Classic Rock Review

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Lynyrd Skynyrd Freebird: The Movie DVD (1999)


Review This movie is fantastic for true Skynyrd fans. I grew up very near to some of the guys in Jacksonville FL and have been a true Skynyrd fan for years. I even have a photo in my early 70’s Ed White High School yearbook showing them playing at a school dance. Some of the footage showing their neighbourhoods on the West side of town brought back so many memories for me of a place I haven’t seen now for many years. And, to think that these young guys could be such powerful forces in the music world is amazing.

Of course the highlight of the film is the concert footage featuring a lot of the band’s greatest songs. The movie also shows early raw footage and precious (although too short) interviews with Ronnie Van Zant.

I wish the music quality was a little better but, it’s still very, very good. Some of the scenes showing the band on stage and the reaction of the fans to Freebird brings a tear to the eye. The ending is unbelievable as they show actual home movies of someone in the band holding a video camera and walking right onto the plane, into the cockpit and film it taking off and you can see the pilots briefly.

For me it was the 2 second clip showing Ronnie Van Zant playing poker on the plane that stuck in my mind the most. He was staring out the window, turned to place his bet and then turned back to the window. I could really imagine how he was probably thinking up more great lyrics for some song which would tell a story or maybe he was dreaming of bass fishing back in Florida. You could always see that these people were not phony baloney rock stars but, real people that loved their craft and loved presenting it to the world.

The closing credits are one of the best parts with a high fidelity version of "Simple Man" playing in the background while home movie footage along with candid photos are intersperse with the credits.

After the tragic crash we had so little to remember except of course the music. This movie brings the people themselves right into your house.

The second movie on the DVD is also good. It shows the reorganized band but, still covers the past too. One interesting note you learn from the second movie is the tragic car accident which left Allen Collins paralized. As a follow-up, (according to the Skynyrd website) he died several years later of pneumonia. I was really bummed to read that.

In short, if you're a Skynyrd fan, then this is THE DVD you have to own.

Review The first thing that struck me about this footage was how clear it was ( as well as the stereo sound ). The Knebworth performances were all complete, sans annoying interruptions of stars reminiscing about bygone days ( more than a couple of DVD releases of other groups are plagued with incomplete songs, cutting to an interview snippet or, worse, sound suddenly muted with yet another voiceover ).

I get the feeling that the only reason this footage was shot is that Skynyrd happened to be opening for the Rolling Stones, apparently the headlining act of this festival. Location videotaping during the seventies was very expensive and cumbersome ( check out the size of those cameras during the wide shots ). It certainly wasn’t done as routinely as it is now. If the camera set-up was primarily for the Stones, then the director–who actually calls the shots on what camera fades to what–probably wasn’t at all familiar with Skynyrd’s material, evidenced by a tight shot of one guitarist playing rhythm while another was actually playing lead!

I would’ve liked more close ups on Artimus Pyle, as well as Billy Powell…again, there weren’t as many cameras to cover the angles we’re used to today. Consider this for the period in which it was shot: most seventies footage of rock groups consists of grainy film stock, sound typically out of sync with the picture ( or worse, from a different performance altogether ), poor lighting, mediocre MONAURAL audio, etc. Again, I was very pleasantly surprised with the overall quality of the Knebworth footage. It’s a shame they didn’t use the Knebworth version of “Free Bird” ( Must have been quite a bad mistake during the performance; probably the same reason a portion of the Oakland version appears to have been edited! ).

Lynyrd Skynyrd’s performance was virtually flawless…if people are going to nit-pick over production imperfections, hey, I’d love to see some of their home movie footage…

lynyrd-skynyrd-knebworthReview When ‘Workin for MCA’, the first song on the concert began playing, I wasn’t sure if the audio was dubbed in from the live version on the album ‘One for, from the road’. Dare I say, I was dead wrong. What you see is

Lynyrd Skynyrd at it’s peak, ‘hittin the note’ as the late Allman Brothers bass player Berry Oakley used to say after playing the Fillmore

Ronnie Van Zandt, Gary Rossington, Allen Collins, Steve Gaines, Billy Powell,

Leon Wilkeson, Artimus Pyle and the Honkettes riff and rock out their impressive collection of gems. I was struck by how casual lead singer and lyricist Ronnie Van Zandt was on stage–he looked like he was leading the band at a keg party rather than playing before over 200,000 fans in Knebworth, England–his voice was clear powerful and how refreshing is it to actually hear the words. He does not dance, prance or waste time trying to win the audience–Lynyrd Skynyrd does not need help.

In the DVD, Pyle claims ‘we blew away the Stones at that show’–you don’t see Jagger and Richards playing, but you know that Skynyrd could not possibly be beat….Rossington, Collins and Gaines are all expert guitar players who share incredible solos, each distinct in style and subtlety…check out ‘Call me the Breeze’ and Jimmy Rodgers ‘T for Texas’…astonishing performances by every member of the group…remember that Steve Gaines had recently joined Skynyrd, the young ‘Okie’ picker injecting new adrenaline into the band–a Roy Clark playing a Stratocaster…mix that magic with the legendary twin chemistry of Rossington and Collins and it’s like Stockton and Malone getting LeBron James to run with.

The only disappointment I had with the ‘Free Bird’ DVD is the shortage of interviews about the band. Although Rossington, Powell, Wilkeson and Judy Van Zandt share memories, the sound bites are sparse and edited down…your left wanting more memories and perspective.

Finally, anyone who was 17 like I was in 1976 will have happy flashbacks when seeing the grand finale of the DVD; the ‘Free Bird’ performance in San Francisco…the crowd is overrun by high school and college girls going crazy over a song that was anthem by the millions of us in ‘Dazed and Confused’ generation (And YES! American chicks bury the boring British gals in the film) . Although the song has been played out for decades, my eyes watered up seeing ‘Free Bird’ played to perfection; an absolute masterpiece time capsule. We were all blessed by this band.

May 1, 2013 Posted by | Lynyrd Skynyrd Freebird The Movie DVD | , | Leave a comment