Henry Rollins: the only non-motivational speaker liked by both Judge Patrick Bromley and Beavis and Butt-Head.
Henry Rollins is a strange beast—and by that I mean that he's the only former punk singer-turned-metal singer-turned-poet / publisher / public speaker / sometimes actor I can think of (with the exception of Jeremy Irons, of course). Live at Luna Park compiles the best of two months worth of Rollins's spoken word performances, recorded at the Luna Park nightclub in California. Topics covered by Henry include air travel, the downside of wearing makeup while working out, and the unsettling emotional impact of Ridley Scott's White Squall.
Henry Rollins and Kevin Smith (Dogma, An Evening With Kevin Smith) are the only two guys I can think of that are famous just for talking. They're not motivational speakers. They're not monologists, like Spalding Gray. What they do is essentially stand-up, but without the jokes—which is not to say that they're not funny, but neither has a traditional "setup, punchline, setup, punchline" approach. And though both are well established in other arenas (Rollins as a musician, Smith as a director), they have developed a large and loyal fan base strictly with their "spoken word" (the term Rollins typically uses) performances.
Live at Luna Park is sort of a mixed bag. It's too truncated, too scattershot, and too heavily chopped up to please true fans of Rollins's spoken word gigs. His stories, which are broken up into chapters on the disc, generally run between five and ten minutes here before cutting away to the next one. The result stifles the overall impact of the segment. That the footage on the disc is comprised of performances given over the span of two months doesn't help matters, either (though, except for a constantly changing haircut, you wouldn't really know it). Rollins traditionally speaks for almost three hours at a time, and the performances have a strong dramatic build that grows organically over the course of the show. (For an example, see his previous spoken word DVD incarnation, Talking From the Box, which culminates in Rollins recounting the murder of his friend Joe Cole.) Luna Park's "best of" format disrupts this kind of momentum, offering more of a sampling of Rollins's shows and placing the emphasis on humor.
On the other hand, if you're unfamiliar with Rollins's spoken word efforts, then Live at Luna Park may serve as an excellent introduction. It's funny and entertaining, and its brevity insures that it will not overstay its welcome. It presents a Henry Rollins who is characteristically blunt, honest, and self-deprecatingly funny (not many guys this bad-ass will willingly confess to bawling at an in-flight movie), while steering clear of some of the self-indulgence or borderline pretentiousness that can occasionally mar his spoken word act. The show's increased accessibility may provide an opportunity for non-fans, casual fans, or fans of Rollins in another forum (all you Johnny Mnemonic lovers out there!) to get involved in another aspect of this multifaceted performer's career. It's worth a look.
Image Entertainment provides a pretty straightforward document of Rollins's Luna Park shows. The image, captured on video and presented here in a 1.33:1 full screen format, looks just fine, and the audio is comparable (with the exception of the metal music that plays over the between-chapter title cards, which is far louder than any other audio). The source material—the actual footage—is where I found some problems. The whole thing is basically shot with just a two-camera setup: one extremely low angle that isn't terribly watchable, and a straight-on medium shot that's framed so tightly it often cuts off the top of Rollins's head. The photography is almost too claustrophobic; you don't get any sense of the room at all, which I've always found to be a benefit in concert films—it adds to the feeling that you are there. Added to this, Rollins is extremely physical—his performances always are—and you can all but feel him straining against the edges of the frame like a prisoner. The man simply needs more space.
There is only one extra provided—a twenty-minute segment in which Rollins discusses his obsessive musical rivalry with Iggy Pop. It's more like his traditional bits, in that it's long and slightly repetitive, builds beautifully, and is crammed with all of Henry's trademark energy, intensity, and self-deprecating humor—he's a great storyteller. Aside from its length, I'm baffled as to why it wasn't just incorporated into the body of the presentation. It would have made a great finale. That it is relegated to being the disc's sole extra makes about as much sense to me as Henry Rollins's decision to participate in Jack Frost. Or The Chase. Or The New Guy. You get the picture.
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