Judge Gordon Sullivan is known as Victrolafoot.
"Ambition makes you look pretty ugly."—Radiohead
My own feelings about Radiohead are mixed: Although I recognize their importance and influence, I'm always left utterly cold by the band's music. It's because I recognize their importance and influence that I don't begrudge them the microscopic examination of fans in numerous websites, books, and documentaries. Certainly their Meeting People is Easy was an interesting look at the machinery of touring a world-class band, and between the classic status of OK Computer, the pay-what-you-want strategy of In Rainbows, and the band's somewhat reclusive reputation there is plenty to talk about in any number of documentaries. Sadly Radiohead: Arms & Legs packages a pair of so-so documentaries that were previously available and hardly lives up to the subtitle.
Radiohead: Arms & Legs (which must, I assume, be trying to cash in on the band's 2011 release of The King of Limbs) compiles two documentaries. The first is Classic Album Under Review: Radiohead's OK Computer. It combines interviews with journalists and writers along with live footage and music videos of the band to dissect OK Computer's genesis and impact. The second film is Radiohead: Homework, which takes a more traditional documentary approach to the band's history, starting with their school-era meeting and taking the band up through the Hail to the Thief era. This documentary also relies on interviews, either with "experts" on the band's music or TV interviews with the band members, but without the added benefit of any Radiohead performances or music.
I'll address the individual documentaries in a moment, but I first want to discuss this two-disc set. I never no problem with the repackaging of previously available DVDs. They give fans who missed out a chance to acquire a pair (or more) of films, often for a reduced price. However, this usefulness assumes that fans are aware of what they're buying. With Arms & Legs it's impossible to tell from the packaging exactly what's contained within. The back cover mentions a pair of documentaries and mentions vaguely watch each one of them is about. However, there are no titles or any other definitive indicators of what's contained. Knowing that Radiohead has a lot of rabid fans who will buy most anything about their band, I can foresee a lot of disappointed fans realizing they already own both the documentaries upon picking up this two-disc set. It feels especially sleazy because the back of the set states "this set borrows from Radiohead's own approach to the oh-too-often cynical, stagnant and un-nourishing side of the music industry by seizing the opportunity to produce a brace of films befitting of Radiohead's truly unique agenda." Somehow I don't think that repackaging a pair of previously available (and unauthorized) documentaries without telling fans what documentaries they're buying is in keeping with anything about Radiohead's agenda.
The films themselves hardly conform to Radiohead's aesthetic vision, either. Classic Albums Under Review is a dry, sound bite-laden look at what most consider the band's masterpiece. Although the discussion isn't too academic, nor under/over passionate, because of the talking head style of the piece no one gets a chance to say anything of substance about the album that isn't totally obvious to anyone who would care upon listening to the album. The old saw that "writing about music is like dancing about architecture" seems to apply—except some of those journalists featured have written stuff about the band that even I, a non-fan, found interesting. However, they're hampered here in the editing to sound either obvious or pretentious. The inclusion of illustrative clips of live music or music videos is nice, but hardly matches the band's sophisticated reliance on imagery.
Radiohead: Homework is a slightly more traditional look at the history of the band. It generally maintains the format of talking heads plus archival footage, but in this case the archival footage is either of locations of importance to the band, or the occasional TV interview with the band. I hardly know everything about the band, but longtime fans might quibble with some of the "facts" presented here, as some parts of the band's history are glossed over or blown up to fit the film's structure. It might be an okay documentary for those who know nothing about Radiohead and want to watch something about them. For fans there's nothing of substance to recommend.
Technically, both discs are fine. They're both 1.78:1 and anamorphically enhanced, with fairly clean contemporary looking video. Some of the archival stuff is a bit spotty, but the newer material looks as good as can be expected. Both offer stereo mixes that keep dialogue front and center and do an okay job with the music. Extras on the first disc include an interactive quiz and text biographies of the interviewees, while the second disc features a photo gallery of Oxford locations important to Radiohead and a discography for the band.
For those few fans who wanted to own Classic Album Under Review: Radiohead's OK Computer and Radiohead: Homework, this is the set to pick up. For everyone else, the documentaries included here simply aren't that great (especially for fans), and the trickery of not making it clear that these were two previously available discs makes it hard to recommend the set for anything other than a rental.
Guilty of cash grabbing.
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