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Case Number 14854: Small Claims Court

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A Technicolor Dream

Eagle Rock Entertainment // 2008 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // October 28th, 2008

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All Rise...

Judge Victor Valdivia has heard heavy drug use addles your brain...and electric puppies can't fly in pastoral sandals.

The Charge

"I do remember seeing these crowds streaming out of the hall and thinking 'This is it. We won!' Of course, that was a fantasy, but that was the feeling you had that night."—Record producer Joe Boyd

The Case

On April 29, 1967, a concert was held to benefit the British underground newspaper International Times, which had recently been raided by London police officers for supposed obscenity charges. The benefit marked the national emergence of several of the underground's biggest bands, such as the Pretty Things, the Soft Machine, and, most notably, Pink Floyd. The Technicolor Dream, as the benefit was called, was more than just a concert, however. For the British hippie movement, it was as crucial an event as the Human Be-In was for the San Francisco Haight-Ashbury movement. It was the moment when British hippies could come together and realize that they were not alone, that they were a sizable mass movement. Of course, like all high-water marks, the Technicolor Dream would sadly mark the end, not the beginning, of the original underground movement. By the end of the decade, the British hippie scene would be as dissipated and demoralized as it was in the United States, and for similar reasons: drugs, self-destruction, disillusionment, and internecine squabbling. In Britain, that decline would be epitomized by Pink Floyd's talented but doomed leader, singer-guitarist Syd Barrett, who deteriorated into drug-induced psychosis and became so unreliable that the other band members reluctantly fired him. Barrett's deterioration would mirror that of the underground movement, but at least for one night before then, all of its disparate elements would culminate in one event that made headlines and left a lasting mark on pop culture.

A Technicolor Dream is a documentary that's meant to recall the concert. It also means to put this momentous event in proper perspective by explaining the roots of the British hippie underground from its place as part of the various social and cultural movements of the era. The film delves into the anti-nuclear movement of the '50s, the rise of the Beat writers and poets, and the emergence of a new postwar generation who came of age with a culture mixing equal parts prosperity and strictness. This is a laudable strategy, as it's the only way possible to understand the Technicolor Dream concert as the peak of a movement instead of just a nice hippie happening. Unfortunately, while there are some interesting revelations and great performances, A Technicolor Dream is so scattershot and uneven that it only succeeds intermittently. Unless you were actually there, this documentary won't help in conveying what it was like.

It's not for lack of trying that A Technicolor Dream fails. Stephen Gammond, the film's director, has interviewed the most significant people of the scene, including surviving Pink Floyd members Roger Waters and Nick Mason, Pretty Things frontman Phil May, writer Barry Miles, and record producer Joe Boyd, amongst others. They give several accounts of what the times were like and how the hippie scene coalesced and grew. There is no shortage of valuable archival footage featuring various performances and interviews with notables of the era. The performances by Pink Floyd with Barrett are the most significant, of course, but the Pretty Things songs are also worth noting and will hopefully bring more attention to this unfairly underrated band. The archival footage even has some amusing revelations. The shots of a very, very stoned John Lennon arriving to the benefit, looking sheepish and bombed in front of all the assembled photographers, may alone be worth the price of the disc. The film also has some harrowing stories about Barrett's decline, and uses them as a metaphor for the decline of the hippie movement itself. Gammond has assembled so many interesting film clips and interviews that A Technicolor Dream sometimes gets by on sheer volume.

So yes, there's plenty of worthwhile material here. The problem is that Gammond isn't adept at editing it into a compelling narrative. He leaves too many questions unanswered while dwelling too much on trivia. For instance, Miles recalls how he organized England's first Beat poetry reading, including several big names like Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti alongside several new British poets. He explains that the actual quality of the poetry and readings wasn't stellar, mainly because too many poets were stoned and drunk, but that the crowd was so thrilled to be together all in one place that the event was a success regardless. Rather than leave it there, Gammond spends a lot of time showing film clip after film clip of poets bungling their poems and mumbling incoherently. By contrast, Gammond devotes a section to the London Free School, an academy of some sort started by noted British hippie icon John "Hoppy" Hopkins. What exactly was the London Free School? What was its purpose? How did it fit in with the overall story of the burgeoning hippie movement? The film doesn't explain this clearly, even with an interview with Hopkins himself. The ever blunt Waters asks the same questions at one point in the documentary, so it probably would have been a good idea to make this clearer. The film doesn't even explain what the exact nature of the obscenity charges against the IT were, or whether or not the concert benefited the paper at all.

These holes are unfortunately not filled in, even with nearly an hour's worth of additional interview footage with Waters, Mason, Boyd, and Peter Jenner, Pink Floyd's original manager. They add more detail to the story of the music scene at the time, and they have some rarely heard stories about the founding and disintegration of Pink Floyd, making these interviews invaluable to Floyd fans. They'll also be pleased by the inclusion of three promotional films shot for the band's first singles: "Arnold Layne," "Scarecrow," and "Astronomy Domine." Anyone expecting more information on the underground and hippie movement, however, will be disappointed. The 16:9 anamorphic transfer and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix are both good enough, considering the heavy amount of older footage.

So is A Technicolor Dream worth it? For Pink Floyd fans, the answer is an unqualified yes. The new interviews with Waters and Mason and the performance clips are worth the cost of the DVD. Anyone else may want to preview this disc before purchasing it. The story of the British underground in the '60s is an interesting one, and there are some good stories and film clips here, but Gammond hasn't done a good job of arranging them into a thorough and compelling narrative. Both intellectually and emotionally, the film simply leaves too many holes for viewers to fill in themselves. Despite some good interviews and helpful film footage, A Technicolor Dream is ultimately guilty of not really telling the story it set out to do.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 70

Perp Profile

Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Genres:
• Concerts and Musicals
• Documentary
• Performance

Distinguishing Marks

• Pink Floyd Performances
• Extended Interviews

Accomplices

• Official Site








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