Steve Wilkinson has reviewed the Region 0 DVD release of Beastie Boys Video Anthology
Surprisingly, The Beastie Boys are still mostly remembered in the UK as the obnoxious brats behind the rap/rock crossover smash “Fight For Your Right (To Party)” and their notorious tabloid-friendly antics of the mid-to-late 1980’s (performing with women in cages, using bad language and inciting the nation’s youth to steal car ornaments to use as jewellery). Perhaps even more surprisingly, ever since their masterful “Paul’s Boutique” album in 1989 (the follow-up to the mega-successful “Licensed To Ill”, it sold poorly) they have pursued an increasingly eclectic, experimental and funky path which has brought them back to mainstream recognition via the hit albums “Check Your Head”, “Ill Communication” and “Hello Nasty”.
While the Beasties are absolutely children of the MTV age (their early success was bolstered by chaotic videos reinforcing their party-loving “B-Boy” personas) they also have a refreshingly DIY/punk approach to everything, which makes both their music and videos a million miles away from the usual ultra-calculated MTV norm. In the 18 years separating 1981’s rough-and-ready punk thrash “Holy Snappers” (illustrated by New York home movies of the band and friends) and 1999’s “Alive” (also set in New York, the band fool around in coloured furry suits and drive their toy car through Brooklyn) the band have travelled a long way in terms of budget and musical skill, but the spirit remains the same. Incidentally, both videos (along with many others included here) are directed by the ubiquitous Nathanial Hornblower – a guy who seems to have been around the band ever since its formation…
Aside from the aforementioned “Holy Snappers” everything here dates from 1989 or later; the mid-80’s period is pointedly never mentioned at all. The non-inclusion of the videos could be for contractual or legal reasons, but the total exclusion of information from the other parts of the set suggest that the Beasties find discussion of the era (possibly their most successful, certainly their most notorious) either embarrassing, boring or just plain irrelevant. Certainly what is here presents an alternative view of the band that is in its own way complete. Favourite Beastie obsessions abound, from cheesy “B” movies (Intergalactic, Body Movin’, Hey Ladies) and cheap TV shows (Sabotage) via “social comment” (Something’s Got To Give) to hilarious parodies of mainstream rap (basically all the rest, with the exception of the oddball Holy Snappers and the hilarious Netty’s Girl).
The huge range of formats used in the production of the various videos here makes the usual definition of “video quality” largely redundant, although everything here probably looks better than it would do watched “live” on MTV. The vast majority of videos here are 4:3 (reflecting the dominant TV shape in the US), and although the couple of exceptions are have not been transferred anamorphically, it hardly seems to matter. All the videos have been included twice (to encompass the huge amount of extra material), and Criterion have warned that the video quality in the “extras” section might suffer due to this. They hardly need have bothered though, as the video is generally up to par in all sections (and you are more likely to playing with the features and/or listening to the sound track to care).
All the tracks in the main video section have been mixed into Dolby Digital 5.1 especially for this disc and, while the bass-heavy mix gives a suitably disco/stadium ambience, purists will prefer the straight stereo mixes. Best listened to without Dolby Surround processing, these sound comparable with the CD originals (even the remixes, of which there are many included simultaneously) which is really all the recommendation that’s needed.
While the Beastie Boys might seem an unusual undertaking for the usually serious Criterion Collection, fans (of both organisations) will be relieved that they have approached the project with their usual thoroughness. In fact, the combination of Criterion’s diligence and the Beasties’ anarchic instincts makes for an interesting, and hilarious mix. This is best illustrated by audio clips of an alleged Criterion staff member trying to involve various video directors in a commentary of their work – in this case the questions become ever stranger, usually culminating in a “what are you wearing right now?” query (the answer from one – “a diaphanous negligee” suggests they may have been tipped off in advance, or maybe they are just familiar by now with the Beastie sense of humour?).
Overall, this package is way more organised than the earlier, rougher Beastie Boys’ DVD “Sabotage” (built around the Spike Jonze-directed video of the same, which also features strongly here). Spread over two discs, each collection is split into two. The “Videos In Sequence” section contains the videos at high bandwidth with the 5.1 mixes, plus audio commentaries from the band, and (separately) directors. The highlight though is the “Videos With Supplements” section. This presents the videos with multiple video and audio angles, in one case an amazing 9 video angles and 7 audio angles – all switchable on the fly! Ever wanted to be a video director? Well, go and be one then. If, however, you want to create ham-fisted “director’s cuts” of videos such as “Alive”, “Intergalactic” and “Shake Your Rump” then this feature is a real boon.
Of even more interest are the alternate mixes of various songs (at least 50 are included in all, including remixes by Moby, Fatboy Slim and Prince Paul), all of which have been carefully chosen and synchronised in order that they match the videos and each other, enabling the creative viewer to mix the audio, as well as the images! Rather than the usual cash-in remixes used to fill an overpriced CD single, those included here nearly all manage to shed new light on the original material and are worthy of listening in their own right. Standouts are many, but the Latch Brothers’ mind-boggling “Bollywood-style” remix of Shake Your Rump really does have to be heard to be believed. In addition to the excellent video and audio, English subtitles are supplied, making karaoke-style “b-boy” antics in your own front room a very real possibility…
Additional bonus material includes “The Robot vs. The Octopus Monster Saga” (a full-length version of Intergalactic with a new and exciting score), a rocking live version of “Gratitude” which gives some impression of the Beasties as a live event, and “Ciao L.A.” – an interesting look at the behind the scenes of the hit TV show “Sabotage” and interview with the cast, one of whom who received stunt training from Burt Reynolds himself. Anybody with doubts about the Beastie Boys’ artistic credentials will surely still have them after trawling through this lot, but they will definitely have been entertained.
While not a total Anthology (leaving many large holes in the story as already mentioned), this is still a stunning document in its own right, and pushes the envelope in terms of presentation of music video on DVD. Who would have thought the dour Criterion would be capable of this? The bottom line is this is a fantastic entertainment unique to this medium, and as such (and since writing about music is supposedly equivalent to “dancing about architecture”) why aren’t you busy watching it right now?!
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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