The Circle Jerks – My Career As A Jerk (MVD Visual)


 

The Circle Jerks’s story gets the documentary treatment from director Dave Markey (best known for 1991: The Year Punk Broke). Archival footage, band interviews and testimonials all give the history of a band who released one of hardcore punk’s greatest albums (Group Sex), but never really knew what to do over the next thirty years. While the oldest footage shows The Circle Jerks at their jaw-dropping primal best, for me the most enjoyable part of the movie is those lean years in the late-’80s and early-’90s when the band put out awful albums while cycling through band members, musical styles, and personal issues. Perhaps there isn’t anything all that special in the Circle Jerks’ story to warrant the 96-minute runtime it’s been given, but the experiences of bands in the pre-Nirvana American Underground are entertaining enough that you can overlook the film’s weaker spots. Speaking of entertaining, Circle Jerks frontman Keith Morris is at his nervous/intense self-reflective best in his interviews here. How he hasn’t been tapped for some kind of TV/film/radio work is a mystery to me. Even if it’s not perfect, if you love the old days of hardcore punk, My Career As A Jerk is a joy to watch.

Bonus features: Deleted scenes and interviews. Trailers.

Dinosaur Jr. – Bug Live At The 9:30 Club: In The Hands Of The Fans (MVD Visual)


This is an appealing concept: Dinosaur Jr. performing Bug in its entirety at DC’s 9:30 Club (one of the best venues on the East Coast) filmed by six mega-fans. The first thing you’ll notice is how tight the band sounds and how well the DVD captures that sound. Seriously, forget about live shows…most bands would kill to sound this crisp in the studio! J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph look a lot older since Bug came out in 1988 (Mascis in particular looks like Gandalf’s beer-drinking younger brother) but they’ve retained every ounce of their youthful energy and love of high-volume dynamics. Everyone in the band does their part to make the songs sound great: Murph is a strong drummer, and Barlow plays the affable indie-punk on bass, but for me the biggest treat is watching Mascis’ solos which are fluid and full of technique, despite their “thank god for earplugs” volume. Having never had the opportunity to see Dinosaur Jr. live for myself, I can only imagine the kind of air-moving effect the band must have had in a club like the 9:30.

You might remember that Bug was only thirty-two minutes long, which would be pretty skimpy for a concert, and a bad value for a DVD purchase. Well, for starters there’s a two song non-Bug encore (“Sludgefeast” and “Raisans”), and another two songs from the same show included as bonus features. There’s also a twenty-minute interview segment with Mascis, Murph and Barlow talking to Henry Rollins, which is an interesting experiment (Rollins interviewed them prior to each night’s show on the East Coast leg of the Bug tour) but also awkward since Mascis, by all accounts Dinosaur Jr’s leader, doesn’t say much. Rollins shouldn’t take it personally though: he doesn’t talk much during the concert either, preferring to follow the teachings of Aerosmith and “let the music do the talking”. There’s also a backstage interview with the six fans who shot the concert, a clip of Henry Rollins talking about the history of The 9:30 Club, and an interview with J (who, yet again, barely says anything) and director Dave Markey, who shares interesting stories from the band’s past. Well done.

The Story Of The Yardbirds (ABC Entertainment)


This excellent documentary covers the quick rise and even quicker fall of The Yardbirds from 1963-1968. The band’s history hasn’t been rehashed as frequently as their peers, so the information presented here – taken from interviews with band members, managers and producers – feels fresh and exciting. The DVD also benefits from excellent live clips, which show the band’s origins as a merely OK blues-rock band, but then really catching fire when Jeff Beck replaced Eric Clapton on guitar and pushed them into a more aggressive and experimental sound (compare the version of “I Wish You Would” with Clapton to the one with Beck…Beck’s kills). When Jeff Beck left and Jimmy Page took over, the band gained an even better guitar player, but Page was actually too good, running circles around the rest of the band, who struggled to keep up with him. When they broke up in 1968 Page was already experimenting with some of the ideas that would later become the foundation for Led Zeppelin. Still, don’t let rock history paint The Yardbirds as just a starting-point for three great guitar players – The Story Of The Yardbirds proves they were a great, and highly influential, band in their own right. The only negative is the lame booklet which talks mostly about the recently reformed Yardbirds (who aren’t mentioned in the movie) and the back cover where “For Your Love” is erroneously listed as “For The Love”.

The Pixies – LoudQuietLoud: A Film About The Pixies (MVD Visual)


One of the great rock stories of this decade has been the massively successful reformation of The Pixies’ original lineup in 2004. Their influence consistently grew since they broke up in 1992 causing them to get back together and take a lucrative victory lap around the globe. Sounds pretty simple, but thanks to a multitude of unresolved issues it wasn’t. At times the tension between the four band-members is almost unbearable to watch. It’s the kind of tension that would force most people to crack, which happens to drummer David Lovering who has a brief flirtation with drugs and alcohol on the road. The film is an insightful look at the dichotomy of a group that loves the big crowds and paychecks that they can’t get on their own, but it also comprised of four completely different individuals who aren’t comfortable in a room with each other. The good news is that band seem to be getting along well enough to record a new album. Regardless of how that album turns out this DVD is a perfect souvenir for fans that never thought they’d see them on stage together again.

The New York Dolls – All Dolled Up (Music Video Distributors)


In an age when Franz Ferdinand puts out a two-disc DVD set after only two albums, it’s easy to forget how little footage exists of the great performers of rock’s past, and that’s what makes this DVD such a revelation. Culled from over forty hours shot by famed rock photographer Bob Gruen on an early black and white video camera, All Dolled Up includes some great live performances, interviews, candid backstage footage, and a lot of preening in front of mirrors.

Although the video and audio are far from pristine, this is still an important release for Dolls fans. Because Gruen was friends with the band, he had full access to film them at all times, capturing the true essence of a band that most people have never seen much of outside of a few photos. He captures the drunken buffoonery, the backstage groupies and, most hilariously, the looks of outrage the band got from “straight society”.

The bonus features don’t disappoint either. You can watch the performances from the film in an unedited form, an interview between Bob Gruen and Dictators singer Handsome Dick Manitoba, look at  Gruen’s photos of the band with accompanying commentary, and see Gruen, Sylvain Sylvain and David Johansen doing a commentary track. All in all, it’s a handsome package and kudos to Music Video Distributors for putting out yet another important piece of American rock history.

The Kinks – You Really Got Me: The Story Of The Kinks (ABC Entertainment)


The DVD tries to present a history of the Kinks, interspersed with live performances. It should’ve been interesting, especially for a band like The Kinks, whose story hasn’t been milked as dry as Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who…etc. Somewhere things went terribly wrong. Most of the ninety-minute run-time is pissed away with grainy live footage, mostly from two shows – one from the band’s early days and one from the turn of the ‘80s. Things only get worse when the announcer tells the band’s story in the most grating voice in the history of professional broadcasting. Worse, the voice-over content is chronologically mismatched with the footage on screen. For example, when discussing the Kinks mid-‘60s ban on touring in America, footage of the band from the ‘80s is shown on-screen and the song “Celluloid Heroes” – from 1972 – is heard. Chronological accuracy hasn’t been so blatantly disregarded since Timecop. It’s almost impossible to learn anything from this awful rip-off.

Style Wars Revisited (Public Art Films)


Style Wars may not be about music per-se, but rather a look at the roots of hip-hop culture. The documentary, which originally appeared on PBS, explores the rise of graffiti on the New York City subway lines, as well as break-dancing and rapping. Through interviews with the major writers of the time we learn how the artistic techniques of “tagging up” developed and what the motivation was for so many inner-city kids to get into such a dangerous and illegal hobby (most did it for fame). Although many New Yorkers saw graffiti as a nuisance, the writers got the last laugh as many parlayed graffiti into a successful art career. The original film is short at just sixty-nine minutes so this DVD thankfully offers up a host of crucial bonuses such as the thirty-four minute “Style Wars: Revisited” which catches up with some of the writers twenty years later – surprisingly many are still passionate about graffiti and some are even still writing! Other bonuses include four new interviews with writers from the film, a somewhat incongruous Aesop Rock video, and a thirty-minute loop of old graffiti masterpieces called Destroy All Lines. Style Wars is essential for fans of graffiti, old hip-hop or inner-city culture