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The Greatest Ever: 5 Must-Have Rock & Roll DVDs
By: John Sebastien on Sun Aug 31, 2008
As more and more music lovers turn to online music formats for their fix of shake, rattle and roll, there’s growth in other consumer sectors of the music industry, particularly with the re-release of concert films on DVD. High-quality transfers, re-mastered 5.1 audio and a host of other features mean that it’s possible for rock fans anywhere to create a miniature concert experience in the comfort of their own home.

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“Don’t Look Back”
The big and getting bigger pre-motorcycle crash Bob Dylan found his most insightful critic not in Rolling Stones’ Greil Marcus, but in the person of director D.A. Pennebaker, arguably the greatest rock n’ roll documentarian (he would later take on David Bowie, Little Richard, Depeche Mode, Jimi Hendrix, and the Monterey Pop festival) working today. In “Don’t Look Back”, Pennebaker applies a loose and free-flowing hand to his subject, capturing Dylan during his 1965 English tour as he mercilessly mocks an all too eager-to-please Donovan in a memorable scene in a hotel room, surrounded by various hangers-on. All that, and an amazing performance at Royal Albert Hall that would tantalize bootleggers and Dylan nuts for decades to come. Pennebaker would follow this up with the way less coherent “Eat The Document,” filmed the following year for ABC (they rejected it) that has yet to be released, but is notable for one out-take, involving a way out of it Dylan being admonished by John Lennon to get his act together in the back of a limousine.

“Gimme Shelter”
Sibling documentary film-makers Albert and David Maysles, who’ve been bubbling up all over again since Criterion re-released their classic spinster docu-drama “Grey Gardens,” spent some time filming the Rolling Stones, right around The film is most notable for capturing the violence at Altamont when Meredith Hunter, a young 18 year old at the , was stabbed to death by Hells Angels members, who were ostensibly providing security for the gig. A sort of last gasp for the 60s, the incident marked a turning point when the idealism of that era collapsed under the internal weight of its own violence, confusion, and anchorless hedonism.
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The Last Waltz
Martin Scorsese’s epic concert film, considered by the Chicago Tribune to be the greatest concert film ever made, captured a Thanksgiving Day performance in San Francisco by folk-rock outfit the Band in 1976. The film, shot beautifully by noted cinematographers, including Laszlo Kovacs, perfectly portrays both the raw emotional energy of one of rock’s greatest groups at the pinnacle of their creative powers, and also the internal squabbling and tension as they come apart at the seams. With a too-long to mention here list of guests that include the likes of Neil Young, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, Dr. John, Mavis Staples, and yes, even Neil Diamond on a stage with crystal chandeliers and the set of the San Francisco Opera’s set of La Traviata as a backdrop, this is post-hippy rock n’ roll excess from a group of Laurel Canyon dwellers whose careers would never ascend to such heights again, as they receded into their own troubled egos, their later offerings quickly overshadowed by younger and hungrier subgenres, like new-wave, heavy metal and even reggae.


Stop Making Sense
Brian de Palma, another of the American cinematic up-and-comers of the rock n’ roll generation, also turned his eyes to music, with his 1984 film of new-wave rock band, The Talking Heads. Recorded entirely in digital audio, a novelty at the time for a performance movie, the band raised the 1.3 million dollar production budget themselves, and besides offering up a chance to see the band’s unique stage show with a backing band of funk session players, one also gets a sense of the strongly defined visual aesthetic the band constantly promoted – the most iconic image being David Byrne’s over-sized business suit. But Byrne’s notoriously controlling ego led to other production elements that make it different from the typical concert film – no audience shots, no coloured lighting, and a distinct lack of props or technical elements that keep the band’s performance central in the viewer’s mind. Trainspotters will also be happy to find a performance of “Genius of Love” by the Talking Heads off-shoot The Tom Tom Club.

Heavy Metal Parking Lot
For a lighter turn, I’d recommend a late-night viewing of this 1986 cult classic. Directors John Heyn and Jeff Krulik went under-cover as an MTV camera crew and filmed amazing footage in the parking lot of the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland on the evening of May 31, 1986, where enthusiastic fans had gathered to tailgate before British Heavy Metal band Judas Priest took the stage, including one young shirtless man tripping on LSD, air guitarists, and more enthusiastic, zebra-patterned specimens of the mid-80s teenage metal head. Judas Priest fans should be advised that this is a film about the fans in the parking lot before the concert and the unique subcultural rites and mores on display, and does not feature any performances by the band. It was eventually preceded by the much more sedate and Mom-friendly “Neil Diamond Parking Lot.”
 
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