DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Lightning In A Bottle (RECOMMENDED)

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Aaron Silverman, Mar 11, 2005.

  1. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Executive Producer

    Jan 22, 1999
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    Real Name:
    Aaron Silverman
    Lightning In A Bottle [​IMG]

    US Theatrical Release: October 8, 2004 (Sony Pictures Classics)
    US DVD Release: March 8, 2005
    Running Time: 1:49:51 (28 chapter stops)
    Rating: PG-13 (For brief strong language)
    Video: 1.78:1 Anamorphic
    Audio: English DD5.1
    Subtitles: French
    TV-Generated Closed Captions: English
    Menus: Not animated.
    Packaging: Standard keepcase; insert has a poster image for this film on one side and cover art from other documentary titles on the other.
    MSRP: $24.96


    On February 7, 2003, several dozen music legends took the stage at Radio City Music Hall in New York to pay tribute to one of the few purely American art forms: the blues. Over the course of a single evening, they traced the music from its roots in rhythms carried from Africa aboard slave ships to the Mississippi Delta and up the river to Memphis, St. Louis, Chicago and beyond. Along the way, a myriad of styles were put on display by the masters of the genre. Lightning In A Bottle documents that once-in-a-lifetime performance.

    From soulful Robert Johnson alone with his guitar, to brassy Bessie Smith backed by a big band, to rockers like Aerosmith, the blues has evolved over the past century to encompass a wide variety of approaches to the basic form. Nearly all of these approaches make an appearance here. The idea was to showcase the full range of blues styles, and executive producer Martin Scorsese and director Antoine Fuqua have certainly succeeded. Slow and fast, sparse and thick, gospel and hip-hop, every take on the music is featured. It's easy to forget how diverse "the blues" can be. This concert serves as an entertaining reminder.

    Although the blues exists within its own milieu, its influence runs through the backbone of rock, jazz and pop. The lineup of this concert covers all the bases. Many of the surviving elder statesmen of the genre participated, including Buddy Guy, Ruth Brown, and the King himself, B. B. King. Some of the performers sharing the stage with them, like India.Arie and Shemekia Copeland, are young enough to be their great-grandchildren. Soul stylists like the Neville Brothers and the aging, rotund, yet still-on-his-game Solomon Burke make appearances. Jazz-oriented artists such as John Hammond and Dr. John add spice to the mix. A number of rockers, including Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, John Fogerty, and even David "Buster Poindexter" Johansen get in on the fun. The hip-hop end of the blues-influence road is represented too, with the performances of Chuck D., Mos Def, and others. And this is only a sampling of the several dozen household names who lend their talents to this musical document. As you can probably guess, this show tackled the subject of the blues from a lot of different angles. Even though a few tracks miss the mark (for example, Chuck D.'s band's rap-rock rendition of John Lee Hooker's Boom Boom didn't do much for me), there is plenty here to like.

    The performances are often accompanied by a selection of vintage photographs and films of the Jim Crow-era South, projected on screens above the stage, and occasionally featured as the main video. They serve to enhance the atmosphere and the feeling of history. (Note that a few of the images, with subjects such as the Klan and lynchings, are a bit disturbing.) In addition, footage of important performers who are no longer with us, such as Muddy Waters, Son House, and Jimi Hendrix, is included at various points. Now and then, the music is interrupted by backstage footage of the participants, who are all clearly having a blast. In a nice touch, all the performers and songwriters on each track are identified with onscreen titles.

    THE WAY I SEE IT: 2/5

    The film, shot in the dark interior of the theater, shows some noise on top of its heavy natural grain. The picture is quite inconsistent, without a lot of detail, but the intended look is that of a smoky nightclub, so it's not as bothersome as it might be with different material. It's shot mainly in close-ups and medium shots to replicate an intimate club feel, and it succeeds pretty well at that. Of course, the occasional audience shots remind the viewer that the performers are actually on the stage of Radio City Music Hall, one of the largest theaters of its type in the world.

    The rich, saturated colors probably reflect the look of the colored stage lights accurately. Black levels are relatively deep, but are just shy of perfect.

    The most striking aspect of the transfer, however, is that it exhibits what is at times an astonishing amount of edge enhancement. Either that, or the backstage green room is green due to radioactivity, giving the performers that festive plutonium glow.

    THE WAY I HEAR IT: 4.5/5

    The 5.1 mix is very crisp and clear. The front soundstage has a good sense of space, and the surrounds are tastefully used to recreate the ambience of the concert hall. If I have one knock on the soundtrack, it's that it sounds just a bit compressed. The extreme highs and lows aren't quite as there as they are on the best concert discs.

    THE SWAG: 2.5/5 (rating combines quality and quantity)

    Interview With Director Antoine Fuqua: (7:55) (1.33:1 non-anamorphic)

    Fuqua talks about how the event was put together, relating his feelings about the incredible cast of performers and what it all meant to him. It's not a bad piece, even if it is fairly short. Considering the incredible gathering of influential artists in this film, a fantastic making-of documentary could have been put together. I wouldn’t be surprised if one is eventually released separately.

    Bonus Tracks

    Five extra performances are included, running a total of about 22 minutes. They may be played individually or via Play All. They have DD 5.1 audio, but for some goofy reason are displayed in non-anamorphic widescreen. The songwriters are not identified, unlike the presentation of the tracks in the main feature.
    • Stop Messin' Around : Steven Tyler & Joe Perry of Aerosmith (3:07)
    • The Sky Is Crying : Gregg Allman & Warren Haynes (5:05)
    • Minnesota Blues : Mos Def (5:15)
    • First Time I Met The Blues : Buddy Guy (4:17)
    • Revelation : Chris Thomas King (4:28)

    Seven trailers are included.
    • Lightning In A Bottle (2:21) (DD5.1; 1.78:1 anamorphic)
    • House Of Flying Daggers (1:57) (DD5.1; 1.85:1 anamorphic)
    • The Fog Of War (2:08) (DD5.1; 1.78:1 non-anamorphic)
    • Winged Migration (1:59) (DD2.0; 1.78:1 anamorphic)
    • Riding Giants (2:02) (DD5.1; 1.78:1 anamorphic)
    • Masked And Anonymous (2:25) (DD5.1; 1.78:1 anamorphic)
    • Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary (1:36) (DD2.0; 1.78:1 non-anamorphic)

    The Way I Feel About It: 4/5
    The Way I See It: 2/5
    The Way I Hear It: 4.5/5
    The Swag: 2.5/5

    For music fans, Lightning In A Bottle is certain to entertain, and blues fans should be ecstatic. Even though the blues is not one of my favorite genres, I enjoyed almost all of these performances. Learning a bit of the history behind the music was interesting as well. At the end of the show, I found myself wondering how long the actual concert was, and how much more could have been included. Considering my only moderate interest in the material prior to watching it, it was a very pleasant surprise.

    Although the picture is not so hot, the audio is excellent, and of course that's what's important here. The fantastic selection of material is well-served by the Dolby Digital track. Lightning In A Bottle works as both a fun concert and a historical document, and as such, it earns my RECOMMENDATION.
  2. Joe Bernardi

    Joe Bernardi Supporting Actor

    Oct 24, 2000
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    Sarasota, Florida
    Real Name:
    Joe Bernardi
    My preorder from Deep Discount DVD shipped a week ago but I haven't received it yet. My wife and I are blues fans first, rock, folk and other genres afterward, so we're looking forward to it.

    You left off some big names in your discussion of performers:

    Bonnie Raitt
    Robert Cray
    Kim Wilson
    Mavis Staple
    Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown
    Keb' Mo'
  3. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Executive Producer

    Jan 22, 1999
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    Real Name:
    Aaron Silverman
    True -- there are more than 40 well-known performers involved, and I simply decided against including a full list. [​IMG] I could have gone on and on -- Natalie Cole, Alison Krauss, Gregg Allmann, etc. etc. . .

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