Now that Generation Boomer is shuffling slowly but surely towards the twilight of its purchasing power, spending far more time on the sofa than in the clubs or under the headphones, the DVD is becoming the preferred delivery system for the sounds – and, you bet, sights – of yesteryear. Of course with the Top Forty having long since gone TiVo, an audio-only package today seems as antiquated as, well, a record album …remember those? Even supposed sure-bets like those recent Beatles remasters, not to mention the Rolling Stones’ deluxe Exile On Main St. repackage, each make damn sure shiny happy li’l documentary films accompany all the aurally enhanced yeah-yeah-yeah’s and tumblin’ digital dice.
So it should really come as no surprise that what remains of once-almighty entertainment conglomerates are now frantically trolling the globe for every still-existing cache of promotional or even newsreel footage with which to slice, dice, then tack onto their latest deep-catalog up-grades. Just as back in the dawn of the CD age itself, the lure of the Bonus Track (ideally of the “previously unreleased” ilk) was employed to tempt us into purchasing Pet Sounds or the Elvis Presley catalog yet again. And again.
Wienerworld Ltd.’s Rare and Unseen series, now available from the fine folk over at MVD Visual, duly compile quite often remarkable footage of retro-icons John Lennon and those once-Rolling Stones into two, hour-plus collections which whisk us back to the very earliest days (interviewing Colin Hanton from John’s pre-Beatle Quarrymen) straight up to the near present (check out the Stones hanging fire with Martin Scorsese at the Berlinale Film Festival Shine A Light premiere).
In between it all we chart The Chief Beatle’s long and incredibly winding political awakening via those “Bigger than Jesus” wisecracks straight through his campaign to ensure “War is Over,” whilst meanwhile Mick Jagger struggles to decry his position as Voice of a Generation circa 1967, then two decades later defend his War is Most Definitely NOT Over “Undercover Of The Night” video to a most skeptical indeed veejay. Plus it should go without saying that both the Lennon and especially Stones discs present quintessentially quaint drug bust montages direct from the court house steps of Swinging London: clips which, as the Sixties progressed, replaced the airport departure/arrival staging as every pop idols’ ideal photo-opportunity.
That said, even the most jaded and/or cynical viewer will have a smile raised when watching former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s father-in-law reminisce about the marijuana dealer he once shared with John and Yoko, not to mention Mick Jagger turning up with his father – and the Duke of Kent! – for the gala opening of his very own Performing Arts Centre circa 2000. Stickier still, we witness the (in)famous food fight at the Stones’ Beggars Banquet launch, Mick taking particular pride in violently grinding a pie into the face of Brian Jones before the assembled photographers. One can perhaps find some solace in the fact that Mr. Jones, for one, never lived long enough to become the TMZ age’s latest sacrificial star.
In between all the fun and custard however lies most revealing footage of Brian’s replacement Mick Taylor (looking extremely reticent; shell-shocked, even) being paraded before the media just prior to his on-stage debut at the Stones’ Hyde Park-slash-Jones Memorial concert, plus a fascinating, long-thought-lost 1973 interview with an equally, most uncharacteristically ill-at-ease John Lennon which aired only once on London Weekend Television.
Fortunately, throughout both discs the talking heads from the present day are kept to a bare minimum – I mean, why in the world does Phil Collins, of all people, pop up briefly? (“I never met Lennon,” he admits. “And I don’t know if I’d have liked him if I’d have met him.” Hmmmm… this from the former child actor who was awarded his Big Break by appearing as an extra in A Hard Day’s Night?!) So, for better or sometimes even for worst, the myriad stories are left strictly told by Messrs. Lennon, Jagger, Richard, Watts, Wyman and Jones themselves; Bill Wyman, in fact, emerging throughout as perhaps the most astute and unquestionably articulate of them all.
Yes, these were the days when musicians still carried their own equipment as opposed to their own speechwriters and publicists. Wonderful verbal warts and all then, like the music its subject matters once recklessly created,
Rare and Unseen Beatles, are every bit as entertaining to watch as they are to, yes, merely listen to.