Captain Beefheart: Under Review

DVD Reviews | Nov 13th, 2007

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Studio: Sexy Intellectual
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I’ve always been intrigued by Captain Beefheart, and during my Zappa phase, was a downright fanatic. Like Zappa, Beefheart was a genius in taking rock music, shattering it, and throwing the sharp fragments together to create something new.

But unlike Zappa, who was both musically precise and yet lyrically immature, Beefheart was raw, emotional, and genuine. Zappa was a studio junkie and control-freak with his musicians to perfect his vision, whereas Beefheart sought the unrefined, abrasive, and fractional, emphasizing not only avant-jazz’s musical if angular flow, but recognizing that its imperfections and flaws are part of that flow. And while both had roots in blues and r&b, Beefheart’s love for the blues permeates all his music, throwing rock, art-rock, avant-jazz, and stream-of-consciousness into a murky swamp of bluesy wails and anguish.

This DVD documents Beefheart’s full career with the Magic Band, from their first album, the absolutely genius Safe As Milk to their last, Ice Cream For Crow. Honestly, I was expecting the worst from this DVD. I don’t know much about the production company but that they’ve been doing this “Under Review” series with a number of bands, all unauthorized and with cheap packaging that screams low production values and opportunism. Not that Captain Beefheart is a commercial goldmine, but this music documentary seemed like a fly-by-night thing.

I was wrong, and this DVD set me straight. With low expectations, I was VERY pleased by this doc. The interviews are with actual former Magic Bandmates and friends, and not just modern-day “music experts.” There is also an extraordinary amount of footage I’ve never seen, like early concerts, videos, and studio outtakes. It blew my mind seeing a video for “Diddy Wah Diddy” – Beefheart looking cool as hell and singing in his desert rat voice on a beach with confused-looking models in bikinis trying to dance to the music. Awesome.

Editing is much better than I expected, though the main focus is on the talking heads, analyzing Beefheart’s history and music. Obviously, this documentary is a discourse on Beefheart’s music, and it succeeds at that, moving chronologically with each Magic Band album. But as a fan, I’d prefer to see more of the early videos and concert footage, especially since this stuff is so hard, if not impossible, to find. If they provided that stuff as bonus materials, I’d give this DVD a perfect score.

(Superficially, I do think it’s lame that they put the Magic Band members in silly sets to interview them – one guy is talking on a phone in a tree, another is in a children’s toy car, another is tucked in bed. I guess it’s to emphasize the weirdness of the music, but the interviewees are incongruously normal. It seems like the producers confused Beefheart’s uniqueness with Zappa’s silliness.)

Overall, this is a great documentary on a subject that is so rarely discussed. I mean, is there any other documentary on Captain Beefheart? Sure, this doc isn’t super flashy or a cinematic achievement, and it’s a lot of dryness to chew at two hours long, AND it doesn’t get into Beefheart’s childhood or what he’s been up to since the 80s when he gave up music, but it’s also the most discussion and analysis I’ve ever seen about one of the 20th century’s most inventive and fascinating artists.

“The Man Behind The Music” (interviews on Beefheart personally – kind of funny actually)
The Hardest Captain Beefheart Interactive Quiz in the World Ever
Contributor Biographies

Stereo Sound Mix

Screen Format 4:3


Favorite Scenes: Loved the early videos from Safe As Milk. Was also shocked to learn that Bat Chain Puller was re-recorded. Whoa.
Rating: NR
Running Time: 115 minutes
Extras Rating:
Overall Rating: