Additional footage - 6 bonus music videos, 3 live clips
R.E.M.: In View - The Best of 1988-2003
Warner Vision/Warner Vision .
R4 . COLOR . 82 mins .
E . PAL
"Hey Mike, check this out - there's someone on DVDnet reading about us again..."
If you were around at the time, think back to the heady days of 1981. In England, punk’s short-lived reign had been usurped by the opposing forces of New Romantic pop and technology-driven adventure. In the US, the so-called New Wave was about to make way for yet another British Invasion. And in Athens, Georgia, a newly-formed band that called themselves R.E.M. was unleashing their debut single. Radio Free Europe was a cracker of a song, a merging of the pure pop with something completely fresh; this band, it seemed even then, was going to be one to watch. But who would have suspected that 22 years later, not only would R.E.M. still be actively making music, but actually making reliably good music? After all, the remnants of the era in which they began have been resolutely making extended careers out of embarrassing themselves on the nostalgia circuit - or worse, trying to grab some of that elusive “cred” to appeal to an audience less than half their age. R.E.M. has managed to sail above it all for over two decades, creating music that’s distinctively their own and maturing gracefully, intelligently and with one hand firmly gripping their secret weapon - the art of the song. Most bands have managed one or two albums where they’ve discovered what it’s like to be utterly crap; R.E.M. doesn’t seem to know the meaning of the word. Sure, there have been one or two records that didn’t quite meet the high standard expected of them, but never once has there been a record from this band that could be dismissed as mere crap.
The companion DVD to the simultaneously-released CD (and DVD-A) compilation In Time, the appropriately-renamed In View is a 16-song overview of the band’s career from the time they signed with Warner Music in 1988 (sadly, their groundbreaking years on the IRS label aren’t covered), with one new song included for good measure. The DVD track list is very similar to that of the audio version (only a second brand new song, Animal, is omitted, presumably because a video clip wasn’t available for it) but the track order is notably different both from its audio counterpart and from the usual compilation-DVD methodology. The songs here are presented chronologically - but in reverse, so we start with new song Bad Day and work back through the years to 1988’s Stand. In between each song are interview snippets from the appropriate era (which can thankfully be turned off via a main menu option), and while they’re not always enlightening - there’s a distinct lack of comment about the actual video clips, for instance - they’re a nice inclusion.
What fans - even casual ones - will find most annoying about In View is not what’s here, but what’s missing. While the CD version was constrained by an 80-minute limit on playing time, the DVD has no such constraint, and yet a number of key songs have been left off this compilation. Many will miss the superb Drive with its compelling video clip, and many more will lament the omission of Shiny Happy People, a big crossover hit for the band in 1991. Radio Song, Bang and Blame and Crush With Eyeliner are also AWOL, amongst others. Many of these are available on the earlier Parallel and This Film Is On DVD compilations, but those discs only offer PCM stereo sound; this one offers much more than that (see the audio section for details).
Losing My Religion
But what is here - about 72 minutes’ worth plus interviews - is absolutely stunning. The subtle, textured All the Way to Reno and lush, hook-laden Imitation of Life prove beyond doubt that even 20 years after their first record, R.E.M. still had the ability to create something truly special; ditto for The Great Beyond (with a clip re-edited here from its original TV version). The material from 1998’s Up album is a little thin in the songwriting department, but that was a rare low point for the band; just listen to the sultry E-Bow the Letter or the crackling What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?Nightswimming is here in its full extended-clip glory (the prudish might want to avert their eyes lest they see - gasp - nudity), and of course the groundbreaking clip for Losing My Religion - directed by Tarsem Singh, later to direct the feature film The Cell in pretty much the same visual mode - is present and accounted for.
Watching and listening to this collection, it becomes quickly apparent not just how consistent and skilled and downright talented this band has always been, but also how timeless their music is. Never subscribing to musical fashion has allowed R.E.M. to craft music that never once sounds dated or forced, even heard 15 years later (as with Stand and Orange Crush). Even for those who’ve only casually glanced at R.E.M.’s musical output over the years, this one’s an essential purchase. Dedicated long-time fans, of course, have already rushed out and bought a copy.
The track listing, in running order, is: Bad Day, All the Way to Reno, Imitation of Life, The Great Beyond, At My Most Beautiful, Daysleeper, Electrolite, E-Bow the Letter, What’s the Frequency Kenneth?, Nightswimming, The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite, Everybody Hurts, Man on the Moon, Losing My Religion, Stand, Orange Crush.
A typical day in Michael Stipe's backyard? Nah, just an Imitation of Life.
Though many of these video clips predate the digital video era, a remarkable job has been done grading and mastering them for this compilation - so much so that each and every one of them looks like it could have been made yesterday. All of the clips are presented in their original 4:3 aspect ratio, and all of them look pristine and vibrant from start to finish, with absolutely no evidence of encoding problems anywhere (the bitrate used on this disc is extremely high, and the disc authors have made the most of the opportunity to up the video quality).
Colours are rich, detail is superb and contrast is spot-on throughout, and despite the analogue origins of many clips there are none of the usual problems seen on compilations of older music videos; a lot of care has gone into this DVD. Naturally it’s a dual-layered disc, filled almost to capacity; the layer change is neatly tucked away between chapters. The authoring is smooth and seamless, too; playing the clips without interview snippets in between means the player has to go searching for the next start point at the end of every clip, but this is completely transparent to the user, unlike many discs which use separate titles for each clip to handle this type of programming.
The bass rig does a star turn in What's The Frequency, Kenneth?
Get ready to be blown away. While other music video releases on DVD settle for straight stereo soundtracks or even worse, “extracted” fake 5.1 efforts, this compilation takes full advantage of some fortunate timing. All of the Warner-era R.E.M. albums have recently been scoring the full 5.1 remix treatment for release on the DVD-Audio format, with acclaimed surround mixer Elliot Scheiner at the controls (supervised by the band and their representatives). And it’s these full 5.1 surround mixes that have been used for the audio tracks here, neatly re-synced to each and every clip. The only exception is the material from Monster; while that album is on its way on DVD-Audio, the tracks included on this DVD appear to have been processed in simulated 5.1 (indeed, a credit for this “extraction” process appears on the DVD cover).
The mixes are remarkable, staying true to the sound of the original stereo versions but bringing the songs out into the surround soundstage with a minimum of gimmickry. These are seriously involving mixes which make great use of the surround channels for discrete effect - backing vocals, handclaps, sound effects (check out the helicopter in Orange Crush!) and the like. The centre channel is used only faintly (for imaging, presumably). If you’ve ever wondered what DVD-Audio has to offer you, buy this disc and you’ll be an instant convert.
Three audio tracks are provided, with the default being a standard Dolby Digital Stereo track containing the original mixes of the songs. 5.1-equipped people can pick from two options; Dolby Digital or DTS. They’re both extremely good, but the DTS track blows away the Dolby offering in terms of sheer fidelity, dynamic range, detail and sheer sonic impact.
One of the best audio tracks we’ve ever heard on a music DVD, this one is a textbook example of how to do it right; producers of other music discs should be grabbing a copy of this one and taking notes.
Michael Stipe decides to try the silent treatment in Losing My Religion
While the extras provided on this disc might seem a little thin on the ground, fear not - they’re not. For starters, the video clip count is upped to 22 thanks to a half-dozen “rare” bonus videos in the extras section. Not all of them are actually especially rare outside of the US, but they’re certainly all less well-known R.E.M. songs. Offered here are Tongue, How the West Was Won and Where it Got Us, New Test Leper, Bittersweet Me, Lotus and the beautiful I’ll Take the Rain. Audio for all of these is available in stereo and 5.1 (Dolby or DTS) - and yes, the 5.1 tracks contain Elliot Scheiner’s magnificent surround mixes, with the exception of Tongue. Video quality on these clips is good, though not quite up to the standard of the “main feature” - on several clips some faint vertical “banding” can be seen by those who look closely.
Secondly, three live songs from the band’s performance in London’s Trafalgar Square for the 2001 South Africa Freedom Day Concert are included - Imitation of Life, Losing My Religion and Man on the Moon. Video is anamorphic 16:9 for this material, though the picture quality suffers somewhat from what appears to be a case of a PAL source being converted to NTSC and then back to PAL again for this version of the DVD. Audio is again available in stereo or 5.1, though the surround tracks have been simulated.
Rounding out the extras section is a discography, a set of disc credits and the ubiquitous, completely useless weblink.
A timely reminder of just how damn good this band is, In View might be frustratingly incomplete, but nevertheless makes for a great introduction to the band for those who’ve only heard a fraction of their work; for long-time fans it represents a chance to get hold of a beautifully mastered collection of video clips with full, stunning, discrete surround sound. Every home should have one.