Archive for the Concert film Category

For Music Fans, “This Is It”

Posted in Concert film, Documentary with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2010 by ericstraus

Whatever you might think of Michael Jackson’s personal life, whatever you believe about his legal entanglements, one fact is undeniably true: he was one of, if not the greatest performer in music history.  If you aren’t convinced of this, you will be after seeing “This Is It,” the documentary made shortly before his death.  The film chronicles the rehearsals for what was going to be billed as Jackson’s final shows, and as the footage shows, it would have been something beyond memorable.

The songs are all terrific, from the great tunes off the “Thriller” album like “Beat It,” “Human Nature,” “Billie Jean,” and of course the title track, to his beginnings with the Jackson 5 on “Stop the Love You Save,” and “I’ll Be There,” to anthems like “Black or White” and “Man in the Mirror.”  The choreography holds true to the moves we all became familiar with from Jackson’s videos – we all know what someone is talking about when they say they can do the “Thriller dance.” 

We are shown clips of the video footage that was to be used as introductory material for the performances.  For “Smooth Criminal,” Jackson had digitally inserted himself in old Bogart and Edward G. Robinson crime films, running from machine gun bullets and jumping through glass windows.  The “Thriller” intro video was shot in 3D, with zombie hands reaching into the audience while Vincent Price’s creepy narration from the original track streams throughout; we get to see Jackson and director Kenny Ortega cueing actors during this part.

There are some nice glimpses of Jackson’s rehearsal style.  He is a perfectionist to say the least, but never comes off as a “diva.”  He certainly gets frustrated at points, but never projects himself as being mean or cruel.  Some of the more amusing moments come from Ortega suggesting things to Jackson in a very clear, detailed manner; his wealth of respect for Jackson is obvious.

The emotional aspect of the film is one of feeling sad that such an icon has passed, and that no one will ever get to see the actual show that we see being rehearsed.  This is addressed in the opening of the movie, as the words on the screen tell us the decision to release this footage was “for the fans.”  Jackson’s songs are truly iconic, as was he, and there is no doubt that this show would have been monumental; music fans will be grateful for this peek behind the scenes, but will be disappointed that the final product will only exist in our imaginations.  But Jackson was all about imagination, so in some bizarre way, it all makes sense.  If you’re looking for one comprehensive way to capture Michael Jackson the performer, this is it.

Final Grade for This Is It: B+

Inside the Aquarium: Phish 3D

Posted in Concert film, Documentary with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 3, 2010 by ericstraus

This review of the film “Phish 3D” will be from a film standpoint.  For a review from a musical standpoint, please visit my music blog.

3D seems to be the big thing these days – all the blockbusters are released in 3D format.  I saw “Avatar” in 3D, and it didn’t really add anything to the film.  So when I heard that Phish was releasing a concert film in this format, I was skeptical as to the necessity.  But after seeing the movie, not only did the 3D work really well, it was essential to the overall experience.

As a sort of teaser for their upcoming summer tour, Phish has released a 2-hour film of highlights from their three-day festival called “8” (in recognition of it being their 8th festival).  “8” took place over Halloween weekend of 2009 in Indio, CA, and featured Phish’s first-ever fully acoustic set, as well as their performance of the Rolling Stones masterpiece album “Exile on Main Street” in its entirety. 

The 3D really puts the viewer at the concert – balloons float by and you feel compelled to reach out and grab them.  The intense light show affects your eyes as though you were seeing it in person.  As the camera tracks along the stage, the perspective makes it seem like you’re standing right there.  This is how 3D should be used, when it’s not being used for jump-out-at-you gags. 

As far as concert films go, “Phish 3D” is a good one.  I’m a fan of concert films – I love seeing the guitar strings being plucked close-up, the furious fingering on the keyboards, and the terrific sound blasting out of the amplifiers.  The song selection for this movie was well-chosen.  For the uninitiated, it’s a good mix of Phish’s styles and influences, as well as some marvelous jamming.  There are a few behind-the-scenes segments, showing rehearsals for some of the Rolling Stones songs, as well as some shots of the other festival activities.

Phish fans came to the theater prepared – glowsticks and balloons floated around the theater, and sometimes it was hard to distinguish between the balloon in front of you and the 3D balloon floating toward you.

This was actually the 4th time I’d seen Phish in a movie theater.  During their final tour of 2004 (after they had announced they would be breaking up), they did a live simulcast of a concert in June, and then their final two shows in Vermont.  The simulcast went to movie theaters nationwide, and the atmosphere was very much like being at the show.  People tailgated in the theater parking lots, people were dancing in the aisles.  But the mood at “Phish 3D” was much mellower, probably because this was not a live performance.  But it was a lot of fun nonetheless, although it did leave me wanting another 30 minutes of footage or so.

So if you have been curious about what a Phish show is all about but haven’t felt motivated to go see them, this film is a great way to get introduced.

Final Grade for Phish 3D: A-