Friday, July 07, 2006

DVD Double Feature | All Dolled Up | Wattstax

I don't watch many DVDs but I accidentally stumbled into a killer double feature recently with a similar theme. The theme was music from 1972-73 but both DVDs showed opposite ends of the spectrum of the early 70's music scene.

One was about punk while the other was soul. One was in black & white while the other was in color. One was shot mainly indoors and the other outdoors. One dealt with concerts in small dark clubs before 400 fans while the other focused on a sunny outdoor music festival in front of 100,000 fans. Lots of differences but besides the theme of music, the thing that unites these two films is the overwhelming desire for individuality that seemed to dominate US culture in the early 70's.

All Dolled Up

While reviewing Kris Gruen's debut album a few months ago, I talked to Kris about a film his parents, Bob Gruen & Nadya Beck, had recently released about The New York Dolls. Apparently, Bob Gruen & Nadya Beck were some of the first people to buy a portable video recorder. Because nobody back then had VCRs (except for Gruen & Beck), they would film bands and then invite the bands over to watch their performances. This was a pretty novel and cool things for bands. So, it led to some friendships with the couple. Well, Kris was kind enough to lend me a copy of the DVD.

One of those friendships was with The New York Dolls. From 1972 to 1975, Gruen & Beck recorded about 40 hours of videotape of the band. The majority of the footage comes from the Dolls 1973 tour of LA and San Francisco. Some on stage. Some back stage. Some while traveling. Some poolside. Etc.

The result is an unblinking view of one of the first punk bands and the scene that surrounded them. The concert footage is fun to watch but my favorite part of the documentary is everything off the stage. There is very little editing with the camera rolling for minutes at a time. So, you get a great feeling for what it was like to just hang out with the Dolls.

You can sense David Johanson's charisma as he dominates the backstage parties. You can easily see bassist Arthur "Killer" Kane's fragile personality as he seems to slink into the background of every scene; even when he is physically front and center. You can see Johnny Thunder's presence shrink as drugs begin to take their toll. But most of all, it's easy to tell how much fun it would have been to be a part of that scene.

Plus, you get to see the befuddled looks of regular folks' faces as the Dolls walk down the street or through the airport. You get to see the fans as they file into Max's Kansas City. The surprising thing is how much the fans look like hippies. It looks like the same crowd that are following the Trey & Phil Lesh tour at the moment. Even the little things like seeing the pull rings and tin cans of the beer they are drinking is interesting. The fact is that very few people were in these clubs with video cameras in the early 70's. So, not only is it a unique look at one of the most influential punk bands, it's a great look at the clubs and people surrounding them at the time. So, the film works well for fans of the Dolls and just general music fans.

One last point, if you are a big Dolls fan, be sure to watch the bonus feature where Bob Gruen shows his still photos of the band and provides commentary. He adds a lot of interesting info that doesn't make it into the film. For example, in the film, we just see Kane with a cast on his hand when they reach LA. Johansen says at one point that he hurt it but leaves it at that. Well, in Gruen's commentary, he points out that Kane's girlfriend didn't want him to go to the West Coast. So, she tried to cut off one of his fingers to prevent him from going.

Watch the trailer here.


The other documentary was the Oscar nominated documentary of the 1972 music festival that Stax Records hosted in the LA Coliseum to commemorate the 7th anniversary of the Watts riots. My brother-in-law and his wife had recently bought it and while visiting them last month, they showed me a bit of it. I had never even heard of the disc but from just a few minutes of it, I knew I wanted to see all of it. So, I borrowed it and watched it back-to-back with All Dolled Up.

Ecerything about this film makes it a must-see. The performances are spectactular. The crowd looks great with long afros, gigantic hats, big fur coats and all sorts of classic 70's clothing. Richard Pryor's comedy bits between the performers are hilarious and a nice change of pace. And the interviews with residents of Watts (including Ted Lange (pre-Isaac Washington days)) remind you of the social activism of the event.

While there are some big names at the show such as Issac Hayes, The Staples Singers and The Bar-Kays, what blew me away were the performaces by the guys I had never heard of. Johnnie Taylor's sweaty & sexy performance of "Jody's Got Your Girl and Gone" and Rance Allen's blistering "Hendrix meets gospel" version of "Lying On the Truth" are worth tracking it down alone.

One amazing moment occurs when Rufus Thomas is on stage. The crowd starts to pour out of the stands and onto the field. But Thomas tells them to stop and not go on the field until he tells them. Amazingly everyone stops. Then when he starts the next song, he tells them to "Go". People go sprinting everywhere; doing splits, dancing and just having a great time. Then at the end of the song, Thomas tells everyone to leave the field again. And everyone just leaves (except for a few stragglers that Thomas mocks hilariously). It staggering to watch. Think about all of the times you've been at a show and the band has asked everyone to take a step back to alleviate a heavy crush on the front row. Have you ever seen it work. Nobody ever listens. However, in 1972, I guess people did a better job of listening (or at least listening to a classic showman like Rufus Thomas). Regardless, it's a great moment to watch. You can watch it here. Be sure to check out the lady dancing at the 2:35 mark. Smoking.

Watch the trailer here.

Like I mentioned above, I enjoyed watching the two films because they both showed heavy doses of individuality busting loose in the early 70's. Completely different music scenes but, overall, the two films paint a great picture of the colorful era in US culture.

Now, I need to get the copies of these films back to their owners.

All Dolled Up | Buy | Rent

The New York Dolls | Pills (Mercer Street Sessions)
The New York Dolls | Jet Boy

Wattstax | Buy | Rent

Rance Allen Group | Lying On the Truth (Live at Wattstax)
Johnnie Taylor | Jody's Got Your Girl and Gone (Live at Wattstax)

1 comment:

Jim said...

I saw New York Doll (the documentary about Kane) a month ago and found it to be good, but it left me wanting more. The DVD that you watched sounds like it will fill in some gaps left by New York Doll.

Oh, and did you know that the new New York Dolls (David Johansen and Syl Sylvain are the only surviving original band members) are releasing a new album on Roadrunner Records at the end of the month?