1991's best (and worst) videos
Video of the Year
1. The Beatles — The First U.S. Visit
If you were alive in 1964, this remarkable video can both give you back your innocence and correct decades of rose-colored nostalgia. All the wonder of the Beatles’ impact is here — the Ed Sullivan performances (in remastered sound, no less), the press conferences — yet the footage makes brutally clear how overwhelmed the Fabs themselves were. And if you weren’t alive in 1964, Visit captures a shock wave that still vibrates in what we wear, how we think, what we listen to. Eight years earlier, with Elvis, the culture of youth had staked a claim. This time it triumphed.
Best Wait-for-the-Tape Movies
1. Pump Up the Volume
The epitome of the good little movie that gets ignored in theaters only to find its audience on video. Christian Slater is incredibly charismatic as the high school student whose anonymous pirate-radio rants turn his town, then the country, on its ear. The best teens-run-amok flick since 1979’s Over the Edge, Volume is steeped in the end-of-the-world, self-pitying, larger-than-life mind-set of adolescence as you actually may remember it.
2. The Tall Guy
A sweet, goofy, uproarious British comedy that gives Jeff Goldblum his finest role yet. Playing a chronically dazed actor — sort of an American jughead in London — Goldblum falls hard for a nurse (Dead Again‘s Emma Thompson) whose starchy uniform hides a soul of lust. Halfway through, the movie switches gears to skewer Andrew Lloyd Webber-style musicals, but its wonky romantic charm holds firm. A gem.
This shrieker from the Spielberg camp (his longtime producer, Frank Marshall, directed) got lost in the box office shuffle because the marketing no-brows couldn’t figure out whether to sell it as a comedy or a thriller. Its genius is that it is both — as these spiders crawl through town, your funny bone and ”eyewww!” reflex work in equal measure — and the humans (Jeff Daniels, John Goodman) are pros. Slick, meaningless, great fun.
Worst Wait-for-the-Tape Movies
1. Funny About Love
Flabby feel-good tripe in which middle-aged cartoonist Gene Wilder wants a child, then doesn’t want a child, then wants a child again, then…Christine Lahti and Mary Stuart Masterson look lost while the star tries to pass off his blithering shtick as new-male doubt. It’s hard to imagine the man was once funny.
Sly Stallone’s geometrically shrinking career appears to be affecting his mind. How else to explain this witless comedy, so poorly adapted from a French stage farce that you can practically hear the coughing in the front row? The cast is huge and intriguingly diverse — everyone from Tim Curry to Vincent Spano to Ornella Muti — but in the center is a star with a big, fat, terrified grin plastered on his face.
3. The Doors
Even if you liked Oliver Stone’s lysergic cook’s tour through Jim Morrison’s life and times, the home-video version is a tinny souvenir. The early sections remain watchable, but to get across the brute force of Stone’s endless concert and orgy sequences, you’d need a big- screen projection TV and a full Sensurround system. For a movie this portentously silly, it’s just not worth it. Shorn of its theatrical sound and fury, The Doors signifies nothing.
Red, Hot + Blue
Here’s one all-star tribute that stands out — and it’s for a good cause. Performers like U2, k.d. lang, the Neville Brothers, and Jody Watley rework Cole Porter, with the proceeds going to AIDS research. The video versions (originally broadcast on ABC) are mostly ingenious, witty, and touching, with the prize going to Iggy Pop and Debbie Harry’s riotously snide take on ”Well, Did You Evah!”
Two Rooms — Elton John/Bernie Taupin
Hands-down winner of the Spinal Tap award for fatuousness above and beyond the call of rock & roll duty. You may enjoy this 90-minute-long tribute to Elton John and his longtime lyricist — both wearing headgear to hide their bald spots — if (1) you need to know the deep inner meaning of ”Daniel” or (2) you think pop music has all been downhill since 1975. Maybe it has, but these two helped.
The Last Picture Show
Criterion Television Classics: I Love Lucy
These two packages contain a wealth of entertaining, informative supplements. Picture Show seems more brilliant than ever, with seven minutes of outtakes restored by director Peter Bogdanovich. The Lucy disc plays like a glossy picture-book of the future: You can watch priceless shtick in two episodes, then delve into acres of production stills, script pages, and biographical text.
My Fair Lady Special Widescreen Edition
As Audrey Hepburn’s cockney Eliza Doolittle might put it, wide-screen my bloomin’ arse. Lerner & Loewe’s panoramic movie musical has indeed been letterboxed here, but an electronic ”squeeze” in the images renders the cast anorexic. Worse, video ”enhancement” intended to sharpen the picture makes it smeary and colorless. Wouldn’t it be loverly if CBS/Fox recalled this botch for a makeover?
Michael Apted’s documentary is a life project in every sense of the word: He filmed fourteen 7-year-olds in 1963, then went back when they were 14, 21, and 28. The results are not unlike those stop-motion films of flowers blooming, except that these are people, and what’s going on is a lot more complex. Vast in scope, heartbreakingly specific in detail.
Madonna…The Real Story!
Okay, if you’re silly enough to actually buy this, maybe you won’t mind that it’s the video equivalent of lite popcorn. But for a quickie cash-in, couldn’t they have thrown in something more than old news footage, still photos, and a ”celebrity columnist” gassing away on the producer’s sofa? Like, how about some nice unsubstantiated dirt?
Bride of Re-Animator
Straight-to-tape schlock continues as a heavily trafficked video genre. Stuart Gordon’s 1985 Re-Animator remains the best gore flick ever made, and while this follow-up lacks Gordon’s grisly genius, its blunt-object wit sets it apart from the rest of the horror-section dreck. Not one to watch while eating a plate of nachos.
Rock ‘N’ Roll High School Forever
The 1979 original, starring the Ramones and P.J. Soles, was a good-natured drive-in throwback that dared to be dumb. This piece of post-MTV plastic is dumb without being daring. There’s a world of difference. ”Hero” Corey Feldman is the type of dork Soles’ Riff Randell would have crushed with a glance, and even if Mary Woronov returns as principal-from-hell Miss Togar, the movie’s still a sacrilege.
The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T
Still blue over the recent demise of Theodor Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss? We know just how you feel, and this truly weird musical-fantasy is the perfect tribute. The good doctor scripted, set-designed, and served as guiding spirit for this tale of 500 boys imprisoned by their monomaniacal piano teacher. Did we say it was weird? And where can you buy those beanies?
You read that right. Sure, Orson Welles’ brainchild is one of the greatest movies to come out of Hollywood — but this ”remastered” reissue (it comes in three different boxed sets) is a thorough botch. All the mesmerizing visual details painstakingly worked out by Welles and his cameraman, Gregg Toland, are lost in this video transfer’s murky haze. It’s like looking at the Mona Lisa through a Baggie.
The Best of Ernie Kovacs
Five tapes and five hours of a man so alarmingly creative that the networks probably wouldn’t let him near a camera today. Kovacs was the first to treat TV comedy as a new medium, and while Laugh-In, Saturday Night Live, and Letterman have built upon his surreal gusto, no one has gone as deeply into the genuinely bizarre. Percy Dovetonsils, the Nairobi Trio, Mr. Question Man — they’re all here, and the box comes with a nicely useless gimmick of which Kovacs would be proud: a pack of cigars.
Start Trek I-V
For the 25th anniversary of the Star Trek TV show, Paramount boxed the five Star Trek movies in three configurations. This top-dollar set puts the movies in a cloth-covered box with enamel pins, a certificate from Trek‘s late creator, Gene Roddenberry, and a note hand-signed by William ”Cap’n Kirk” Shatner. Very nice, but couldn’t they have waited for the sixth, and purportedly last, Star Trek movie to hit video so the package would actually be complete? Want to bet there’ll be a whole new round of boxed sets when that recently released film comes to tape? Truly, there’s a Trekker born every minute.
Best Bad Video Titles
Behind the Veil: Nuns
Bloodsucking Pharoahs in Pittsburgh
Buns of Steel
Dead Men Don’t Die
Invasion of the Space Preachers
Most Offensive Environmental Stretch
A 30-minute video of a fire in a fireplace — that’s right, just a fire — from Genesis Infinity is titled Environmental Fireplace. The promo line for this ”fireplace of the future”: ”Save a tree — turn on your TV.” We used our copy for kindling.
Continuing in the ground-breaking schlock vein of 1990’s Frankenhooker, the cassette box for Rhino’s Microwave Massacre features built-in lights and sound effects that graphically nuke the severed head in the title appliance. What, no popcorn?
Most Irresistibly Stupid Gimmick Tape
Just when you thought useless entertainment exploitation had run its course — how do you follow Video Baby and Video Dog? — Worldwide Entertainment Marketing released Video Nag. The 25-minute tape features a shrill domestic harpy who berates the viewer in five nag-ready settings. Is this a great country or what?
Best Video Recommendation by a Criminal
When it was reported that New Hampshire schoolteacher Pamela Smart, on trial for convincing a student to murder her husband, seduced the kid by making him watch 9 1/2 Weeks, rentals for the 1986 Mickey Rourke sleazefest soared locally. The verdice for Smart: Guilty. For the movie: Still pretty dumb.