Seal of approval for DVD package
Okay, enough politics and heartache for now. Let's get some music happening here.
One good thing, if you can call it that, about the decline in CD sales is the effort labels are putting into keeping us interested. Although DVD prices are still fairly high, if dropping, compact discs are getting cheaper and there are often incentives in terms of added visual material.
When new compression techniques started kicking in about six years ago, manufacturers began including short videos of EPK-like documentaries, mostly in the Enhanced CD format intended to be plunked into PCs. But in the last few years there have been an increasing number of second discs offering full-length concerts or video collections. Sometimes, particularly in the country arena, audio and visual editions of the same concert are released separately, as in notable Dixie Chicks and Union Station packages. But Alison Moorer's 2003 Show, with a paper cover coolly enfolding both formats, showed the way to go.
More recently, Neil Young sandwiched his Greendale release not with the movie of the same name but with an affecting Dublin concert of the same songs in solo form. Similarly, Bruce Springsteen's recent Devils & Dust includes a second disc with the Boss performing five of the album's best songs alone in a clapboard house, with only his beat-up old Gibson and a harmonica holder-a connection with the rough-hewn Americana of Woody Guthrie that melts away all the technological foofaraw.
The best "evening with" package this reviewer has yet run into is Seal: Live in Paris, which gives you shorter, sometimes snappier versions of 14 tunes (mostly from Seal II and Seal IV) on the first platter, and looser live takes of 20 on the second one. The seemingly endless encore section offers "Hey Joe" and some other offbeat moments. And Seal's regular touring band is a model of supportive generosity, sometimes breaking down into a three-guitar lineup, with the leader doing some effective acoustic twanging. The concert was beautifully shot in 35mm, with great surround sound, and director Martyn Atkins breaks up the concert footage with street scenes of Paris outside the theatre. His camera has a somewhat clichéd eye for attractive French women.
A quietly enduring item from 1992 is American Heart, with Jeff Bridges and Edward Furlong as father and son struggling to stay connected in a Seattle redolent of grunge and waterlogged baggage. Then there's 1984's influential Brother From Another Planet, with Joe Morton as an alien who crash-lands in Harlem and has trouble adapting to the culture. In retrospect, this was when ornery auteur John Sayles had just the right mixture of fun and social commentary.
Going back even further, don't miss The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, one of Preston Sturges's best but most overlooked social comedies. This oddly subversive wartime story stars Eddie Bracken and Betty Hutton in their all-time greatest roles, as faux-hero Norval Jones and dim bulb Trudy Kockenlocker, who'd like to be his girl for the propaganda machine, although she's pregnant by some other GI. Did we mention that this was 1944?
Oh, and moving forward a bit, there's a new digital edition of 1962's To Kill a Mockingbird, with Gregory Peck as an embattled civil-rights lawyer in one of the most enduring artifacts of America's liberal era, RIP. (Damn. We're back to politics again.) The two-disc Universal set offers AFI and Oscar-related filmlets and a long conversation with Peck (plus Martin Scorsese, Bill Clinton, and others) about his finest two hours.