Judge Paul Corupe wonders if Debbie Harry is any good at Grand Theft Auto III.
One way or another, I'm gonna get you.
When vocalist Debbie Harry, guitarist Chris Stein, drummer Clem Burke, bassist Gary Valentine, and keyboard player James Destri first took the stage at dingy New York rock clubs under the name Blondie, they could hardly have anticipated the band's eventual worldwide success. Although at first Blondie was relegated to opening slots for Bowery punk scene staples like The Ramones, Television, and The Talking Heads, the band quickly eclipsed their peers and brought the burgeoning new wave New York sound into the ears of mainstream 1980 pop listeners before their aborted end just a few short years later. This episode of VH1's popular rock bio series Behind the Music profiles the remarkably unspectacular rise and fall of the band in a fast-paced 50 minutes, chock full of footage from vintage performances and music videos.
Debbie Harry and Chris Stein formed Blondie from the ashes of a music act known as the Stilettos, and the documentary sets off on the right course detailing Blondie's first legendary gigs at CBGB, Max's Kansas City, and Mothers. The release of the band's self-titled album in 1977 led them to gigs opening for the likes of David Bowie and Iggy Pop, but mainstream success eluded the band until 1979, when they scored a number one hit with "Heart of Glass," a catchy track with a popular disco beat that sold millions of copies of their third album, "Parallel Lines." More hits like "Dreaming," "Call Me," and "Rapture" ensued, and Joey Ramone and John Waters are both on board this documentary to sing the praises of the band in their prime. Like many successful musical acts, though, Blondie was racked by jealousy and egoism, and when Stein was diagnosed with a rare genetic disease in 1982, everyone called it quits. Blondie reformed in 1999, however, and continues to record albums to this day.
A good deal of the band's success can be attributed to Harry's undeniable beauty. Blondie was a band that both sounded good and—perhaps more importantly for the major labels—looked good. Almost single-handedly, Harry created and projected the face of the band as a kind of "Blondie" caricature, a pouting sex object that owed as much to classic Hollywood sirens like Marilyn Monroe as it did to a sexually-charged punk ethos. While Blondie has never been accused of being a bastion of artistic integrity (Harry was even a guest on The Muppet Show in 1980), the band more or less managed to maintain their ideals, and incorporate reggae and early hip-hop into their music. Their song "Rapture" made them one of the first bands with a primarily white audience to acknowledge New York's up-and-coming rap scene, an amazing feat when you consider that it was released in 1981.
Episodes of VH1's Behind the Music can hardly be considered definitive band portraits, and this installment is no exception. As usual, narrator Jim Forbes squeezes every last bit of emotion out of the band's story, which is portrayed as a typical "roller coaster" ride of dizzying highs and sleazy lows. "Overnight success" is a term that few fans of the band would use to describe Blondie, but the show goes so far as to point to two separate occasions as the exact point where Blondie supposedly shot to superstardom. Predictably, there's far more coverage of the bands less-than-tumultuous break-up than their popular years in the early 1980s, and an unbelievable 1/5th of the running time is spent detailing the band's reunion album, 1999's tepidly received "No Exit."
Now for the good news. The show looks fantastic, bright and crisp, with vibrant colors, although vintage interviews and performance films don't fare so well, often understandably marred by artifacts. Presented in its original 2.0 stereo track, Blondie: VH1 Behind the Music sounds as good as it looks, with excellent tone and an accurate representation of the band's music. There aren't any extras included here, unless you count the video for the terrible "Maria," a song off of "No Exit," but since it's actually included as part of the main feature, you shouldn't.
The value of this 55-minute release, even for die-hard Debbie Harry freaks, is pretty questionable. Like most episodes of Behind the Music, the majority of this bio feels like it was structured by a particularly melodramatic 14-year-old, and in the end, Blondie: VH1 Behind the Music is certain to leave a bad taste in your mouth as an apparent infomercial for their later, inferior work. If the actual making of this episode of Behind the Music had been included here as part of Blondie's history, it surely would have counted as a sleazy low.
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