Music : All ears

The best music your TV could wish for

Music obsessives are accustomed to making do with some fairly perfunctory efforts when it comes to films about music. Video-store shelves are weighed down with slapdash docs that tell them “don’t whine about lousy photography and thoughtless editing, just be happy you’re getting to see this stuff at all.”

So when a new series of generic-looking titles bears the motto “an independent critical analysis,” eyebrows may lift. When the series’ first titles are devoted to Captain Beefheart and The Velvet Underground, an investigation is in order.

The new Under Review line, from an outfit called Sexy Intellectual, takes its mission seriously. Fans will appreciate the docs’ style from the start, but will only grow more appreciative from there: These films treat rock bands like serious subjects, progressing chronologically through their histories and offering vintage and new interviews — both with the musicians themselves and with heavy thinkers on the rock-crit scene. Under Review may be hard to find in stores, but it’s worth a little hunting.

Distributed by the same company is Brinkfilm’s new TV Party series, which for those infatuated with New York’s turn-of-the-’80s hipster scene is a find only slightly less astonishing than the Gospel of Judas. TV Party was a public-access show that doubled as a living room for the NYC avant-garde. Host Glenn O’Brien let pretty much anyone — Blondie, Andy Warhol, David Byrne, et al — swing by the studio unannounced, and went with the flow, describing the result as “the cocktail party that could become a political party.” Check out TV Party: The Documentary first to make sense of it all. If you like what you see, Brinkfilm has also released the show’s first episode in its entirety. Hopefully, more are in the pipeline.

Speaking of Blondie, the band’s new Greatest Hits: Sound & Vision (EMI) offers the obvious plus a full disc of their music videos. That’s enough for me, but budding TV Party fans will take additional interest in the “In the Flesh” video, which was surely inspired by the show. Along the same lines is Marvin Gaye: The Real Thing (Hip-O), which takes a comprehensive look at the soul icon’s best filmed performances, starting with the clean-cut fella singing “Can I Get A Witness” for a go-go crowd and stretching to a 1981 “Let’s Get It On,” sung by a substantially more laid-back man.

The titles above are all enticing, but in the department of film artistry the recent release to beat is Townes Van Zandt: Be Here To Love Me (Palm). Margaret Brown’s sensitive, beautifully put-together documentary got plenty of press but too little time in theaters; now, any Townes fan near a video store can see it, and should.

A tiny bit more lighthearted is Abba: The Movie, which deserves mention partly because fans suffered through a few release-date announcements and cancellations waiting for this day. Directed (believe it or not) by Lasse Hallström, it’s structured around a DJ following the band’s tour (hence, all the performance footage) trying to get an interview. Is there a story worth watching? If you have to ask, you should probably move along. Perhaps more conventional fare, like the so-so 50 Cent vehicle Get Rich or Die Tryin’ (Paramount) is more your speed?

All in all, it’s an uncommonly good time for folks to venture into their video store’s music section. And that’s not even mentioning the stream of actual movie musicals that keep appearing: A new box set from Warner called Classic Musicals from the Dream Factory boasts five, with songs penned by Jerome Kern, Harry Warren, and André Previn/Comden & Green. For just the song and no dance, there’s Rhino/TCM’s jam-packed That’s Entertainment!, a six-CD reissue of the popular show-tunes box, offering new remasters and a disc full of tunes that have never been on disc before. Nice time to connect with your inner Judy Garland before reconfirming your cred with a little Velvet Underground.

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