One time, Judge Neal Solon was having lunch with Groucho and Woody at, I believe, Tavern on the Green, when Marlon Brando stopped by the table...
"Ladies and gentlemen…Dick Cavett!"
I am too young to have seen The Dick Cavett Show while it was on television. So, I come to Shout! Factory's new release, The Dick Cavett Show: Rock Icons, looking at it as an historical artifact. >From such a perspective, it is captivating. The line-up is as follows:
August 19, 1969
July 13, 1970
December 5, 1974
July 18, 1969
June 25, 1970
August 3, 1970
August 11, 1970
November 23, 1971
September 5, 1974
Take a second to absorb that list. It highlights an important aspect of both The Dick Cavett Show and of this DVD release. Cavett was known both for his unusual combinations of guests and for the fact that he talked to each of them for a significant length of time. The release from Shout! Factory preserves this format, netting a solid hour of content per episode without commercials. Interviews with individual guests last anywhere from about ten minutes to almost a full hour.
The musical performances need no introduction or selling on my part. If you like the music of the period, you already know it; and as a fan of Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, George Harrison, or David Bowie, you will enjoy the musical segments of the show. For your benefit, Shout! Factory has linked directly to the musical segments from the main menu. Watching the show piecemeal, however, does a disservice to Cavett, his show, and what they have to offer.
When one thinks about rock music of the 1960s and the early 1970s and considers what else was going on the world, the Vietnam War immediately jumps to mind. Rock of this era is typically associated with the anti-war movement, with hippies, and with drugs, but one rarely thinks about what else was going on in the United States and the world. The Dick Cavett Show forces one to. The shock of seeing Sly Stone, Fred Harris (then the Democratic Senator from Oklahoma), and his wife LaDonna Harris sitting on stage together discussing Mrs. Harris' activism for the rights of Native Americans quickly moves one beyond typical associations and into a broader social and political context for the music. Suddenly, one cannot think just about the music but must, also, think about contemporary sports figures, newsmen, and film stars.
My personal favorites of the many fascinating episodes are among the last few in the set. Janis Joplin, Gloria Swanson (Sunset Blvd.), and Margot Kidder (Superman) on stage together are a hoot. Swanson is decidedly uncouth, and Kidder is playful, often leaving Cavett at a loss for words. Janis obviously gets a kick out of the whole situation, resulting in one of the most amusing and offbeat episodes of the lot.
George Harrison, in his interview, is insightful and makes countless comments relevant to more recent events. Harrison was on The Dick Cavett Show shortly after his Concert for Bangladesh. In talking about the benefit concert, he discusses the trouble that he had finding an organization to which to give the proceeds. He had heard stories about corruption and mismanagement of funds within the Red Cross and other aid organizations. The rest of the conversation ranges from The Beatles to drug use to the music of Ravi Shankar. It's a must for any fan of the "quiet Beatle."
Finally, on the last episode in this set, Cavett turns the tables and allows himself to be interviewed. He had just written an autobiography, and subjects himself to critique and questioning from a group of authors who had all previously appeared on his show. Surprisingly, after watching Cavett interview dozens of people over the course of 11 episodes, seeing him on the other end of the questions turns out to be quietly interesting, especially when the questions are coming from obviously thoughtful and quirky people such as Anthony Burgess, Jerzy Kosinski, and Barbara Hower.
In all, Cavett is a skilled interviewer and an interesting foil for icons of both the counter-culture and "the establishment." The Dick Cavett Show distinguished itself with the musicians it attracted, the odd combinations of guests, and Cavett's in-depth interviews. Sadly, there is nothing on TV like it today.
Technically, the presentation is less than stellar, but the problems lay in the source material rather than in Shout! Factory's work. The boom mikes that occasionally drop into the bottom of the frame had trouble keeping up with the multiple guests on stage at one time. If someone unexpectedly contributes, the first few words out of his or her mouth are muffled as the mike operators scramble to move the boom. The video, too, shows its age, but it does not distract from the show (at least not as much as the wildly dated set).
Adding to the package is an interview with Cavett conducted for inclusion as a supplement. It's informative, if somewhat mundane. Cavett talks about his memories of Janis Joplin and having her on his show, among many other things. Also included as a supplement is the featurette from "Cavett Meets the Rolling Stones." In it, Cavett interviews Mick Jagger backstage just before a show. Cavett asks Jagger if he can see himself still rocking out at 60. Is there any doubt, now some 30 years later, that Mick said, "Yes"?
Along the lines of that piece of Jagger trivia, if you do any reading about this set and about The Dick Cavett Show you will probably come across the following trivia:
• At the urging of her manager, Joni Mitchell skipped Woodstock to be sure that she would not miss her appearance on The Dick Cavett Show the next day.
• On August 19, 1969, the censors didn't catch that Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane slipped the "queen mother of dirty words" into the song "We Can Be Together" on the air.
• Sly Stone made his July 13, 1970 appearance while pretty obviously hopped up on something.
• In an ultimately unaired interview, Jerome Rodale, the founder of Prevention magazine, had a heart attack and died at the age of 72 while on stage with fellow interviewee Pete Hamill. Rodale had just proclaimed his intention of living to the age of 100.
While these things did happen on the show, and all but the last are recorded on these discs, they are not the reason to buy this set. Instead, one should buy this set for the music, the interviews, and the unique historical context the show provides. If you fancy yourself a fan of the '60s and '70s, musically or otherwise, there is no excuse for not checking out this set. Plus, there are a number of interviews with film stars on here that would make interesting supplements to all your other DVDs.
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