Jeffes Penguin Cafe Orchestra (1989) (NTSC)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Due Out for Sale 31-Dec-2007

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by
BUY IT

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Music Trailer-Guitarra!, Paco de Lucia, Three Ballets by DV8
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1989
Running Time 90:00
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By None Given
Studio
Distributor

Select Audio-Visual Distrib
Starring None Given
Case Amaray-Opaque
RPI ? Music None Given


Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Linear PCM 48/24 2.0 (1536Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles French
German
Spanish
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    The issue of this DVD commemorates a sad event - the 10 year anniversary of the death of Penguin Cafe Orchestra's "founder, sole composer and spiritual proprietor" Simon Jeffes. In fact it has reached our shores a little late (Jeffes died of a brain tumour in 1997) but the good intention is still there.

The DVD comprises two features. One is the ballet Still Life at the Penguin Cafe and the second a documentary about Jeffes and the PCO. Many will welcome the release. Those like me who have long discarded their VHS player but can't bring themselves to toss out the original video of the ballet will rejoice in the long awaited re-release on DVD. Many of those will perhaps mourn the fact that this fun and spirited ballet has not been restaged and presented in high definition glory. Maybe later perhaps.

'I am the proprietor of the Penguin Cafe. I will tell you things at random.'

The PCO was borne out of an intense dream suffered by Jeffes when he experienced a bout of food poisoning from a nasty piece of fish. The lines above formed part of a poem he wrote expressing his musical ethos - a place where different form and styles could live together, like ebony and ivory, in perfect harmony.

What sort of music is it? Ideally I suppose it's the sort of music you want to hear, music that will lift your spirit. It's the sort of music played by imagined wild, free, mountain people creating sounds of a subtle dreamlike quality. It is cafe music, but café in the sense of a place where people's spirits communicate and mingle, a place where music is played that often touches the heart of the listener.

That was way back in the early seventies. Until Jeffes untimely death the PCO put out a sparse series of albums which were snapped up by those who liked classical, jazz even pop and didn't mind the fusion of these styles. Early albums came out on the label of experimentalist Brian Eno. Of Jeffes he once said: Given his individuality, his non-allegiance to any particular musical category, and the unfailing eclecticism of his vision, Simon Jeffes could easily be marginalised as an English eccentric - and thus sort of overlooked. The truth is he discovered a huge musical territory - stretching along the border regions of the whole United Nations of music - and he wandered through it fascinated and, apparently always smiling. These pieces are reports back from those borderlands. Like any good explorer, Simon was both alert and humble. He had no trace of musical snobbery, but delighted in the length and breadth of music, happy to experiment with all combinations.

To anyone who has got this far into the review without knowing the music of the PCO I urge you to check it out - starting with the only indispensable piece of PCO music absent from this DVD - Perpetuum Mobile, which has found its way onto a few film soundtracks.

As said, the music of the PCO is wilfully difficult to categorise. It draws heavily on the minimalism movement but there is no trace of the austerity and seriousness of Philip Glass and Michael Nyman or the relentless rhythmic drive of Steve Reich. This is music that is as much fun as clever - and a bit nutty.

The ballet Still Life at the Penguin Cafe came about when British choreographer David Bintley approached Jeffes with an idea to create a ballet from some PCO works. Jeffes leapt at the prospect and orchestrated some favoured pieces into a 38 minute work. The finished ballet is a fun yet serious look at conservation and the destruction of species. The principal dancers alternate roles as animals nicely costumed and masked. The piece has narration by Jeremy Irons. The pieces (and their original sources) are as follows:

  1. The Penguin Cafe (musical piece Air á Danser)
  2. Utah Longhorn Ram (musical piece Prelude and Yodel)
  3. Texan Kangaroo Rat (musical piece Long Distance, original title Horns of a Bull )
  4. Humbolts' Hog Nosed Skunk Flea (musical piece The Ecstasy of the Dancing Flea, original title Pythagoras's Trousers)
  5. Southern Cape Zebra (musical piece White Mischief)
  6. Rain Forest People (musical piece Now Nothing)
  7. Brazilian Woolly Monkey (musical piece Music By Numbers)
  8. Conclusion (musical piece Numbers 1-4)

The orchestra is conducted by American conductor Isiah Jackson.

The second feature on this DVD set is a reasonably lengthy documentary about the PCO. Actually, it is only a documentary in the widest sense of the word. It really is a series of short interview snippets with Simon Jeffes, cellist Helen Liebermann and Richard Williams the music critic from the Times in which they talk about the PCO and individual pieces. Those pieces are often played in full which makes this film as much about the music as the talking. It is definitely worth a watch if only to see the PCO playing the pieces.

The catalogue number of this Arthaus title is 102 133.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    Both films comprising this DVD came out of the 80's. Both were presented then at 4:3 and that aspect ratio has been preserved for the DVD release.

Both were shot on video and both look pretty much as you would expect 80's video to look. There are comet trails, cross colourization, some colour bleeding and chroma noise. The whole image is faded and colours aren't strong. The ballet comes off better at times, particularly in close ups.

The tape isn't damaged to any extent and doesn't have any artefacts but those wanting the pristine images of HD video should come to this DVD duly warned. In other words for DVD fans it doesn't look that much better than the VHS version.

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

Audio

    The sound for the films is a flat LPCM 2.0 running at 1536 Kb/s.

It would have been nice to have a far more expansive mix for the film and the ballet but this is adequate. There isn't a great deal of depth to the sound and it muddies somewhat around the mid range.

The documentary features clear dialogue in perfect audio sync.

My fervent hope is that someone will put out a live concert of the PCO and spend the time and effort to remaster it to elegant sonic glory. Until then this is the best we will get.

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

Extras

Trailer

A few trailers for other Arthaus shows are featured.

R4 vs R1

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

    This DVD is all Regions

Summary

    This DVD contains the best visual record of the PCO and should be snapped up by anyone with more than a passing interest in the group or even modern ballet lovers looking for something a little different.

The presentation of this set on DVD is pretty much what can be expected from a 20 year old video tape and viewers should be aware of this before making their purchase.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Thursday, May 15, 2008
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer BDP-LX70A Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output
DisplayPioneer PDP-5000EX. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR605
SpeakersJBL 5.1 Surround and Subwoofer

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add) NONE