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Rockin' DVDs

by Jeffrey M. Anderson

Rock music and movies have always gone well together. In fact, the first rock song (Bill Haley's "Rock Around the Clock") was featured in a movie, The Blackboard Jungle.

Now rock movies take many forms. We have the straight concert movie (Gimme Shelter, Stop Making Sense), the fictional band (This Is Spinal Tap, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains!), real bands in fictional movies (The Girl Can't Help It, A Hard Day's Night), actors playing musicians (The Doors, Backbeat), musicians working as actors (Performance, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid), musicians playing themselves (Purple Rain, 8 Mile), and many more.

What ultimately matters is that the film moves with the same energy and abandon that a rock song has. The following new DVD releases accomplish just that.

The Commitments Collector's Edition (1991, Fox)

Director Alan Parker has always been more successful with music than he has with other kinds of drama, and he proves it in this energetic, passionate story -- based on the novel by Roddy Doyle -- of a group of Dubliners who form a soul band. The film does a remarkable job of balancing a feel of lower-class life with the sheer exuberance the music brings. It also manages to mix the recordings to the point that the live performances sound just as good as the studio performances. Colm Meany, then known for his role on "Star Trek: The Next Generation," plays the loud-mouthed but lovable dad, and repeated the role in the next two Roddy Doyle-based films, The Snapper and The Van.

Though the Commitments only perform cover songs, the movie and the soundtrack were so popular that the band began touring in real life.

Fox's new 2-disc set comes with a beautiful new transfer with crisp, vibrant sound. Parker provides a commentary track, and the second disc contains five featurettes, including a vintage "making of" documentary (22 minutes), as well as a music video, "Treat Her Right," trailers, two original songs by cast members, TV spots, radio spots and stills.

School of Rock Special Collector's Edition (2003, Paramount)

Director Richard Linklater and screenwriter Mike White's School of Rock is a similar "assemble-the-band" movie, but with a twist: this band is made up of ten year-olds. That, and their leader is the volatile, unpredictable Jack Black, a man who has no filters and is able to say and do whatever pops into his mind. White -- who also appears in the film as Black's put-upon roommate -- wrote the script especially for his friend, and it's easy to see how it might have disintegrated into schmaltzy Disney-esque formula garbage. Upon a second viewing, Linklater's graceful direction becomes more apparent; the first time through the only thing you see is Black's explosive performance. Call me a sucker, but the band's performance at the climactic Battle of the Bands puts a lump in my throat.

( See my original review.)

Paramount's new DVD comes with lots of good stuff: two commentary tracks, one by Black and Linklater (White apparently had the flu), and one by the kids (who mostly laugh and copy their line readings). There are two video diaries, one with the kids at the Toronto Film Festival, and the other with Black on MTV. Other extras include Black's pitch to get Led Zeppelin to let them use "The Immigrant Song" in the film (which they did), trailers, videos, a preview for this summer's The Stepford Wives and other stuff. DVD-Rom features are only compatible on IBM computers.

The Cramps: Live at Napa State Mental Hospital (1978, Music Video Distributors)

The Cramps are a great band, but you have to be a die-hard fan to make it through this ancient, black-and-white video with horrible sound, shot constantly and unflaggingly from one corner of the stage. Mental patients dance around and wander through the shot, mingling with and becoming confused with the members of the band. The disc includes clips from several other MVD releases, including the Ramones, the Dead Kennedys and G.G. Allin and the Murder Junkies. Many, but not all, clips are included on the "What the Punk 2" compilation.

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