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Amazing JourneyNew DVD's Profile Who's and Coppola's Amazing Journeys

By Jim Bray

A pair of new DVD's provide some fascinating insight into a couple of icons that, while vastly different, have both been influential in today's popular cultural

The first, "Amazing Journey", proves that even after more than 40 years, the kids are still alright. The survivors, anyway.

The appropriately titled two-or-three disc DVD set offers an in depth look into the most important rock band to come out of Britain. And it ain't the Beatles; it's The Who.

I can hear the howls now. But as great as many of their songs were, Lennon-McCartney won't be remembered in 200 years as the Strauss, Beethoven or Gershwin of rock; that honor surely will fall to Pete Townshend.

It didn't start out that way. In Amazing Journey, Directors Murray Lerner and Paul Crowder  show us that The Who was actually singer Roger Daltrey's band in the beginning, with Townshend bringing his latent genius later. Townshend's songwriting skills appear to have been energized more because they needed original material beyond their "Maximum R&B" if they wanted to conquer the record labels.

Unlike the earlier Who documentary "The Kids Are Alright," "Amazing Journey" is more concerned with the band's history, not its music. Oh, there are plenty of clips, some of which are very rare, but if you're looking for the performances of entire songs "Kids" is a better bet. On the other hand, "Amazing" is much more in depth, and with a much longer timeline.

The DVD's, which contain two complete features, follows the band practically from Day One and traces the four decade-long amazing journey that continues today, though it seems to rocket at warp speed from about 1980 to the present.

The story's told through new interviews with Townshend and Daltrey and archival footage of John Entwistle (the thunderfingered bassist who died in 2002) and Keith Moon (the percussion genius whose fuse burned out in 1978). It's a "warts and all" look at how four diverse parts managed to create a whole that helped move rock and roll from consisting mostly of two minutes of fluff to include serious, extended works that many consider to be benchmarks of 20th century music.

Also on hand to opine are long time friends, handlers, managers and relatives, as well as many of the rockers who came later (including Sting, The Edge and Eddie Vedder) and who credit The Who with much of their inspiration.

And that's only disc one! A second disc offers "Six Quick Ones", including four featurettes that give more in depth looks at each original band member, including some great footage of them in action on stage. The other two "quick ones" are "Who Art You," which looks at the band's influence on pop culture, and "Who's Back," a fascinating in-studio document of the band recording "Real Good Looking Boy," their first post-Entwistle studio collaboration, featuring Greg Lake on bass.

Extras include "The High Numbers at the Railway Hotel," a rare film from 1964, thought to be the oldest footage of the band. It's short and they're doing cover versions, but it's clear that even back then they were a force to be reckoned with.

A three disc version includes footage from a 1979 concert in Chicago. Unfortunately, I received the two disc set, so can't comment on the concert footage.

Accept no Substitute!

Hearts of DarknessHearty Dose of Darkness….

The other DVD documentary is "Hearts of Darkness," a fascinating look at auteur Francis Ford Coppola and the making of his controversial Vietnam masterpiece "Apocalypse Now." It's also a two feature disc, including "Coda: Thirty Years Later" – a new documentary on the making of Coppola's current film, "Youth Without Youth."

Watching "Hearts" makes you feel like a fly on the wall of the production of Coppola's movie, which took the best part of a year to film, went far over budget, and went on to win the Palme D'or at Cannes and two Oscars despite the director's pontifications during the shoot that he was creating a gigantic bomb.

Shot by Coppola's wife, Eleanor, and featuring a no holds barred look at the production, the documentary shows clearly just how difficult it was to get the film made. It almost seemed as if the stars were aligned against Coppola completing his first production under his American Zoetrope banner.

Here's just some of the stuff with which Coppola had to contend: a Philippine government that would recall some of the helicopters he had rented (to fight real life insurgents); one star (Marlon Brando) who was in danger of reneging on his contract while keeping his million dollar advance and another (Martin Sheen) who had a heart attack during shooting; a typhoon that destroyed the sets; a director in danger of losing it as all this stuff happened on his watch.

The star of "Hearts of Darkness" is Coppola. He's revealed as a flawed human being doing his utmost to create a legitimate work of art from an imperfect script and concept and under the most trying of conditions.  

It's unfortunate that the film's story helped perpetuate the "Americans as incompetents" theme but there's a lot more to this film than Yankee-bashing: despite a weak ending, it's a riveting (though loose) adaptation of Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" and it works on many levels.

I enjoyed watching "Hearts of Darkness" with the audio commentary and English subtitles on. The subtitles let me "hear" the original documentary, while Eleanor and Francis Coppola's (mostly Eleanor's) commentary contains new reminiscences about the original production and the documentary itself.

The second feature, "Coda", follows an older and wiser Coppola to Romania as he uses "guerilla filmmaking" tactics and small crew to craft "Youth Without Youth," his first film in 10 years and one in which he's once again working outside the studio system. It should be interesting to see how his new, return-to-his-youth roots "art film" turns out.

In the meantime "Hearts of Darkness" is a must-see for Coppola fans and film buffs alike.

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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