash culture has the merit of reminding us that bad taste can have an energy and sheer in-your-face vitality which art is lacking . Cher, as a phenomenon, represents something about the American female star at the fag end of the 20th Century that would doubtless be revealing. The problem is, I'm much too frightened of her to look any closer. Let's face it, a woman who can hike her knickers up that far into her crotch must have a secret which goes beyond mere words. What times, and what customs. The rest is silence.

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