Case Number 21063: Small Claims Court


MVD Visual // 1979 // 60 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // April 6th, 2011

The Charge

Legendary concert footage!

The Case

In 1979, soul superstar James Brown, having given up live performance for nearly four years, agreed to return to performing for a proposed television special. Though Brown's concerts were legendary for their intensity and excitement back in the '60s, Brown's life and career took a darker and more difficult turn in the '70s. His music became less influential and he faced the tragic death of his son (which reportedly inspired what many consider his last truly great hit, 1973's "The Payback"). For most of the decade, Brown saw his record sales plummet and his music become less celebrated. This 1979 performance, then, was originally intended as the beginning of a possible resurrection that would put Brown back on top, and would demonstrate to an audience used to scores of artists who had used his musical innovations to make inferior dance music just how great he could be.

It would be nice to report, then, that Body Heat, Live in Monterey commemorates a classic performance by Brown that reenergized his music. Sadly, the tapes for this show were lost for over a decade before they were officially released. Which, even more sadly, is just as well, since the performance is hardly representative of Brown at his thrilling best.

James Brown: Body Heat was filmed in Monterey, CA, in 1979. Here is the set list:

* "Get Up Offa That Thing"
* "Body Heat"
* "Try Me"
* "Sex Machine"
* "Georgia On My Mind"
* "Please Please Please"
* "Hindsight"
* "Can't Stand It"
* "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag"
* "Jam"

As you can guess from the abbreviated running time, this is not the complete concert, only an edited excerpt from it. If these are the highlights, however, then it's not surprising the tapes from this show were locked away for so long. At one time, James Brown was arguably the best live act in all of rock 'n' roll, delivering stage performances so thrilling that he could overshadow the likes of the Rolling Stones. By the late '70s, however, time and hard living had reduced Brown's ability to perform with the same intensity. From the glimpses seen here, Brown is struggling to keep up, not moving or dancing nearly as much as he used to and often content to just hold on to the microphone and let the background singers do the work. His voice is in decent shape but for some reason he doesn't sing that much, even on ballads like "Georgia On My Mind" and "Please Please Please."

As if that wasn't bad enough, this performance demonstrates just how badly Brown's skills as a bandleader had deteriorated. His back-up band, usually a whip-sharp crew of skilled funk musicians, instead sounds more like a generic crew of disco hacks. It's not that they're bad; it's that they render even the best songs here into dull, forgettable dance pop. Consider that the prospect of a 20-minute jam on "Sex Machine" would ordinarily be a highlight of any James Brown concert, but here is a tedious, interminable mess. It's even more disconcerting that too many of the songs here, especially the last four, are little more than a minute or two long, essentially reduced to medley material, probably because the band can't really handle them so well. Even Brown's famous cape routine is handled perfunctorily, making this more of a distant simulation of a James Brown concert than the real thing.

That may seem like an excessively harsh judgment, but considering how spectacular earlier James Brown concerts captured on DVD are, it's not entirely unfair. By contrast, the three-disc set I Got the Feelin': James Brown In the '60s contains some of Brown's most exhilarating performances. For that matter, Brown's four-song set in The T.A.M.I. Show is far more thrilling than all of this show in its entirety. Either one of those releases (or both, really) are far superior introductions to James Brown's onstage talents than this release. Body Heat, Live in Monterey is one lost release that really should have stayed in the vaults.

The full=screen transfer is adequate, though hazy and soft at times. Surprisingly, the 5.1 surround mix is remarkably loud, showing off the music fully and richly but with clear separation. There are no extras.

The Verdict

Guilty of not capturing James Brown's enormous talent adequately.

Review content copyright © 2011 Victor Valdivia; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 65

Perp Profile
Studio: MVD Visual
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)

* None

Running Time: 60 Minutes
Release Year: 1979
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* None

* IMDb

* Wikipedia: James Brown