Bill Wyman's Blues Odyssey (2001)

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Released 11-Oct-2002

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Main Menu Audio
Gallery-Photo
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 2001
Running Time 109:11 (Case: 120)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (61:01) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Barry Eyre
Chris Watson
Studio
Distributor

Umbrella Entertainment
Starring Bill Wyman
Clarke Peters
B.B. King
Case Click
RPI $34.95 Music Various


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Bill Wyman's Blues Odyssey is an informative documentary detailing the history of blues music. The project was apparently conceived for US TV, as a series of two 60-odd minute made-for-TV features. This DVD contains both episodes.

    Judging by the title, I had originally feared that this DVD might well end up being either an exercise in self-indulgence for Bill Wyman or a piece of self-promotion for the (Wyman years) Rolling Stones. Thankfully however it is neither. The first thing to note is that Bill Wyman is in fact not the main presenter for this documentary. The feature presenter is in fact actor and presenter Clarke Peters, who does a great job here. Bill Wyman is credited as the project conceiver and principal writer and researcher. Naturally, he does feature quite heavily throughout the documentary, both as interviewee with Peters and also as interviewer to many of the current blues legends and their connections.

    Bill Wyman is first and foremost, though, a lover of the blues and his passion for this music is undeniable and very infectious. As well as being extremely knowledgeable on the topic, he comes across in this documentary as being very natural and a likeable character. You don't get "Bill Wyman, the founding member of one of the most successful rock bands in the world" here. What you get is "Bill Wyman, veteran musician paying homage to his musical roots". This is a man who has enough self-confidence in his own ability and achievements to not need to put on the rock and roll persona unnecessarily. He does not pretend to be the young rock star, does not try to mask his age or worry too much about projecting his own image. Rather, he is simply here to collate the information about his musical roots and to tell the story of the history of blues music from his perspective, with the substantial benefit of his own amassed experiences and contacts. In the end this makes for a very enjoyable and informative documentary and not, as it could quite easily have degenerated into, a cash-in on a famous music name or a self-promotional piece.

    Good, comprehensive blues documentaries are few and far between. This one goes into great detail about the formative years of the 1920s and 1930s and explains how and why all the greats contributed to the development of the blues style. What I like about this documentary is that Bill and others explain exactly what was different about each of the respective bluesmen and women at the time they became popular and therefore how/why they contributed to the development of the genre. The documentary covers the period right through from the lesser-known founders including W.C. Handy and Charley Patton, to the men who first popularised the style, like the often referred to "father of the blues" Robert Johnson, and Elmore James, through to the Chicago Blues period and growth of the style through the likes of legends such as John Lee Hooker and Howlin' Wolf, right through to the influence of more modern blues/rock and roll legends such Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, B.B. King and Eric Clapton. Interviews with B.B. King feature prominently in the latter part of the documentary and he is always a pleasure to listen to, with some interesting insights and anecdotes.

    This is the most comprehensive and well put-together history of the blues I have seen to date. It is also one of the first blues documentaries I have seen that doesn't get hung-up about  trying to delineate what may be the "best" or "most influential" blues period, be it either the Delta Blues or Chicago Blues or any other faction. Instead, it simply offers one man's perspective on the entire history of blues music and how and why it came to drive all forms of popular music in its wake.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The video transfer on offer here is perfectly satisfactory. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced for the vast majority, apart from being interspersed with the odd piece of older 1.33:1 footage that has been stretched to fit the wider 1.78:1 frame (for example at 78:30).

    Sharpness and resolution detail is variable with the source. The newly shot footage for the documentary and new interviews is all quite clearly defined and of a pleasing degree of resolution in both foreground and background, with no noise or grain issues. This documentary also of necessity utilises archival black and white footage of the blues masters in their contexts, dating back as far as the 1920s and 30s, and so naturally the quality of this material is variable, but it is all presented to the best degree possible.

    Colours are nicely saturated for all the newly shot footage, with some excellent greens and blues on display in the outdoor scenes. Skin tones are, for the vast majority, fine. The archival footage is mostly in black and white but with an acceptable tonal range; again, all presented to the best degree possible.

    No MPEG artefacts are introduced into the new footage, but the older footage does evidence some pixelization and posterization artefacts due to the age and quality of the source material. Film-to-video artefacts are not material. Film or source artefacts are absent from all the new documentary footage but are naturally enough present in the archival footage, becoming more of an issue for the very old source footage. There is also the odd source problem with the newer footage, like a couple of instances of over-exposure of the light source and/or light reflections in the camera lens (see for examples 14:40 and 13:55), but these would appear to be deliberate/stylistic.

    There are no subtitle tracks available.

    The disc is RSDL formatted, with the layer change occurring at 61:01. This seems like an insensitive place to put it when you consider it could easily have been held over just a few minutes longer and placed more logically in the pause between the two episodes of this documentary.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     The audio transfer is faithful and well mixed. On offer is an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mix at 224 Kb/s.

    Dialogue quality is excellent, being crisp and with no lines muffled or inaudible - crucial for a documentary. Audio sync is also fine.

    There is a very brief audio dropout at 19:13 and some audio interference during Chapter 4, but otherwise there are no problems with audio dropouts.

    The music in this feature is provided almost exclusively by the blues masters themselves and is of variable quality with the age of the material. The very early blues pressings on wax and on early vinyl are of course quite hissy and distorted, but are all the more fascinating and celebrated because of their charm and the fact that these seminal recordings have managed to survive to this day at all. The quality of the more recent blues recordings is much more faithful, with the recordings of Bill Wyman's modern-day band The Rhythm Kings and the quality of the post-production audio mix generally being excellent.

    There is extremely minimal surround activity in this mix and whilst this is not billed as a surround mix, I did notice a small amount of ambience being redirected into the surround channels.

    Subwoofer use is sparing, but effective when needed. The older recordings are largely devoid of very low frequencies, however the sub is called upon to help fill out the bass notes in some of the more modern recordings when needed.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    There is only one extra on this disc, being a photo montage of 6 shots. Not very exciting.

    The only other options available from the main menu are a scene selection screen (static with no audio) and a "Propaganda" screen, being just a single static screen promoting other Umbrella Music releases.

    The main menu and other screens are presented in the appropriate aspect ratio of 1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced. All screens are static, with audio underscore only present on the main menu screen.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This disc is multi-zoned and is available in identical format in Region 2. Very strangely, this title does not appear to have received a release locally in Region 1 though, as yet.

Summary

    The blues is accepted to be the most important musical legacy inherent in nearly all forms of our popular music today, but yet many of us probably still have no real understanding of why this is so, exactly how it came to be popularised at the time and why it influenced all popular music styles in its wake. This is the most comprehensive and well put together history of the blues that I have seen to date, with the material being well presented in a very accessible and interesting manner, and on a DVD that provides great video and audio transfers.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Sean Abberton (read my bio)
Monday, March 17, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 2109, using Component output
DisplayToshiba 117cm widescreen RPTV. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderYamaha RXV-1000. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre.
AmplificationElektra Home Theatre surround power amp
SpeakersOrpheus Aurora III mains, Orpheus Centaurus 1.0 centre, Velodyne CT150 sub and B&W DM303 rears

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