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|Category||Documentary||Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Animation
Scene Selection Animation
Notes - Tributes
|Running Time||72:41 minutes|
|Starring||John Hammond (Narrator)|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Full Frame||English (Linear PCM 48/16 2.0, 1536 Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||None|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.33:1||
|Subtitles||None||Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
Robert Johnson's recorded legacy comprises about 30 songs recorded in 1936 and 1937, yet this man is the one that Eric Clapton calls "the greatest folk blues guitarist that ever lived". Now when a man of the stature of Eric Clapton, generally regarded as the greatest blues guitarist around, starts throwing quotes around like that, you better take some notice. How about Keith Richards' "you'd think you were getting a handle on playing the blues and then to hear Johnson - whoa!". And you have in all probability heard one of his songs and never known it. His minuscule recorded legacy has been reinterpreted over the years by acts as truly diverse as Muddy Waters, the great John Mayall, Cream, The Rolling Stones, The Grateful Dead, Ry Cooder, The Spencer Davis Group, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin and Bonnie Raitt. Ever watched The Blues Brothers? Then you have heard a Robert Johnson song - Sweet Home Chicago. Whilst he was the King of the Delta Blues, his songs have been reinterpreted as R & B and rock classics, but it is left to the great Blues artists to show how truly great Robert Johnson was, is, and always will be.
It is ironic that for a man holding such a revered place in the Blues, little was known about him. Even photographs of the man are extremely rare. Little was known about his birth and life and his eventually suspicious death in 1938 at a young age. In his short life he packed a lot of living, and left 30 songs that would change the face of music for decades to come. Whilst this documentary provides extended bites of his music, there is only one way to experience the Blues like you have never experienced them before - it is called The Complete Recordings Of Robert Johnson and it should still be available on CD from Sony Music. It is one of the most essential recordings in my CD collection (a collection I might add that is not exactly small) and were I pushed to name ten desert island CDs, it would almost certainly be amongst them. Now if you want to know about the man, then this documentary is probably going to tell you as much as anyone knows about him.
To hear the talk of fellow players such as Johnny Shines and Honeyboy Edwards, men who actually played with the legend would be fascinating on its own. But to hear the likes of Winnie Mae Powell, former girlfriend and inspiration for the song Love In Vain (she being the Winnie Mae mentioned in the lyrics) talk about the man, to listen to blues scholars like Mack McCormick and Gayle Dean Wardlow talk about the man and to listen to John Hammond, blues musician, narrate his journey to find the source of the man is almost beyond price. Whilst it might need to be taken with a fair degree of suspicion, given the lack of real tangible information about the man up until now, it is nonetheless fascinating to see them delve into old records to find marriage certificates, to search out locations and attempt to clarify the suspicions about his death (well, murder actually) and place of burial.
If you are any sort of popular musician at all, then this is essential stuff. Great rock guitarists have been listening to this man for years and this sort of effort to flesh out the legend does in no way detract from his status as a legend. Indeed, this documentary brings together a lot of additional information that to some extent explains the soul of Robert Johnson's music and aids our appreciation of it. Perhaps I am not the right person to review this DVD for the subject is far too close to the core of my appreciation of music to be entirely unbiased. But really and truly, if you have any passing interest in the history of popular music, this is an almost essential purchase about one of the true legends of music. They still play the Delta Blues but they still don't play it the way Robert Johnson could.
The transfer is presented in a Full Frame format and is not 16x9 enhanced. Once again, this is an NTSC formatted DVD and therefore unless you have an NTSC capable display device, you will be able to see nothing really worthwhile. Go buy yourself an NTSC capable display device immediately!
Despite most of the footage being shot in the early 1990s, I do have to say that it is marginally disappointing. Whilst the interviews are generally quite sharp and convey as much detail as necessary, some of the location shots are really only very average in sharpness and definition. The main problem is that this is really quite a grainy transfer at times, which really does diminish the impact of the film. Overall shadow detail is fairly reasonable and about what you would expect for a documentary of this nature. Clarity is not the best due to the grain problems. There does not appear to be any significant low level noise in the transfer.
The transfer is also not the most vibrant that you will ever see. Part of the problem is that the interview footage is somewhat undersaturated and lacking in colour depth. When this is combined with the lack of clarity and definition in the transfer, the overall effect is only fair. There is nothing in the way of oversaturation here and colour bleed would be almost impossible given the lack of saturation in the colours.
There are no significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer.
There were some problems with aliasing in the transfer, but otherwise this
is fairly free of film-to-video artefacts. There are a few film artefacts
floating around in the transfer, and unfortunately they tend to be on the
rather noticeable side.
The narration from John Hammond comes up very well in the soundtrack, but you may have difficulty with some of the interview material. Some of our African-American friends have fairly broad accents and unless you are well attuned to the Mississippi drawl, you may well be sitting scratching your head about what they are saying on occasion. It is for this reason that the lack of subtitles on the DVD is almost inexcusable. Most of the archival audio material, being the songs of Robert Johnson, comes over pretty well indeed. They are quite reminiscent of the sound you get on the CDs from memory. There are no obvious audio sync problems with the transfer.
Apart from the fact that it is a pretty plain stereo
effort, there is nothing wrong with the soundtrack at all. It does a pretty
adequate job of presenting the dialogue and the excerpts from Robert Johnson's
songs. There are no obvious distortions or other imperfections in the soundtrack
other than those inherent in the 1936 and 1937 recordings (and there aren't
that many there either).
|Surround Channel Use|
© Ian Morris (have
a laugh, check out the bio)
1st April, 2001
|DVD||Pioneer DV-515; S-video output|
|Display||Sony Trinitron Wega 80cm. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in|
|Amplification||Yamaha RXV-795. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.|
|Speakers||Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL|