In order to review this DVD, Judge Victor Valdivia needs to slip on sunglasses and a dashiki while scratching on a breakbeat record.
"Def Poetry comes in all sizes, colors, shapes, persuasions."—Mos Def
Like its sister show Def Comedy Jam, Def Poetry is sorely in need of some quality control. The two discs that make up Def Poetry: Season Six add up to three hours and around sixty poets, which actually winds up being about twenty-five too many. For every moment of insight or raw emotion, there's at least one that is painful to watch, in the worst possible way. Instead of giving the good poets time to breathe, the show simply crams in far too many of varying quality, which makes it far harder to watch than Def Comedy Jam. Even at two to three minutes, bad poetry is far more interminable than bad standup at twice the length.
Def Poetry does deserve credit in one regard: There's simply nothing else like it on television today. Hosted by rapper/actor Mos Def (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), the show features poets from around the country as well as singers, rappers, and writers, all of whom recite poems and spoken-word pieces. Here are the performers who appear on all six episodes:
• "Episode Two"
• "Episode Three"
• Disc Two
• "Episode Five"
• "Episode Six"
There are some highlights that make this DVD of some value. Mos Def is a charming and talented host. He delivers a few rhymes and freestyles of his own and cracks a few clever jokes as well. Talib Kweli's piece on the difference between spirituality and religion is incisive and articulate. Shannon Leigh's poem about Darfur is evocative without being histrionic. Lamont Carey delivers a poem about a successful black athlete who has never been taught how to read that is not only brilliantly written but perfectly read. And of course, there's George Clinton, of Parliament and Funkadelic fame. No one else could have written his darkly hilarious routine about a drug-sniffing dog who becomes an addict. Even at 68, Clinton still retains the humor and energy of his classic days.
Unfortunately, when the show is bad, it's close to unwatchable. Nelly Furtado explains, in excruciating detail, why she named her child Nevis. Unless you're the child in question, it's likely you won't care. Alvin Lau rants an extended screed on why Tiger Woods should be more of an activist. Has anyone really been clamoring to hear political commentary from Tiger Woods? Brian Dykstra's "Push Bush on his Tush" isn't even that witty as a bumper sticker, let alone a three-minute routine. Other poets do pieces that aren't even really about anything at all but experiments in language, which is the sort of thing that may work on paper but isn't all that scintillating when read aloud. Also, far too many poets are melodramatic to a ridiculous degree. Maybe it's because they sense that this is their big shot at TV stardom, but too many episodes, the last in particular, are full of screaming, weeping, and hyperventilating.
Ultimately, Def Poetry: Season Six is just too long and uneven to really recommend. Fans of some of the performers here should preview the set before deciding whether it's worth the $19.98 list price.
The widescreen transfer and stereo mix are adequate. There are no extras.
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