Where were you when the World Trade Centre fell?
Ten days after the event, on September 21st, a telethon was aired simultaneously on most of the major networks across the United States (and internationally) to raise funds for the families of the victims of the terrorist attacks. The event is now available on disc with all of the proceeds going to charity. As a telethon, it doesn’t alter much from the standard format that we are accustomed to. Celebrity tributes to the heroes of the day, calls for donations, musical performances and plenty of shots of the phone room – it’s all here. The real difference is that where we in Australia might speak on the phone with Molly Meldrum or Harold from Neighbours, Americans get Jack Nicholson or Al Pacino.
The performance list represents some of the biggest names in popular music and the guest speakers are strictly A-list. Naturally, everybody who appeared on the broadcast did so free-of-charge in the name of charity. Normally, to put that many egos in one room, the viewer would have to sit through more posturing than a judge on Search for a Supermodel. To their credit though, most of the performers and speakers have the good grace to tone down their celebrity for the sake of the event.
The broadcast took place from candle-lit studios in New York, Los Angeles and London and a solemn mood prevails in all three. Don’t expect any wisecracks from your comedians and don’t expect any hip dance breaks from your musical favourites. What you get here are plenty of sombre takes on poignant songs, most of which are acoustic and many of which have the support of a gospel choir (That’s OK though, we love a good gospel choir). This grants many of the performances a somewhat spiritual and prayer-like feel, which was no doubt the desired effect.
With some of the talent on hand, the telethon was bound to have its highlights. The opening track from Springsteen, My City of Ruin, is a rousing call to ‘rise up’ and Neil Young’s take on Imagine is as heartfelt and emotionally-charged as any version of the Lennon classic you will hear anywhere. One of New York’s favourite sons, Billy Joel, delivers a magnificent version of New York State of Mind, Sheryl Crow’s atmospheric rendition of Safe and Sound is as moody as hell and Alicia Keys tries on her crown as a new Queen of Soul (and finds it fitting very nicely, thank you very much) with Someday We’ll All Be Free.
As a concert experience, the production has some major flaws. Because of the nature of the telecast, the footage is edited for release on disc and the performances appear somewhat disjointed. Also, in the absence of a studio audience, all of the songs performed, regardless of their impact or intensity, are met with stony silence. Although some may see it as a mood enhancement or a time for reflection, the overall effect is a little awkward and leaves the viewer feeling somewhat uncomfortable. Of course, screaming hordes of fans would have been as equally inappropriate, so the lack of audience reaction is to be overlooked rather than derided.
On another level, the performances are of a peculiar time, are indeed unique and to that end – quite memorable.
Now, take a look at what the cat dragged in:
Bruce Springsteen – My City of Ruin
Stevie Wonder featuring Take 6 – Love’s in Need of Love Today
U2 – Walk On
Will Smith and Muhammad Ali
Faith Hill – There Will Come a Day
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – I Won’t Back Down
Enrique Iglesias – Hero
Neil Young – Imagine
Alicia Keyes – Someday We’ll All Be Free
Limp Bizkit with John Rzeznik – Wish You Were Here
Dennis Franz and Jimmy Smits
Billy Joel – New York State of Mind
Calista Flockhart and Amy Brenneman
Dixie Chicks – I Believe in Love
Dave Matthews – Everyday
Conan O’Brien and Sarah Jessica Parker
Wyclef Jean – Redemption Song
Mariah Carey – Hero
Bon Jovi – Livin’ On A Prayer
Sheryl Crow – Safe and Sound
Sela Ward and Jane Kaczmarek
Sting – Fragile
Eddie Vedder – Long Road
Paul Simon – Bridge Over Troubled Water
Celine Dion – God Bless America
Willie Nelson – America The Beautiful
Although there are no glorious splashes of colour on display here, the colours (generally a low-key mood lighting) are more than adequate and the images are quite sharp.
As far as the transfer goes, there isn’t much to complain about. There is no evidence of MPEG or video artefacts and, for the most part, the picture is as solid as a rock with very little shimmer.
Consistency is not a problem either, as it is difficult to distinguish between the footage from the studio in Los Angeles to that in New York. U2 appear in black and white via satellite from a studio in London and therefore provide the only noticeable difference.
Overall, the picture quality of this disc is of an excellent standard.
America: A Tribute to Heroes is presented in 1.33:1 and is therefore not 16x9 enhanced.
The audio quality, although containing nothing to blow your mind, is more than adequate for what is intended. The soundtrack is presented in Linear PCM stereo so I’m afraid your surround isn’t going to get much of a look in.
Under the circumstances, it matters little and the sound quality on all of the concert performances is quite good with most of the vocals being high in the mix. Given that most of the performances are acoustic, this is not only to be expected, it’s to be appreciated.
There are no apparent synch problems as far as dialogue is concerned although in some cases the volume is a little low during the spoken word segments.
Overall though, the audio presented more than gets the job done.
Generally speaking, America: A Tribute To Heroes can seem a little over-sentimental at times, but it is important to view the whole thing in perspective. The impact of the tragedy may have diminished months after the event but you must remember that the telethon was aired only ten days after disaster had struck and, quite understandably, the patriotism for which Americans are renowned was at fever pitch.
America: A Tribute To Heroes is a nation airing its grief, raising valuable funding and huddling together for a bit of a group hug all at the same time.
Hey, I cried when Apollo Creed died in Rocky IV, so who am I to judge?
You can still donate to the cause by visiting: www.tributetoheroes.org.