Appellate Judge Mac McEntire is green, tepid + squishy.
Just say know.
The music of Cole Porter got a sudden burst of popularity in 1990 when some of the hottest music artists of the time created rockin' new versions of his songs, complete with videos. These were packaged together as Red Hot + Blue, a fundraiser for AIDS research. The videos debuted on a TV special not in prime time, but in a late-night Saturday spot, to further give the project a sense of cool. Leave it to the pop culture experts at Shout! Factory to unearth the special, dust it off, and reintroduce it to fans in a new two-disc set with the videos on DVD and the songs on CD.
Facts of the Case
What songs and artists will you find in Red Hot + Blue? Here's the list:
• "Don't Fence Me In" by David Byrne
The bonus CD included here also includes two additional songs:
• "Love For Sale" by Fine Young Cannibals
The goal of this project is clearly "music with a message," but more often than not, it ends up as "the music vs. the message." The creators are so intent in pushing the importance of AIDS awareness that it often overpowers any entertainment value to these videos. I know that sounds awfully cold-hearted of me, and I'm not trying to belittle the seriousness of AIDS. It's just that the balance is off. The creators promise us cool reinterpretations of Porter's classics, and then sit us down for a lecture about safe sex. When the videos do get really creative and exciting, many viewers will feel guilty about enjoying them, because they've been preached to about AIDS. In between videos, celebrities such as Richard Gere, John Malkovich, and David Byrne of the Talking Heads put on their serious faces for speeches about how awful AIDS is, and how something must be done about it. Often times, when celebrities rally for a cause, it sometimes comes across as more silly than moving, and that's partially the case here.
Several of the videos are quite engaging. Sinead O'Connor was at the height of her popularity when this debuted, before she got all weird and political. Her take on "You Do Something to Me" is lovely, even if no one will recognize her with that long blonde wig. U2 and Annie Lennox both bring their considerable talents to their songs, and Les Negresses Vertes are among the few artists here willing to have a little fun with their comedic offering. Then, the unlikely duo of Iggy Pop and Debbie Harry show these young kids how it's done by rocking out to an energetic version of "Well Did You Evah." Plus, there's no going wrong with Porter's "In The Still of The Night," and Neville Brothers do a nice rendition of it. Look closely in the credits, and you'll see a few well-known directors lent a hand, including Jim Jarmusch (Dead Man), Alex Cox (Repo Man), Neil Jordan (Interview with a Vampire), and Wim Wenders (Buena Vista Social Club).
At other times, though, the "message" pops up again. When the music must compete against educating viewers about AIDS, the results became a little, shall we say, off. Erasure does a great rock and roll take on "Too Darn Hot," but filling the video with footage of AIDS sufferers makes it more disjointed instead of moving. The Jungle Brothers' version of "I Get a Kick Out of You" features strange imagery such as animation of a gun being inserted into a woman's mouth, and people's hands and faces wrapped in latex, all juxtaposed with silhouettes of sexy dancing girls. Not only is this enough to give Freud a headache, but I have to wonder—was this really the best way to get the message across? Other videos and in-between segments have AIDS statistics and safe sex messages written all over the screen, just in case no one's getting the point.
Picture quality here tends to be a little flat, possibly due to the original video elements. The audio is a mere 2.0 stereo track. Really, considering all the musical talent involved, shouldn't this have been re-mastered into a full-blown 5.1 track? Still, the audio shows little flaws, it's just not as robust as we've come to expect from music discs.
Although Shout! Factory deserves a round of applause for bringing Red Hot + Blue to DVD—for nostalgic value if nothing else—this disc does not meet their usual standard for excellence. The only extras are a live performance by Annie Lennox of "Every Time We Say Goodbye," and some credits. Other extras, such as biographical information about Porter or the artists seen here, would have been appreciated. On the plus side, this set also comes with a CD featuring every song, plus two bonus songs. If all you're looking for is rock versions of Cole Porter, you might prefer the CD.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
In a collection of music videos, especially those that include various styles of music, there are bound to be some that are better than others. Which ones you like the best will of course depend on your own musical tastes. That being said, I find it hard to imagine anyone enjoying Tom Waits's strange version of "It's All Right with Me." Waits's vocals are unusually shrill and scratchy you can't understand a thing he's saying. He then spends most of the video stumbling around like a drunk, while an also seemingly-drunk cameraman shakes the camera around. Skip this one.
So, can popular music be used to deliver an important message, or does it always end up this hammy? If a band wishes to make a statement, I'd argue that it takes a light touch. A little subtlety goes a long way. No one likes to be lectured to, and there's a lot of lecturing going on here. The message should be a part of the music, but in Red Hot + Blue the music and the message are clumsily mashed together. This keeps the final project from reaching the heights its shoots for.
Hung jury. The music here is great, but the sermonizing is out of hand. And yet, there's no denying that all this sermonizing is for an important cause. I say play it safe and make this one a rental.
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