1991 saw the release of R.E.M.'s Out of Time, their second album for a major label, and what would prove to be the one to finally crack the world wide open for this band from Athens, Georgia who had been plugging away for years, yet hitherto had only really managed to gain a following through more "alternative" circles. Due in no small part to the phenomenal Losing My Religion, the rest is history as the album went through the roof internationally, and laid the groundwork for the follow-up, Automatic For the People to do even bigger business.
Inarguably from the dizzying heights of their most commercially successful period, This Film Is On is a compilation of promo video clips, live recordings and album tracks predominantly culled from Out of Time, sticky-taped together with arty (read grainy) black and white footage and lyrical snippets.
Intro: A silent 40-second lead-in, setting the tone for what is to follow with a snatch of the aforementioned artsy footage.
Losing My Religion: The award-winning promo clip for the gorgeous mandolin-infested track that set the whole ball really rolling for the band, directed by Tarsem Singh, who would later go on to find cinematic success of sorts with the feature film The Cell. In true clip style it's one of those "Huh?"-inducing visual slices full of seemingly unrelated imagery, from cherubs to what appears to be Da Vinci type inventors, with the members of the band hanging around uncomfortably, and singer Michael Stipe dancing awkwardly. Somebody give the man an instrument to hide behind, please!
Shiny Happy People: With the possible exception of Stand from the precursor to Out of Time, Green, the silliest song every committed to tape by R.E.M. Featuring the stunning vocals, and stunning stunningness of the gorgeous Kate Pierson of The B-52's, this promo clip sees the band and eventually assorted extras bouncing about in front of a moving backdrop (courtesy of some grade five kiddies) and is quite reminiscent of the wonderful Frente!'s Accidently Kelly Street clip. It also serves as a good example why grown men shouldn’t wear backwards baseball caps - especially yellow ones.
Near Wild Heaven: In this promo the chameleonic Stipe appears much like a latter day Elvis - Costello that is, as he and the band hang out in a café whilst all sorts of people and grainy, tinted monochrome footage dances about them. Any song that features a babababa baba refrain gets the thumb up from this reviewer.
Radio Song: The final single from the album, hence the final official promo clip. A bit of a departure from the R.E.M. norm, featuring a predominating rap from KRS-One and one hell of a funky bass riff, it's another typical clip from director Peter Care (much favoured by R.E.M.) and is quite reminiscent of his previous work with Depeche Mode - featuring a stony-faced, almost uncomfortable looking band, rapid-fire cuts, Batman angles galore and even owing a bit of gratitude to a certain famed Bob Dylan card-holding visual sequence, although given a technological piggyback into the '90s.
Love is all Around: Hands up who thinks this is a song by Wet Wet Wet? SMACKS! Whilst those masters of the bland indeed covered it, it was actually created by The Troggs, the foul-mouthed '60s band most known for their track Wild Thing. Sung here by Bill Berry on an MTV Unplugged appearance, it remains a beautiful song in R.E.M.'s more than capable hands, and also has those fab ba ba ba ba ba ba ba's that make me go all squishy.
Losing My Religion (Acoustic): It's back! Culled from an appearance on the UK's Late Show, it's completely unplugged and bongo-driven. Sadly the sound mix is rather feeble, but it is an interesting curio for any fan of the band.
Low: Getting into album-track territory now, although Out of Time could hardly have been accused of containing any filler. More artsy-fartsiness featuring the likes of animated paintings, doves, naked women on horses, butterflies and flowing curtains - and pretty much all in slow motion and infested with grain, of course.
Belong: AGH! My personal favourite track off the album, and one of those songs that manages to be simultaneously completely joyous and downright tear inducing. Sadly here it is a live version, and whilst recorded by the band's producer of choice, Scott Litt, it isn’t the greatest example of live recording, and lacks the emotional punch of the studio version. Featuring slow motion live band shots overlaid with slow motion panoramic views, it fits the disc well with its Super 8 graininess.
Half a World Away: Another great mandolin-led track, with more Super 8 footage - all lost highways, diners and telegraph poles. Needless to say it is, indeed, grainy.
Country feedback: Wow, slide geetaw that doesn’t make me retch - now THAT is a compliment! This is much like the previous clip, but with more of a train-vibe going on. Like all the non-single tracks before it, there isn’t any sign of the band at all.
Credits: Pretty self-expanatory, and accompanied by one of the three album tracks omitted from this collection of visuals, Endgame. Featuring a whole minute of black screen, followed by a quick view of a hand hanging out of a car window, this does kind of scream "padding!", as the main features all add up to only around 45 minutes out of the 49 minute running time of the disc.
Visually I think you should get the gist by now - it's grainy. Naturally this is by design and due to the formats used to record the original vision, and in keeping with this the brief introductions separating each song go for the faux-dodgy look as well. Clips that aren't supposed to be grainy indeed aren't, and in general using these as a yardstick the colour presentation on this disc is certainly proficient enough. There are some speckles to be witnessed, once again these appear intentional from the source and are not an indictment upon the video encoding of the disc.
The sound is presented in Linear PCM stereo, and mostly comes up beautifully with nice separation where appropriate. The only real exceptions are the aforementioned live tracks, which once again comes down to issues with the source material rather than the encoding.
Extras? Well, it gets a small mark simply for having subtitles, allowing you to screech-along-a-R.E.M. to your heart's content, even if you don’t already have the words indelibly scarred in your synapses from listening to the Out of Time CD way too much. There are simply animated menus accompanied with a loop from the beginning of Low as well, but that's about it.
In all this is a wonderful visual alternative to the Out of Time album, even if some criminal omitted the album version of Belong, plus Texarkana and Me in Honey. As for value for money well hmm, if you're a fan you'll mostly likely just want it full stop, however at a realistic running time of only 45 minutes and a retail price at the time of writing that is much more than the CD it probably isn’t the best recommendation for the merely curious. Instead I'd suggest rushing out and buying the album - if you're going to like the band then it's probably the best yardstick you could start out with.