SF* Flash Frames
Two cool animation DVDs recently came out thanks to Bay Area efforts. This one, Flash Frames, is a collection of independent internet videos and games created with Flash software from SF's own Macromedia. Videos include pieces by DJ Spooky and Todd Rundgren, and the low-budget simplicity of some of them will inspire young filmmakers, internet designers, and digital noodlers alike. Flash Frames represents the democratization of animated vision.
SF* Wave Twisters
And then there's Wave Twisters, DJ culture's answer to Heavy Metal. The elaborate skratchadelic brainchild of locals DJ Qbert and the Invisibl Skratch Piklz, Wave Twisters follows the futuristic adventures of the Inner Space Dental Commander as he battles the evil Red Worm to revive hip hop culture. The animation is perfectly synced to DJ Qbert's virtuoso turntable production and truly breaks the boundaries of traditional animation and music videos.
The Beatles: A Hard Day's Night
It would be hard to find a better no-brainer gift to satisfy any classic rock "n' roll fan. The best thing about this new collector DVD is the incredible tonal range that the digital remastering has brought out in the black-and-white film. The shadow detail and crisp white highlights yield a far richer visual experience on modern televisions. The audio, too, is much improved over VHS; song vocals are cleaner, Lennon's Liverpudlian quips easier to decipher. A bonus disc of interviews and documentaries that rounds out the package is only really of interest to hard-core Mop-Top fans, but aren't we all?
Stepping Razor: Red X
Finally released on DVD, this film on the life and death of Peter Tosh is one of the best music documentaries ever made. The "Red X" in the title is a reference to an ominous notation Tosh would see on his official documents from the government. The film chronicles the life of the radical Rasta prophet, from his deeply religious upbringing, his time as the political force of The Wailers, and his solo career railing against the "shitstem," to his unsolved murder in 1987. This reggae film isn't all positive vibrations and ganja; one comes away from it with a clear view of the poverty and desperation of Trenchtown that spawned the movement, much the way the Sex Pistols movie The Filth and the Fury documented the birth of punk.
Billy Bragg and Wilco: Man in the Sand
When Woody Guthrie died in 1967, he left behind the lyrics to more than a thousand songs. Due to a degenerative disorder that had left him unable to play music, and because he didn't notate music on paper, the melodies were lost forever. In 1999, his daughter Nora Guthrie enlisted socialist and sarcastic agitator Billy Bragg to create new tunes for them. Bragg brought in Wilco and Natalie Merchant, and the result is a cross-generational hybrid collaboration that sets the political and romantic songs of Guthrie's last years to modern roots-folk-rock arrangements. Along with the obligatory and currently relevant tirades against fascism we find a fantasy lust song to Ingrid Bergman and a children's nonsense tune. This documentary intersperses the story of the making of the album with the tragic legend of Guthrie's life, with bonus features including the demo recordings.
SF* The Band:The Last Waltz
In 1976, after 16 years on the road, The Band decided to have a final performance and go out with a bang. They chose San Francisco's Winterland on Thanksgiving, got Bill Graham to produce it, invited lots of their musician friends, and had young buck Martin Scorsese film it all. The result was an all-star concert of epic hippie-lore proportions, with jams and sets by Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Ron Wood, and B.B. King. Robbie Robertson and Scorsese add commentary over the film, and give their perspectives 25 years later.
Ani DiFranco: Render
Mostly through tour footage from 2001 and 2002, viewers are treated to Ani's powerful breathy narratives -- songs of personal politics, race relations, and relationships. Between tunes, DiFranco the comedian comes out, playfully chiding audience members who are singing every word. "It pisses off everyone around you -- excruciatingly. It kind of turns it into a soccer chant." When an adoring fan screams "We love you!" She cheekily replies "No shit! That's not the issue." This is the perfect antidote for that out-of-state teenage niece who hears only commercial radio, listens to boy bands, and has related cultural deficiencies. In addition, Righteous Babe Records has included a feature with complete songs from all of their artists, including Sekou Sundiata and Bitch & Animal. The copyright notice is softened to read "Unauthorized duplication, while sometimes necessary, is never as good as the real thing."
Lauren Hill: Unplugged
MTV's Unplugged format of acoustic purity and visual simplicity showcases the former Fugee's expressive vocals and meaningful lyrics, and secure her reign as hip hop's high priestess-poet. Rather than just doing acoustic versions of her other songs, Hill created an entire album of new material. Her song introductions show her humor, candor, and refreshing humility. When she explains leaving her band, she says, "Fantasy is what people want, but reality is what they need. And I'm just retired from the fantasy part." Prophet-style proclamations abound, as do lines of Rasta-ized Biblical lingo.