The Songmakers Collection (2001)

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Released 14-Apr-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Music Main Menu Audio
Biographies-Cast
Discography
Trailer-DVD - Johnny Cash, The Monkees, Tony Bennett, Gene Vincent
Trailer-DVD-Johnny Cash,The Carpenters,Eddie Cochran,Ray Charles
Rating Rated E
Year Of Production 2001
Running Time 260:42 (Case: 300)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By None Given
Studio
Distributor
Umbrella
Madman Entertainment
Starring Burt Bacharach
Dionne Warwick
Bobby Darin
Carole King
Neil Sedaka
Lieber and Stoller
Case ?
RPI $39.95 Music None Given


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes, Artists, songwriters.
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    "I met him at the candy store, he turned around and smiled at me ... That's when I fell for the leader of the pack". I don't know about you, but for me that is one of the classic openings in rock music. The song came out of the Brill Building, a New York landmark which was at the heart of the famous 'Tin Pan Alley', the metaphorical heart of American popular music. The 2 DVDs in this set include 5 music documentaries (produced for cable TV in the USA) which give a potted summary of some of the key songwriters and performers who either worked in or around the Brill Building, or who were influenced by those who did. The period covered is mainly the 1950s and 1960s, though mention is even made of Irving Berlin (yes, the one who wrote White Christmas which was mentioned in my review of Holiday Inn). The connection might be tenuous, but so are some of the linkages between the programs on offer here - it is a sort of '5 steps to Kevin Bacon' kind of thing.

    The key documentary on offer here is The Hitmakers, which runs for 89:24 and gives an overview of the Brill Building and key artists who laboured there (or nearby). They include such luminaries as Carole King & Gerry Goffin, Neil Sedaka, Lieber & Stoller, Mann & Weill and Phil Spector. Some of the songs to emerge included Will You Love Me Tomorrow, Leader of the Pack, The Locomotion, Calendar Girl and many more early rock standards. Rounding out the first DVD in the set is a documentary on Dionne Warwick (which runs 39:18); she was first discovered as a support singer for one of the groups in the area, and subsequently had many of her songs written by Burt Bacharach who himself started his career there.

    The second DVD in the set has three documentaries which showcase Lieber & Stoller (runs 44:00), Burt Bacharach (runs 44:03) and Bobby Darin (runs 43:57). All 5 of these shows feature extensive interviews with their subjects (at least those who are still alive), as well as many famous figures who worked with, or were influenced by, them. Some famous names who take part include Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Steve Lawrence, Sandra Dee, and Phil Ramone, to name just a few of the eclectic mix on offer. In case you are new to all of this Lieber & Stoller were icons of early rock and wrote or produced standards such as Hound Dog, Jailhouse Rock, Stand By Me and Kansas City. Burt Bacharach has written most of Dionne Warwick's best-known songs, and Darin is the performer of Splish, Splash and Dream Lover.

    With a line-up like that, how can you miss? Well, the problem is that these programs are as much about the stars as they are about the songs, and the excerpts from the performances are often agonizingly brief. They also suffer from the fact that the lives of many of these stars are fairly unremarkable, at least as presented here, so that more attention should have been on the songs and less on some of the mundane reminiscing which goes on. Even with this caveat the package is attractive. The episodes on the Brill Building and Lieber & Stoller are actually rather good; we could have had one excellent DVD (possibly at a lower price) rather than two mildly interesting ones. If you are a fan of the music on offer, this is still worthy of careful consideration.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Due to the nature of these DVDs I will spend a bit more time discussing their general characteristics, and less on specifics, than you might be used to. All of the documentaries make extensive use of archival footage, much of it old television stock, so that the video transfer varies wildly in quality. The modern interview segments are crisp and clear, with excellent colour and shadow detail. The older material is often fuzzy black & white exhibiting almost every sort of damage known to man.

    The aspect ratio is 1.33:1, non 16x9 enhanced, which appears to be the original production ratio as first broadcast on cable TV.

    As an example of the nice picture on offer at times, see 4:52 during the first show. Nearby at 4:41 you can see the fuzzy black & white in some of the archival footage.

    Due to the nature of the original material, it is not worth cataloguing the artefacts, as you will see positive and negative artefacts and scratches aplenty in the older material (as at 2:29 in the Lieber & Stoller show which is pretty much artefact city). The more modern footage is generally free of damage with no aliasing or damage of note.

    There are no subtitles. No layer change is apparent on either disc; they may be during fades or between episodes.

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

Audio

    As with the video transfer, so too with the audio transfer. Some of the older interviews and newsreel footage is in mono sound, often badly faded and of poor quality. The modern interviews are clear and easy to understand. Luckily many of the songs are reproduced in stereo, with some really nice sound on offer.

    There is only one audio track on the discs, an English Dolby Digital 2.0 track encoded at a bitrate of 224 Kb/s. At times it carries mono information, at others the songs are reproduced in stereo. There are two instances in the first documentary (the first at 55:04) where the sound drops out briefly.

    The dialogue in the modern interview segments is of excellent quality, with good audio sync. Some of the older interviews have limited quality with some background hiss.

    The music is key here, and luckily many of the songs are reproduced with rich stereo sound. Some of the archival songs, particularly off old TV shows, sound terrible, but are still of historical interest.

    The stereo songs are nicely recorded, making full use of the sound field across the front of the stage with good bass support from the subwoofer. The interviews are mono but with good presence. Some of the older archival material is rather thin, but the overall package is still fine given the nature of what is on offer here.

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

Extras

    The extras are a little light, but contain a few interesting moments.

Menu

    The menus are static with audio. They allow you to play each of the episodes on the disc, go to scene selections (12 for the longer show, 6 for the rest), or go to the Extras.

Biographies and Discographies

    These contain 3-5 text pages on the key artists - there is limited information on offer here.

Umbrella Propaganda

    These are trailers for other Umbrella Video documentaries, and have no real relationship to the discs under review except that they are music documentaries as well. Running between 1:11 and 2:42 they advertise Johnny Cash, The Monkees, Tony Bennett, Gene Vincent, The Carpenters, Eddie Cochran and Ray Charles. Generally random 'bleeding chunks', the exceptions are two fine Johnny Cash songs including I Walk The Line.

R4 vs R1

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

    This set is available in basically the same configuration in Region 1, apparently less the trailers. As a fan of Johnny Cash this weighs the preference heavily in favour of the Region 4 version. For those not so afflicted, ready availability still gives the Region 4 set the nod, though marginally.

Summary

    This two disc set contains a series of documentaries charting one small part of the early panorama of rock music. Of variable interest, they are still worth your time if you want to find out more about this fascinating era and the music which shaped it. After watching them you will be left wanting more of the music. The sound and picture reflect the age of the source, but much of the historical material adds a lot of value to the story being presented. The Extras are a little light on, but the package is of reasonable value if you like this sort of documentary approach to rock history. Personally, I would have liked to see the second disc filled with full video clips.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Tony Robert Davison (read my bio)
Saturday, February 21, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba SD-K350, using Component output
DisplaySONY VPL-HS10 LCD projector, ABI 280cm 16x9 screen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderKenwood. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationKenwood
SpeakersKenwood

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