MPI // 1979 // 78 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // June 1st, 2000
The comedian, uncensored, is at his raunchy best.
Richard Pryor (Stir Crazy, Blue Collar, Brewster's Millions) is one of the great comedians of the last century. He had some great successes in film, but his stand up act is probably the best defining aspect and showcase of his talent. He was one of the raunchiest, dirtier comedians of the '70s and early '80s, but had the ability to personify so many different things. Life hasn't been too kind to Richard; health and relationship problems, along with some big problems with drug abuse (I'd characterize being on fire as a big problem) ended his public career too early. But Richard always managed to poke fun at his own misfortune, which was among the most endearing qualities about him. He also led the way to a whole new generation of black comedians, and you can see his influence in comedians such as Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, and D.L. Hughley. Richard Pryor: Live! is a recording of one of his live performances in 1979, at the peak of his fame and ability. This show is hilarious; unfortunately, the disc doesn't do this great show and comic justice.
The best part of this disc is also the most important part; the show itself. Richard tells stories; drawing on personal experience and the genius of his imagination to keep the audience in stitches for the whole 78 minute show. Sex and race of course are a big part of his act; liberal use of the "N" word and graphic language of various body parts are rampant, resulting in a warning label for language on the disc. Some people could be put off by this style, but not me. I find myself laughing hard many times during this performance, even after repeated viewings. It's a great show, and if you haven't seen it yet, you should.
Among the bits is the scene where Richard kills his car rather than let his wife drive off in it to leave him, oversexed pet monkeys, and the time he had to do a staged fight with Muhammad Ali for a benefit show. From his personal life he also does a bit about his heart attack he'd had the year before and his childhood.
This was all before some of the biggest challenges Richard had coming up. Not too long afterwards his cocaine habit would result in him accidentally setting himself on fire. In a later show he was even able to laugh at that: "If you're on fire...and you're runnin'...people get out of your way." This is the ability to laugh at himself I find so great. But it can easily be argued that this 1979 show was his best filmed performance.
The disc in most respects is adequate. The sound is Dolby stereo and everything is clearly understood. There is a lack of use of the rear channels, though the audience sound occasionally gets heard all around. Extras are fairly light; consisting of text screens covering much of his life as biography, along with a listing of his television appearances, comedy albums, and filmography. All of this is pretty detailed.
The extras did suffer from poor menus, which would force you to navigate to the next screen from the main menu button after each text page. The extras aren't what I would have hoped for either; I'm sure there was interview footage that could have been found, or one could have been done for the DVD itself; although multiple sclerosis has kept the man out of the public eye in recent years.
I can forgive light extras and bad menus quickly compared to the awful video transfer though. This is one of the worst transfers I've ever had to see on a DVD. First off, it is a pan-and-scan only disc. Even that pales to the poor quality of the picture though. The rare moments Richard would stand still looked all right; though even there we had to contend with a black man in black pants with black hair standing in front of a black background. Richard often disappeared into the scenery, leaving a red shirt and some fuzzy image of the person wearing it. The picture got much worse when he moved, and Richard moved all over the stage during this show. Ghost images would trail along after him, making me think maybe I really was having some acid flashback from the '60s. Light bounced off his hair in such a way as to make it look like his hair would leave his head. Colors were so poorly saturated that it often looked more like computer graphics than film. To top all that off, this is one of the worst artifacted and pixelated transfers it has been my misfortune to catalog. The picture is watchable, but that is only in terms of being able to see what is going on. The quality is exceedingly poor.
Ultimately I have to recommend this disc as a rental, only for the show itself. I could never recommend it for purchase because of the picture quality and dearth of extras. But the show is certainly worth seeing at least once.
Richard Pryor remains in my high esteem as one of the great comics of my lifetime. I look forward to seeing his other concert DVD that came out last year. MPI, which produced this DVD, is sentenced to authoring school and is not permitted to oversee another transfer until graduation. Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 78 Minutes
Release Year: 1979
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Pryor Retrospective Site