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Led Zeppelin The Song Remains The Same (Blu-ray) (1976)

51RyAqlFTjL__SL500_AA300_From bluray.highdefdigest.com

For lovers or big-screen rock excess, the late ’70s was the absolute golden era. For whatever reason, during that period Hollywood became obsessed with bringing music to the box office masses, and unleashed an avalanche of ridiculously conceived pop spectacles starring a bizarre cross-section of performers that had no business getting anywhere near the silver screen. On any given weekend, bumping shoulders (and grinding pelvises) at the local multiplex were acts as disparate as the Village People (‘Can’t Stop the Music’), ELO (‘Xanadu’), the Bee-Gees and Peter Frampton (‘Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band’) and even Sweden’s biggest music export, ABBA (the immortal ‘ABBA: The Movie’). It was a virtual cinematic car crash, with one spectacular disaster after another going down in flames.

It’s surprising in hindsight, but rock gods Led Zeppelin somehow got caught up in all of this hysteria, and in 1976 they released their own big-screen epic ‘The Song Remains the Same.’ Part concert movie, part “dramatic interpretation’ of their music, it’s not jaw-droppingly awful on the level of, say, a ‘Xanadu’ (this is the Zeppelin, after all, not ELO), but the movie is ill-conceived enough that you have to wonder what the Led boys were thinking. Were rock egos that big in the ’70s that a top act like this thought it prudent to appear in something this grandiose and pretentious?

According to the film’s original promotional materials, ‘The Song Remains the Same’ was intended to be “…the band’s special way of giving their millions of friends what they had been clamoring for — a personal and private tour of Led Zeppelin.” The end product, however, turned out just a little bit different. Originally conceived as a straight-ahead concert film, the bulk of the movie was shot during a three-night stint at Madison Square Garden during the band’s hugely successful 1973 world tour. Unfortunately, much of the material turned out so poorly that it was virtually unusable, and the band was also unhappy with many of its performances. So the the film’s producers hastily came up with a solution — scrap most of the movie (including firing the original director, Joe Massot, and replacing him with Peter Clifton) and reconfigure it from top to bottom as a more traditional narrative, albeit with some concert performances spliced in.

Suffering from all of the bloated pomposity of the ’70s “prog-rock” era, the “dramatic” segueways added to ‘The Song Remains the Same’ are virtually interminable. After a long opening sequence of the band arriving by plane (that sets up some forgettable plot about a robbery — yawn), we’re treated to a series of downright loony “fantasy” interludes that are supposed to give us insight into the personalities of each of the band members. There’s John Paul Jones, reading “Jack and the Beanstalk” to his daughters. John Bonham drag racing to the tune of “Moby Dick.” Jimmy Page climbing a snow-capped mountain in search of a hermit (seriously, I’m not kidding). And Robert Plant getting to ride a horse across a wind-swept landscape, his flowing locks making him look like a lost hippie Prince from an abandoned Disney theme park ride. It’s all meant to “symbolize” something, but in such an overt and heavy-handed way that it inspires laughter more than profundity.

Thankfully, ‘The Song Remains the Same’ also features concert performances of nearly a dozen classic Led Zeppelin tunes, and that’s the reason to see the film. Although the band would subsequently reshoot some of the close-ups and other insert shots on a soundstage (leading to a few glaring continuity errors), it is these scenes that prove without a doubt that Zeppelin is arguably the greatest hard rock band in history. During the 1973 tour the were often at the peak of their powers, and indeed few other acts can touch them even now. The interaction of the band members achieves an intensity that borders on the orgiastic at times, and moments in “Black Dog,” Whole Lotta Love” and of course “Stairway to Heaven” deliver genuine goosebumps.

Unfortunately, one must still endure a great deal of self-indulgent dreck in order to enjoy those moments of musical nirvana. Die hard Zeppelin fans won’t need any arm-twisting, of course, but if you’re only a casual admirer of the band — or you’re still confused as to what all the fuss is about — you may find your finger twitching on the remote’s fast-forward button through a good portion of the film’s runtime. Watched as a greatest hits collection of concert performances, ‘The Song Remains the Same’ is absolutely essential. As a piece of rock cinema, however, it’s a pretty miserable failure.

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February 21, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin The Song Remains The Same DVD | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin – The Song Remains The Same DVD (2008)

From Tcm.com

They are giants in the world of rock ‘n’ roll with overall record sales that are second only to The Beatles. Led Zeppelin’s musical legacy also continues to forcefully reach beyond a 12 year-long career that began in London during 1968 and ended with drummer John Bonham’s death from alcohol poisoning at the age of 31 in 1980. The continuing resonance of the band is easily seen with the performance footage culled from California dates during 1972 that were packaged recently as both a soundtrack CD and concert documentary DVD in How the West Was Won (2003), which debuted at number one on the Billboard’s Pop Albums chart. The success of How the West Was Won underscores a public thirst that had been unquenched since the release of The Song Remains the Same (1976), a Led Zeppelin concert film that was an entirely different bit of patchwork – one that tried to fuse together the Led Zeppelin mythos, via visual flights of fancy, with concert footage taken in 1973 at Madison Square Gardens, itself later reconstructed for editing purposes.

By 1973, Led Zeppelin had come out with five albums, the last of which was Houses of the Holy an album that hit the U.K. charts at number one and stayed on chart for 13 weeks. This was a significant feat for any band but, by Led Zeppelin standards it was shy of something like their second album release of Led Zeppelin II, which debuted at number one and stayed on the charts for 138 weeks. The first track on Houses of the Holy is The Song Remains the Same which was originally conceived by Jimmy Page as an instrumental piece to be titled The Overture but was later given lyrics by Robert Plant (with a different working title of The Campaign) and was influenced by their life on the road. Lester Bangs, writing for Creem, referred to the whole album as “A true masterpiece” and singled out The Song Remains the Same as a highlight. On a side note, Lester Bangs was the famous rock-critic played by Philip Seymour Hoffman in director Cameron Crowe’s autobiographical film about himself as a young scribe flirting with rock `n’ roll in Almost Famous (2000). Anyone old enough to still own their vinyl copies of The Song Remains the Same might, at this point, be interested to open up the double-album and read the page-long preface on the left and inside jacket written by Crowe himself.

It was in 1973 during a mid-tour break for Led Zeppelin that filmmaker Joe Massot approached Page and Led Zeppelin’s infamous “fifth” member, manager Peter Grant, with an offer to shoot the next leg of the concert. What Massot did not know was that other people had tried to film the band as well, but Grant had exercised final-cut rights rather forcefully by dumping buckets of water over sensitive and plugged-in camera equipment and consoles. Massot projected the budget for his project to be $100,000, mixing 35mm concert footage with 16mm behind-the-scenes footage. This would later turn into a nightmare when Massot was kicked off the project and another director, Peter Clifton, was brought in because, as Clifton said, Massot’s “biggest mistake was that he shot some stuff on 35mm but he used 400 foot reels, because he was shooting with hand-held cameras. This meant there could only be one three-minute take at a time. And ‘Dazed and Confused’ was 27 minutes long.” (Source: Peter Grant: The Man Who Led Zeppelin, Chris Welch.) The film ultimately wound up costing about six times more than was originally predicted, but more on that later.

Grant wanted all the rights to the film and made sure the band paid all the bills associated with the film. Massot’s crew included Ernie Day, the camera operator for Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Robert Freeman, a title designer on A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and Help! (1965). “Massot and crew flew over and filmed various backstage shots, screen tested the stage act at gigs in Baltimore and Pittsburgh and then filmed all three of their Madison Square Garden dates on July 27, 28 and 29 – Coming at the end of a grueling tour, these particular performances were hardly magical nights.” (Led Zeppelin: A Celebration, Dave Lewis.) This sentiment is echoed by Stephen Davis in his widely-read Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga when he notes that after a hard tour full of sleepless nights, “dope, booze, and room service hamburgers” Page was such a basket case that when his “family saw the state he was in – exhausted, malnourished, sleepless, raving – they tried to get him into a sanitarium for a rest. Jimmy himself told a journalist that he thought he belonged either in a mental hospital or a monastery.”

The band’s woes for that month of July in 1973 were capped by the theft of hard cash they thought had been safely stowed away in the safe of their hotel. A headline in the New York Daily News read: “Led Zeppelin Robbed of 203G – Rock Group’s Hotel Box Rifled – Led Zeppelin in Big Loss.” That might not seem like a lot of money by today’s standards, but keep in mind that, at the time, “Patrons paid $4.65 to $6.65 for tickets” (Led Zeppelin: The Press Reports, Robert Godwin). It seemed a good idea to distance itself somewhat from such trying times by adding some footage later of Led Zeppelin’s planned world tour in 1975 & 1976, but these plans would be derailed when Robert Plant suffered a jeep accident, thus putting the tour on hold. “Page used this period of inactivity to tie up the movie and soundtrack, using the footage shot with Joe Massot and employing Peter Clifton to arrange the technical aspects. The movie poster and sleeve design depicted a run-down picture house, which was based on Old Street studios, a London rehearsal theatre they used to perfect the 1973 US stage act prior to the tour.” (Dave Lewis)

Massot never stood a chance. As Welch reports, he “had accumulated thousands of feet of film and now faced the mind-boggling task of trying to edit it together into a coherent movie. It almost broke up his marriage and drove him to a nervous breakdown.” Subsequent screenings of the rough footage to the band went seriously awry, with one screening causing John Bonham to spit up his fish and chips as he laughed in derision at Jimmy Page’s make-up as an old hermit during his fantasy sequence. Massot was shown the door and an Australian director (Clifton), someone the band remembered having approached for an earlier shot at filming them, was tapped to finish the job.

Clifton saw Massot’s footage as a jumble that would be impossible to synch and edit together into cogent form unless drastic measures were taken – such as secretly re-recording the whole concert at the Shepperton Studios where they had often rehearsed before. Clifton recalls (as quoted in Welch’s book): “I said to Led Zeppelin, ‘If you are prepared to take the bits of Madison Square Garden including a couple of incredible action shots, I’ll play you the soundtracks, project the bits on a huge screen in front of you and we’ll put the cameras between you and the screen. When the shots come on, the soundtrack will be right, you play along and I’ll shoot you again.’ At first they couldn’t believe I could do it and the trick was to work with an editor called David Gladwell, who had worked for Lindsay Anderson and later became a director himself. Between us we matched up these three nights from Madison Square Garden.”

When the film was finally released three years after the initial Madison Square Concerts that inspired it, the opening grosses were a respectable $200,000 and the soundtrack album went platinum. There was a wide divide between the many critics who savaged The Song Remains the Same as a messy affair and the fans who gave the film a standing ovation at a New York premiere – presumably the same premiere that Joe Massot had to buy a ticket for from a scalper just to see what had finally come of the project he had launched. Whatever its shortcomings, fans would guarantee that the film continued playing long past its theatrical run as a staple on the midnight movie circuit. No matter how it was sliced-and-diced together this was, after all, and as Cameron Crowe cites in the liner notes to the soundtrack, Led Zeppelin’s “first adventure into cinema.”

May 15, 2010 Posted by | Led Zeppelin The Song Remains The Same DVD | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin: The Song RemainsThe Same (Blu-ray DVD)

From hddvd.highdefdigest.com

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer’s Take

For lovers or big-screen rock excess, the late ’70s was the absolute golden era. For whatever reason, during that period Hollywood became obsessed with bringing music to the box office masses, and unleashed an avalanche of ridiculously conceived pop spectacles starring a bizarre cross-section of performers that had no business getting anywhere near the silver screen. On any given weekend, bumping shoulders (and grinding pelvises) at the local multiplex were acts as disparate as the Village People (‘Can’t Stop the Music’), ELO (‘Xanadu’), the Bee-Gees and Peter Frampton (‘Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band’) and even Sweden’s biggest music export, ABBA (the immortal ‘ABBA: The Movie’). It was a virtual cinematic car crash, with one spectacular disaster after another going down in flames.

It’s surprising in hindsight, but rock gods Led Zeppelin somehow got caught up in all of this hysteria, and in 1976 they released their own big-screen epic ‘The Song Remains the Same.’ Part concert movie, part “dramatic interpretation’ of their music, it’s not jaw-droppingly awful on the level of, say, a ‘Xanadu’ (this is the Zeppelin, after all, not ELO), but the movie is ill-conceived enough that you have to wonder what the Led boys were thinking. Were rock egos that big in the ’70s that a top act like this thought it prudent to appear in something this grandiose and pretentious?

According to the film’s original promotional materials, ‘The Song Remains the Same’ was intended to be “…the band’s special way of giving their millions of friends what they had been clamoring for — a personal and private tour of Led Zeppelin.” The end product, however, turned out just a little bit different. Originally conceived as a straight-ahead concert film, the bulk of the movie was shot during a three-night stint at Madison Square Garden during the band’s hugely successful 1973 world tour. Unfortunately, much of the material turned out so poorly that it was virtually unusable, and the band was also unhappy with many of its performances. So the the film’s producers hastily came up with a solution — scrap most of the movie (including firing the original director, Joe Massot, and replacing him with Peter Clifton) and reconfigure it from top to bottom as a more traditional narrative, albeit with some concert performances spliced in.

Suffering from all of the bloated pomposity of the ’70s “prog-rock” era, the “dramatic” segueways added to ‘The Song Remains the Same’ are virtually interminable. After a long opening sequence of the band arriving by plane (that sets up some forgettable plot about a robbery — yawn), we’re treated to a series of downright loony “fantasy” interludes that are supposed to give us insight into the personalities of each of the band members. There’s John Paul Jones, reading “Jack and the Beanstalk” to his daughters. John Bonham drag racing to the tune of “Moby Dick.” Jimmy Page climbing a snow-capped mountain in search of a hermit (seriously, I’m not kidding). And Robert Plant getting to ride a horse across a wind-swept landscape, his flowing locks making him look like a lost hippie Prince from an abandoned Disney theme park ride. It’s all meant to “symbolize” something, but in such an overt and heavy-handed way that it inspires laughter more than profundity.

Thankfully, ‘The Song Remains the Same’ also features concert performances of nearly a dozen classic Led Zeppelin tunes, and that’s the reason to see the film. Although the band would subsequently reshoot some of the close-ups and other insert shots on a soundstage (leading to a few glaring continuity errors), it is these scenes that prove without a doubt that Zeppelin is arguably the greatest hard rock band in history. During the 1973 tour the were often at the peak of their powers, and indeed few other acts can touch them even now. The interaction of the band members achieves an intensity that borders on the orgiastic at times, and moments in “Black Dog,” Whole Lotta Love” and of course “Stairway to Heaven” deliver genuine goosebumps.

Unfortunately, one must still endure a great deal of self-indulgent dreck in order to enjoy those moments of musical nirvana. Die hard Zeppelin fans won’t need any arm-twisting, of course, but if you’re only a casual admirer of the band — or you’re still confused as to what all the fuss is about — you may find your finger twitching on the remote’s fast-forward button through a good portion of the film’s runtime. Watched as a greatest hits collection of concert performances, ‘The Song Remains the Same’ is absolutely essential. As a piece of rock cinema, however, it’s a pretty miserable failure.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

Considering the fact that ‘The Song Remains the Same’ has been delayed on HD DVD, oh, about 1,543 times now, a healthy amount of anticipation has built up around this release. After such a long wait, fans will be expecting a top-flight remaster, which this 1080p/VC-1 encode almost achieves. Like the film itself, the concert scenes rule, but the rest is a bit more suspect. (Note that this VC-1 encode is identical to the Blu-ray version Warner released on February 26, 2008.)

The hokey interlude material can be dodgy. Blacks are never rock solid, and there is some noticeable variance in contrast. The print is also not pristine, with uneven grain and a few speckles (though nothing severe). The image always lacks depth and the kind of fine-textured detail that high-def can showcase even on a film that’s as old as this one.

That said, the concert scenes fare much better. Though blacks are never sensational, contrast is more consistent and colors bolder. Stage and lighting design in the ’70s is certainly archaic by today’s standards, but the nice use of strong reds and blues on key songs is rendered with nice stability. The more dynamic visuals also help create apparent depth, with the image sometimes boasting nice dimensionality for a 1976 film. This is also a solid VC-1 encode, with surprisingly little in the way of banding or noise issues.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

Warner offers three audio choices (again identical to the Blu-ray): Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround (48kHz/16-bit), Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (640kbps) and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (192kbps). Like the video, this is a very impressive remaster of elements now past their third decade — if only all concert films from 1976 sounded this good.

I was most impressed by the hefty dynamics of the TrueHD mix. I wasn’t expecting this much kick from the subwoofer, nor the clarity and realism of the higher ranges of the spectrum. Instruments are forceful in the mix, particularly the lead guitars and drums, which are very pronounced. Warner has also clearly spent some money to spiff up the original elements, for there are none of the audible hiss, harshness, or dropouts one usually expects on live recordings of the era.

Surround use is a bit more sporadic, however. There is no real use of the complete soundfield during the concert sequences, aside from crowd noise. Better represented are the dramatic interstitials, which at least boast some discrete effects for things like location sounds and the like. Dialogue here is serviceably reproduced, with decent stereo separation and some quieter passages a bit muffled. But all in all, ‘The Song Remains the Same’ sounds far better than I expected.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

Warner offers a supplement package that, at first glance, looks quite substantial. Unfortunately, the runtime of all of these bulletpoints is actually rather slim, so you’ll be able to get through all of it in less than an hour. (Note that all of the video-based material is 480p/i/MPEG-2 only, and no subtitle options are offered.)

Bonus Songs (SD, 20 minutes) – Four are included (all never-or-rarely seen before in video form): “Over the Hills and Far Away,” “Celebration Day,” “Misty Mountain Hop” and “The Ocean.” All of the songs offer Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo audio.

TV Report (SD, 3 minutes) – A brief clip from a 1973 TV report on Led Zeppelin’s show at the Tampa Stadium.

Theatrical Trailer (SD) – The film’s original theatrical trailer is presented in only decent-quality video, but if nothing else, it serves to illuminate how well-mastered the feature film on this HD DVD actually is.

Final Thoughts

‘Led Zeppelin: The Song Remains the Same’ is typical of rock ‘n’ roll movies of the ’70s — the concert scenes crank, but the “dramatic” interludes are utterly dreadful. So be prepared to have the fast-forward button handy because the only reason to watch ‘The Song Remains the Same’ is the music. This HD DVD is every as solid a release as the recent Blu-ray edition, however, with well-mastered video and audio (even if it is not revelatory), and a few vintage extras. This is of course a must for Led Zeppelin disciples, and worth a rental for those who don’t mind a little cheese with their classic rock.

May 15, 2010 Posted by | Led Zeppelin The Song Remains The Same DVD | , | Leave a comment