Circuit 5

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: Circuit Music Journal 5 (2000)
Studio Line: Warner Bros.

Millions of indie and alternative music fans are clamoring for something like Circuit 5, a unique compilation of live music, filmed profiles, insider documentaries, music videos, exclusive interviews, outtakes, artist background notes, hyperlinks to artist websites and much more! This issue includes: an exclusive interview at the Hollywood Entertainment Museum with Gomez; one of the most exciting and innovative ekectronic bands on the scene, Death in Vegas, filmed live at the Troubador in West Hollywood; Deathray, featuring former members of Cake, eat donuts and discuss their music and new album; from the producers of the Beastie Boys and Beck, see The Wiseguys music video "Ooh La La."

Director: Various
Cast: Various
DVD: Widescreen 1.85:1, standard 1.33:1; audio English DD 5.1 & Dolby Surround; subtitles none; single sided - dual layered; no chapters; rated NR; 130 min.; $14.98; street date 3/7/00.
Supplements: NA.
Purchase: DVD

Picture/Sound/Extras: B-/B-/NA

Time for a slightly-overdue review of the fifth issue of Circuit. This quarterly DVD music magazine includes songs from and interviews with a variety of acts, most of them not well-known by the general public, and most of whom fit into some sort of "alternative" category. Issue number five offers various clips of The Residents, Gomez, The Jayhawks, Deathray, Scritti Politti, Breakbeat Era, Death in Vegas, Royal Trux, Supreme Beings of Leisure, and The Wiseguys.

Here's a breakdown of what we see and hear from each artist. Except for the area that pertains to the Residents, each of the segments provides an "Artist Background" section; this piece offers three or four screens of text information about each act.

The "Bandwidth" section offers:

-Gomez Entertain You: The band members wander around the Hollywood Entertainment Museum and also sit for interviews; seven minutes, 30 seconds.

-Scritti Politti Anomie and Bonhomie A Short Film: Fairly artsy documentary that includes slow-motion shots of landscapes and other sights plus interviews with main Scrit Greene Gartside; 12 minutes, 40 seconds. We also find an "Interview with Green Gartside", which offers more conventional talking-head footage of Mr. Politti and his silly beard; four minutes, 50 seconds.

-Deathray And Donuts: Interview clips of the duo filmed in a donut shop. The pair also play a song in the store; nine minutes. This area features two more brief interview snippets as well: "Mod Night" (one minute, 15 seconds) and "Deathrays" (30 seconds).

-Jayhawks In the Studio: A guided tour of the studio from Jayhawks Gary Louris and Marc Perlman, which also includes interviews with them and producer Bob Ezrin; nine minutes, 10 seconds.

The "In Tune" area provides:

-The Wiseguys: "Ooh La La". This is simply a music video for the aforementioned song, and it runs two minutes, 45 seconds. We also find an interview with head Wiseguy Touche', which actually was conducted over the phone; the audio runs on top of another presentation of the music video and lasts two minutes, 45 seconds as well.

The "Front Row" section gives:

-Breakbeat Era Live from Baraka. They perform "Rancid" and one member - singer Leonie Laws - also sits for an interview in this nine minute, 15 second piece. This area also includes a trippy video for "Ultra Obscene" (three minutes, 30 seconds).

-Royal Trux Live from Vynyl. The band play both "Waterpark" and "Stop", and we also get some interviews with "Neil and Jennifer" of the band; six minutes. A second interview section gives us five minutes and 15 seconds more from that pair, and finally a stupid 30 second TV ad for their album "Accelerator" appears.

-Supreme Beings Of Leisure Live from Lunapark. The main section simply consists of a four minute clip of the band playing "Golddigger". Another area offers a four minute interview with the band.

-Death In Vegas Live from the Troubadour. Still more live performance as the band do "Flying" in this seven minute, 25 second clip. Another section offers six minutes, five seconds of interviews with "Richard and Tim".

Finally, the "Undercurrent" domain concentrates completely on oddball eyeball rockers The Residents (also depicted on the DVD's cover). We get:

-A roughly 30 second intro film.

-"One Minute Movies": four of these mini-videos from the early Eighties.

-"Birth of Music Videos": One full video for "Hello Skinny" (two minutes, 45 seconds), and two excerpts from "Freak Show" (two minutes, 15 seconds) and "Harry the Head" (one minute, 10 seconds).

-"Live Performances": brief clips from the Residents' Moleshow, 13th Anniversary, and Ty's Freakshow tours. The snippets each last about a minute and a half.

-Text sections offer both biographies and discographies of the Residents, plus the band's "Theory of Obscurity".

In addition to these pieces, we find trailers for Three Kings and The House On Haunted Hill. Prior issues of Circuit also included a variety of other ads, but happily these have disappeared (unless I just lucked out and missed them somehow, but I doubt that).

Odds and ends appear in the "Junk Drawer." We get "Crack Me Up", which is an inane experimental film kind of deal during which you're supposed to tell your own joke. The DVD's "Opening Movie" appears here as well, and we also find "See Food", a video representation of the old prank whereby a person's mouth opens to display all the partially-chomped food in it. Circuit 4 offered shots of babes in bikinis in its "Junk Drawer" - this is not an improvement!

As I griped when I reviewed both Circuits 3 and 4, rating an anthology like this is difficult. As was the case with the prior editions, I didn't care much for the material on C5, but the idea remains interesting. A DVD such as this is a pretty cool way to introduce one to different artists and types of music. Although I'd heard of most of the acts on this disc, I hadn't actually heard all of them, so I liked being able to experience new music.

My main criticism is that we find too much talk, not enough rock. C5 seems to be the chattiest of the three volumes I've seen, and I thought it included far too many dull interview segments and not enough music. Face it: these acts are all rather obscure, and there's about seven people per band who actually care what they have to say. Anyone new to the performers would like a better representation of their work. It's unlikely that the sparse musical offerings here will do much to provoke too many new fans.

I also found the Residents section to be disappointingly sparse. Of all the acts included on this DVD, they are the ones about whom I'd heard the most. I knew little about them and I really hoped to get a better idea of what kind of material they create. Unfortunately, this area features only brief teases and tiny glimpses of what the Residents are about. Granted, that's enough for me; based on what I saw, I don't think I'll develop much of an interest in them. Nonetheless, more depth was warranted; a fair number of people will pursue this DVD based on the Residents' inclusion in it, and they're sure to be disappointed by the dearth of material. the Residents area will neither satisfy old fans nor stimulate prospective ones.

Ultimately Circuit 5 offers a good idea and it's well-executed, except for the too-great emphasis on interviews. It's fairly easy to navigate the DVD, and the different features for the different artists are clearly marked. I didn't care for most of the content, but future issues may be more interesting.

The DVD:

Now for the hardest part of this review: rating the quality of the DVD. The problem stems from the fact that so many different sources of material were used. This isn't one coherent movie; it's a bunch of clips from a bunch of different folks. How can I give the disc one rating to cover all of that?

I really can't, but I decided to try. Circuit 5 comes with varying aspect ratios - though almost always fullscreen - on this single-sided, dual-layered disc. Because it's mainly fullscreen, the DVD has not been enhanced for 16X9 TVs.

Overall, the picture quality is fairly good. When it doesn't look so hot, that's usually intentional. For the most part, sharpness seems good, colors look accurate, and I saw no source problems. Jagged edges are the most significant intrusion, as they appear quite frequently, most due to the semi-low resolution of some of the video material. Sorry for such a short description, but there's not a lot to hold onto here; the program offers such a mishmash of styles and formats that it's virtually impossible to pin it down.

The issue of sound quality is a little clearer, though not a lot. Previous Circuits fluctuated between Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Pro Logic 2.0 soundtracks, but this one sticks exclusively with DD 5.1. That's a step in the right direction, correct? Unfortunately, no, mainly because most of the 5.1 tracks aren't truly 5.1. As odd as it may sound, many of these mixes sounded like "double stereo." In other words, the front speakers had a stereo mix and the rear channels duplicated it; no individually discrete audio seemed to occur. While this offered a full sound, it created a very odd effect. The quality was good but I didn't like this bastardized 5.1 effect.

Honestly, that one stupid alteration to the sound is the reason I bump it from a possible "B+" down to a "B-". The quality of the audio is actually more consistent than on prior Circuits since fewer low-fi components are used to record the music; some of the previous editions had material shot on cheap camcorders and the audio couldn't escape those origins. That's not a problem here; although the caliber of the sound still varies a bit, it seems much warmer and clearer as a whole. Nonetheless, I really hate that electronically-reprocessed 5.1, and though it appears less intrusive here than on C4, it still earned some demerits.

One area I did not attempt to review is that of supplements. This program was created expressly for this format, so there can't actually be any extras. As such, there's no rating for that category.

Circuit 5 features a potentially interesting potpourri of musical talent all in one package. While I didn't much like the content of the fifth issue of Circuit - honestly, it's the least-compelling of the three I've watched - it's possible that other editions may be more appealing to me. As such, I can't offer much of a recommendation for it, but I won't steer you away from it, either. If you like some of these acts, or if you just want to broaden your musical horizons and don't mind taking some chances, Circuit 5 may be something you'd like to pursue.

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