Judge Eric Profancik waves a bejeweled hand and a review flows from it.
Before the caricature.
It's probably safe to say that you've heard of Liberace, full name Wladziu Valentino Liberace. Such the famous entertainer he was, he made an indelible impression on the world and is remembered for his larger than life persona, his fabulous Vegas show, his glitz, and his glamour. Only in retrospect compounded with my love of the city of Vegas do I now have some small regret that I was never able to see one of his shows. You always figure people will be around, and we are surprised and remorseful when gone. Such it is with me and Liberace, though I've just realized this, 20 years too late.
Until I received the two-disc Liberace: Greatest Songs DVD set in the mail, I never gave the pianist much thought. I dismissed him as a hammy, flamboyant talent. Then I put in the first disc and was instantly amazed. Boy, did I miss something special…and I bet you missed it too. Contained in this set is nearly six hours of Liberace playing a vast array of music, what he called pop classics. Pop classics are simply a mixture of truly classical music—"Claire de Lune"—and quaint pop tunes—"How Much is that Doggy in the Window?" I do have to admit that I found the pure classics more appealing than most, not all, of the pop stuff.
Disc one itself is broken down into three volumes, each running about 70 minutes, and each is somewhat loosely based on a theme (for example volume two dances around France and French related music). Disc two is only two volumes long, again each about 70 minutes in length. What you see, quite simply, is edited segment after segment of Liberace introducing a piece of music and then brilliantly playing it (alone or with accompaniment). Again, you'll be amazed at what a talented musician he was. Just watching his fingers fly over the keyboard is breathtaking. He makes it look so easy, yet you know it's anything but.
Liberace is brilliant, and whether or not I like the song, it's wonderfully presented. What makes it all the more appealing is Liberace's showmanship. From the approachable and personal stories he relates about the music at the beginning of the segment, to his warm smile, to his obvious enthusiasm for the music, it's a pleasure a watch. He certainly does ham it up, but that's part of the appeal as well. My main problem with this set is that there's too much of the same thing going on for nearly six hours. In trying to watch this in a condensed period of time, I was overwhelmed and eventually bored. For someone who wants to savor it and watch it casually over time, it should work better. I also would have liked more than just these edited segments. I wanted to see an entire episode of whatever show this was so I could put the performance into its historical content.
The transfers on the discs are nothing to get exciting about. The video is a black and white full frame that clearly proclaims its age. There's a fairly long litany of "problems" with the video: an overall soft appearance (muted details), muddy blacks and whites (making it somewhat grey at times), tons of dirt and speckles, and a few other errors along the way. All I can say is that it's not the worst thing I've seen on DVD, but it's something you'll just have to marginalize to watch the performance. Audio is a touch more distressing as the set is meant as a showcase for the music. Overall the 2.0 mono track is disappointing as the entirety of it has a noticeable and annoying background hiss; and, worse, treble reproduction is weak as many of the upper register notes get clipped. Neither the audio nor video do true justice to the man and his talent, but if you put it into context of its age, you can give it some leeway.
Sadly—or fortunately after six hours—there are no bonus materials. Nor are there any subtitles.
I liked this disc, got a bit bored in my cram session, and found the transfers seriously wanting—though it's more to the source than anything. For true fans, I think it's a nice collection of segments that highlight Liberace's calmer, more "tuxedoed" years. For anyone else, you might like the music like me but also find dismay over that pesky audio and video so you won't honestly even want to rent it.
Liberace: Greatest Songs is hereby found not guilty of being too
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