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Louis Prima - The Wildest!
Warner Vision/Warner Vision . R4 . COLOR . 80 mins . G . PAL


Louis Prima's musical career could not be described as anything less than incredible. He was the penman of such timeless classics as "Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing)", later to be made famous by Benny Goodman and his orchestra, not to mention the creator of one the most revered live shows that the world has ever seen; Louis Prima was a living legend to his fans and fellow performers alike.

Affectionately known as 'the cat with nine lives', Louis demonstrated an incredible ability to change and adapt with trend movements throughout the majority of his career, with his reputation for live spontaneity and wild humour -let alone his incredible musical abilities- remaining his greatest assets. In short, when you went to see him perform, you never knew what you were going to get; the only thing you did know however, was that it was going to be grand.

From his thick Italian heritage, it seemed unique enough for Louis Prima to make such a name for himself in his hometown of New Orleans. However, when Louis made a career decision in moving to New York, well that's when his career really took off. Realising that his small band just wouldn't be enough to compete with the big-band sound, Louis soon assembled the legendary orchestra that would see him through to the end. Soon enough, Louis Prima had become one of the biggest names on the New York jazz/swing scene. He can be traced back as the beginning of the '52nd Street' scene and was one of the only white orchestra leaders to perform at The Apollo. As soon New York began to become stale Louis packed up his things and headed for Las Vegas; a decision that, after a slight down period, proved to be one of the most lucrative endeavors he ever made.

Winner of the Audience award for Best Documentary at the 1999 Hamptons International Film Festival, Louis Prima - The Wildest! was something of a spontaneous project from director Don McGlynn. When he first saw the archival footage, he was just at the end of a nine-year labour of love project based on jazz legend Charles Mingus. However, as soon as he saw the footage of Louis performing, he knew that this just had to be his next outing. It is that archival footage that remains about fifty per-cent of the documentary, and it is undeniably magnificent footage at that. From his various performances on stage, in nightclubs and on television programs such as The Ed Sullivan Show, these images are the perfect portrayal of Louis' magnificent talent and personality. Watching him goof-off with back-up singer Keely Smith or witnessing his hilarious 'call and response' routines with fellow band members are absolutely priceless.

Just how special was Louis Prima you ask? Well check out this film and witness his performances of 'Night Train' or 'Waitin' on the Robert E. Lee', and I am pretty sure that you will get your answer. It is worth noting that besides The Beatles and Elvis Presley, Louis Prima's appearances on The Ed Sullivan show were the most frequent and were also allocated the most time.


One of the unfortunate realities of undertaking a project that covers a career as old as Louis', is the inevitable lack of clarity in much of the archival footage. Consisting of mostly black and white footage from Television and various other live performances, the studio responsible for this transfer were presented with an arguably futile task of mastering these images for DVD. The quality of Louis' performance footage ranges from surprisingly good to barely average. But of course, restoring images this old is always going to be a difficult task, and to their credit, the problem images here probably look much better than they did even on the big screen.

With a big-band sound like Louis' you have simply got to have a great sounding audio track, don't you? Well, apparently not. I'm afraid that you will only find the complete averageness of mono here. While it is entirely appropriate for interviews, the prospect of hearing Louis and his band in a more significant audio mix is one that will, unfortunately, remain a dream. Although, when consideration is placed on how poor the image quality of these performances must have been before it was cleaned up, then the audio must have been almost twice as bad.

Surprisingly enough, the extras provided with this documentary are quite worthwhile. The collection of never-before-released interviews with fellow musicians and friends are quite informative and offer one or two worthwhile anecdotes. Next up there are three full-length clips of Louis and his orchestra performing "Basin Street Blues", "Oh Babe!" and "Waitin' on the Robert E. Lee". These are appalling quality, but are worthwhile watching again just to see Louis in action. Lastly there are three audio-only presentations of "Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing)", "Robin Hood" and the magnificence in cheese that is "Please No Squeeza Da Banana". Again, these are very poor quality, but are worth the price of admission alone to hear the full version of 'Banana'.

This is a wonderful documentary that I can highly recommend to jazz fans, music enthusiasts and just about anybody who is even slightly curious about the character that is Louis Prima, one of the greatest performers of the last century. 'The Wildest' indeed.

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  •   And I quote...
    "These images are the perfect portrayal of Louis' magnificent talent and personality."
    - Ben Pollock
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