Friday, August 31, 2012

DVD Reviews: The Beatles: Their Golden Age; Ali: The Man, the Moves, the Mouth

DVD Reviews: The Beatles – Their Golden Age

Text © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen, 2012
Images from the Internet

The Beatles – Their Golden Age
Written, narrated and directed by Les Krantz
Facts That Matter Inc. / Wildwood Films
60 minutes, 2012 [VOD HERE]

Both of the DVDs reviewed here are from the late 2000s, produced by Les Krantz, and made to look like television programs, though more likely they are direct to – yes – video. I asked my usual Beatle expert if he had heard of Krantz, but the answer came back negative.

Apparently his specialty is mostly generalized books about sports, the arts, and timeframes (Rose Colored Fifties, Their First Time in the Movies, The World’s Worst: A Compendium of the Most Ridiculous Feats, Facts & Fools of All Time, etc.). Why am I bringing this up? For two simple reasons.

First of all, the multitude of work released by Krantz is generalized. Apparently he look through a huge amount of information and uses a media sieve to bring the highlights, in the least expensive way possible (i.e., rather than pay royalties). I remember when VHS first started becoming popular in the early 1980s, there were a series of tapes like this that glossed over a history of cars and / or music, covering a specific timeframe (e.g., the ‘60), or was about, say, the Beatles or Elvis that just contained an hour of interview material with no music. Philosophically, that is very similar to the way this Beatles history feels. There really isn’t much here that is going to be new to anyone who is a rabid (or even somewhat knowledgeable) fan. Still, it is quite amusing to watch what touchstones in the Fabsters’ complex history Krantz touches on; New York / Sullivan and subsequent world tours, Maharishi Yogi (no mention of Transcendental the Mia Farrow scandal, though), “bigger than Jesus,” and so on.

So, is this worth getting? Well, for Beatles completists, duh. For those with busy lives who enjoy capsulizations, most likely. For Beatles historians? Well, again, technically there is nothing new here, though the ride is certainly fun at times.

Which brings us, in a roundabout way, to the second reason: since Krantz has a looooong history skipping stones on many subjects, he has acquired access to some interesting footage along the way. So, while there isn’t a lick of Beatles music on the tape (though the terrible incidental soundtrack is nearly Rutles-level close, on a elevator music quantity), there is a lot of footage of the band being interviewed, arriving at airports, on a set for their films, and clips of their movies as well that I haven’t seen in a documentary. Then again, I am not a Beatles expert.

Of course, I need to say that my two favorite period clips are not here, and any Beatles fan knows the two I mean by this description: they are both of angry and/or tearful fans outside the Plaza Hotel in New York; the first is a girl complaining to the reporter she and her friend waited since early morning and didn’t get to see them, and the other is of a toothsome, hefty young fellow who, well, basically says the same thing; both blame the police, and also answer their own questions of why they were not allowed in the area. All very humorous.

Krantz does a somewhat admirable job narrating and writing, and whether this is worth getting or not is certainly not up to me, but up to your own taste in – and level of – Beatlemania.

Ali: The Man, the Moves, the Mouth
Executive Producer: Les Krantz
Hosted by Bert Sugar
Facts That Matter, Inc/ Wildwood Films
60 minutes, 2008 / 2012

I suppose it is because I know so much less about boxing than the Beatles that I found this hour-long summation of Ali’s career more interesting (and I enjoyed the previous one).

Narrated by boxing expert Bert Sugar (listed as “show host” though he’s never seen; d. 2012), We see a very young Cassius Clay state why he wanted to box (has to do with a stolen bike, apparently), and follows his career though his many, many matches, on becoming a Muslim, his place in the Civil Rights movement, the war against him by the government during the Viet Nam war (yes, war), and those spectacular boxing moments with clever names like “Thrilla in Manila” and the “Rumble in the Jungle.”

Ali the man / legend is certainly more entertaining than Will Smith as Ali (and the Fresh Prince did an amazing job, FYI). Early on, Ali could put the fear into both his fists and his rhymes.

Sure, by his 30s, he was not the man he was when he began (rope-a-dope, my ass, he was tired), which was still the best in the world. Was he the quickest ever? Was he the strongest ever? Was he the prettiest ever? Well, it’s hard to argue with the last one, but I think it’s not the strength or the speed that made him the legend he is, but a combination of both, mixed with intelligence and instinct. The latter two is especially what put him above the likes of George Foreman and Joe Frazier. They were punching machines, but machines don’t think. Hey, that’s what brought town Skynet’s T-800, ain’t it?

Throughout the documentary, there are lots of shots of the key (and even some lesser) fights in Ali’s career, including the “phantom punch” against Sonny Liston. Of course, with this being only an hour, the clips are many, so they are naturally short. Besides, Ali was interesting enough out of the ring to support showing more of this footage.

My only two real gripes are that there is no mention (though seen a couple of times) of the man who probably did more for Ali’s career after his trainer, a snarky and rumpled man by the name of Howard Cosell (nee Cohen; d. 1995). Cosell kept him in the limelight in so many ways, championing him when few others would. Heck, his picture is even on the back cover! My other sticking point is the glossing over of Ali’s surprising defeat by Leon Spinks, an excellent but far lesser boxer; it’s pointed out that Ali won it back, but it is more a footnote here than the shock it was at the time. Much more time is spent on the bigger named Frazier and Foreman.

Ali / Clay is a fascinating person who has led an amazing life. His current lack of ability to move and talk fluidly due to a muscular degenerative disease reminds me of how talker Marshall McLuhan was reduced to one word the last year of his life after a stroke. And yet, Ali remains a charismatic figure who draws in all ages, occupations and class status. Even Patti Smith mentioned him in the song “Birdland,” on her first album, Horses.

This documentary gives a solid foundation of why that has happened. Nod to the man from me, too.

No comments:

Post a Comment