Judge Norman Short dances not a wee jig about the shoddy DVD treatment given this documentary about the renowned Irish band.
Irish folk music done right.
Among the many things I did during a misspent youth was to participate for years in an organization called the SCA, or Society for Creative Anachronism. This group recreates the Middle Ages with costume, music, and fighting among other things. It was during this time I first became acquainted with The Chieftains, an Irish folk musical group that is known for its complex instrumental melodies using pipes, whistles, harps, and fiddles among other instruments. They've been around for almost 40 years, have contributed to Oscar winning musical scores, played for over a million people at one concert, and have collaborated with some of the biggest names in music along the way. Impressed? I know I am. Find out more about this talented group of people in The Chieftains: The Long Black Veil, a documentary about the group filled with musical collaborations with artists such as Sting, Sinead O'Connor, and Marianne Faithfull. The music is great, the documentary informative, but the video…some of the worst I've ever seen.
Facts of the Case
The Chieftains have a long and varied history. Started in 1963, the band has been led ever since by Paddy Moloney, who plays the uillean pipes. Other musicians have come and gone, but most of them have been with the band for over 20 years even now. The "young kid" in the band has only been with them for 18 years. Don't think these guys are too old to play anymore; they can string together intricate sounds in layered melodies that can make the heart sing. In 1975 their biggest break came by their musical contributions to Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, which won an Oscar for Best Music. From there, the band was in constant motion touring, making records, and doing film scores. They played before 1.3 million people in an audience for Pope John Paul II during his visit to Ireland in 1979. They've played on "Saturday Night Live," in the Capitol Rotunda for Congress, and all over the world. More recently they've been known for contributing to the musical score for Rob Roy.
The best thing you can compliment about any DVD featuring a musical group is the music itself. I have nothing but compliments for the musical abilities and versatility of these folks. They really are quite amazing at what they do. The songs, especially when not spoken over by dialogue in the documentary, are the best part of the disc.
This is mainly a documentary about this album "The Long Black Veil" however. Lots of interview footage is laid over the music, and there is a lot of behind the scenes shooting of rehearsal and studio sessions. Spicing things up is the presence of other, better known to the mainstream stars such as Sting and Sinead O'Connor. They also speak in front of the camera in tones of admiration and respect about this band of elder Irish statesmen. Their vocals added on to the wonderful instrumentals from The Chieftains are a real treat.
Perhaps the most surprising track on the disc is a rendition of "The Tennessee Waltz" with Tom Jones singing. Having a British Vegas star singing very old country music with Irish folk musicians is something unique to say the least. Just before I wondered if my medication had kicked in, the band continues on into a new composition called "The Tennessee Mazurka." I don't know what a Mazurka is, but it sounded good.
The sound is the most important part of a musical DVD, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack delivers. The music literally surrounds you, putting you right in the middle of the group as the music plays.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
So ends my compliments. Though I liked the music immensely it was irritating to have people talking over it in parts. So the wonderful music gets muted so you can hear people talk over it. I'd far rather have let them finish the music and then put in the interviews. They certainly had the time to do that; the whole disc only runs 46 minutes. At that running length, I got the feeling this should have been an extra feature on a live concert disc rather than a stand-alone product. At least it is cheap, retailing for only $14.95.
The sound may have been fine but the video quality was not. I can't remember the last time I saw footage as grainy as this. Yes, this was mostly shot in 1994, but it was done in a studio or inside a large home, not live concert stuff suffering from bad lighting. Colors are not accurate, the image is exceedingly soft, and it gets hard to watch after awhile. I've seen VHS tapes that look much better than this. Extra features are basically non-existent; only a discography for the band is included. Even the history of the band I had to look up on the Internet rather than from anything provided with the DVD.
Fans of the group might enjoy renting this sometime, but I really can't recommend it. A better choice would be to check out their recent DVD release of The Chieftains: Live Over Ireland: Water From The Well, which has concert footage and even a commentary track.
BMG is found guilty of trying to make a full DVD out of what should have been an extra feature. The Chieftains remain in my highest regard and are thanked for their years of providing a musical niche with talent and grace.
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