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Friday, March 17, 2017

Screen Savor: Tower of Song

Written by  Gregg Shapiro
Ron Howard, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr Ron Howard, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr

There’s no question that 2016 will be long remembered as a year of immeasurable losses in the world of music. One of the most shocking was the passing of Leonard Cohen, who died following a fall at the age of 82, shortly after the release of You Want It Darker, his 14th studio album.

One way to remember Cohen is by watching Lian Lunson’s 2005 tribute concert doc Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man (Lionsgate / Icon), newly available on Blu-ray and Digital HD. Featuring performances by Antony (before becoming known as Anohni), Nick Cave (crooning “I’m Your Man”), the Handsome Family and Linda Thompson (“A Thousand Kisses Deep”), Rufus Wainwright with sister Martha, (his late) mother Kate and aunt Anna McGarrigle (“Everybody Knows”), Beth Orton (“Sisters of Mercy”), Jarvis Cocker (“I Can’t Forget”), and others, the doc also features interviews with Hal Wilner, as well as U2’s The Edge and Bono.

There are also documentary elements interwoven with performance footage, most of which involve stories of Cohen’s life (his songwriting process, stories about songs, why he always wears suits, the Chelsea hotel, his spiritual journey), along with interviews with him. Blu-ray and Digital HD bonus features include additional song performances not found in the movie, a conversation with Cohen and audio commentary with Lunson.

Directed by Ron Howard, the two-DVD special edition of The Beatles doc Eight Days A Week: The Touring Years (UMe / Apple Corps /White Horse / Imagine) includes a 64-page booklet. The first disc contains Howard’s splendid tribute to the Fab Four, from the first time Ringo Starr played with John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison in 1962, through the Beatles’ final London rooftop performance in 1969.

As the Beatles themselves say, they were not an overnight sensation. However, to quote John, the four talented lads from Liverpool went all the way “to the toppermost of the poppermost.” Tracing Beatlemania via TV and concert appearance, beginning in 1963 with a show in Manchester and the release of the first Beatles album, which spent 30 weeks at number one on the charts, Howard incorporates both found and familiar footage. Howard also deserves credit for giving a fair amount of screen time to the late Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ gay manager who brought “Liverpool class” to the group.

Living up to “The Touring Years” in the title, Eight Days a Week follows the Beatles from early concerts in theaters in New York, Washington, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Beirut, Hong Kong, Adelaide, Melbourne, Wellington, Stockholm, Paris, Milan, Madrid, and Tokyo through the shows in stadiums in American cities including Portland, Minneapolis, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Toronto, and New York, to final 1966 concert in San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. It also shows the wear-and-tear a schedule consisting of 25 cities in 30 days can have on a band.

In addition to current interviews with Paul and Ringo, as well as vintage interviews with John and George, we hear from writer/director Richard Curtis, comedian Eddie Izzard, Whoopi Goldberg, Elvis Costello, director Richard Lester, Malcolm Gladwell, Sigourney Weaver, journalist Larry Kane, historian Dr. Kitty Oliver, and composer Howard Goodall, to name just a few. The second DVD of special features includes more than 100 minutes of early career highlights up until 1966, as well as a few rarely shown live performances.

Even if you aren’t an opera queen (this writer isn’t), there’s something worth watching in the 30th anniversary edition / Blu-ray debut of the multi-director film anthology Aria (Lightyear). Ten directors – Nicholas Roeg, Charles Sturridge, Jean Luc Goddard, Julien Temple, Bruce Beresford, Robert Altman, Franc Roddam, Ken Russell, Derek Jarman, and Bill Bryden – created short films to accompany arias from operas composed by Verdi, Puccini, Wagner, and others.

Roeg’s is set in 1931 Vienna, to Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera, and features Theresa Russell (in and out of male drag), as a king who is the target of a failed assassination plot. Sturridge’s modern-day black & white segment, set to Verdi’s La Forza del Destino, involves kids and a stolen car. Self-absorbed bodybuilders (is there any other kind?) and sexually aroused housekeepers populate a gym in Goddard’s short set to Lully’s Armide. Temple’s farcical piece introduces us to a movie producer (Buck Henry), his “sick” wife (Anita Morris), her hot young lover (Garry Kasper), and the producer’s mistress (Beverly D’Angelo), who all check into the same hotel for some action as Verdi’s Rigoletto plays in the background. A young (and mostly naked) Elizabeth Hurley can be seen lip-synching in Beresford’s interpretation of Korngold’s Die Tote Stadt. The costumes alone are reason enough to watch Julie Haggerty in Altman’s opera house set take on Rameau’s Les Boreades, while old Las Vegas is the setting for the erotic impression of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, starring Bridget Fonda, directed by Roddam. Ken Russell’s car-crash fantasia vision of Turandot is as surreal as you’d expect it to be, dripping in blood and jewels. The late gay filmmaker Jarman’s Louise by Charpentier stars his longtime muse, Tilda Swinton. The recently deceased John Hurt brings it all to a close as Pagliacci.

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