The El Duce Tapes appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Should you expect 30-year-old VHS tapes to look good? Nope.
Unsurprisingly, Duce demonstrated the limitations of the source, so objectively, the film offered awful visuals. Sharpness was passable at best and usually worse, with mushy, fuzzy delineation as the norm.
Jagged edges and moiré effects cropped up often, and edge haloes resulted from the nature of the source. VHS artifacts also abounded, and the image came with plenty of interference and issues.
Colors were natural in intention, but due to the limitations of VHS, the hues looked runny, heavy and ugly. Blacks were dull and flat, and low-light shots seemed dim and thick.
Objectively, this would be an “F”, as it couldn’t look much uglier than it did. However, it wouldn’t seem fair to throw that grade at the Blu-ray, as it represented the source accurately.
At least the movie’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 track worked better, entirely due to the use of score. Throughout the film, we got music composed for the film, and these elements used the five channels in a broad, satisfactory manner.
For the score, audio quality worked fine. That music sounded warm and full.
Outside of the score, almost all the material came straight from the old VHS tapes, and that obviously limited the potential. Speech actually worked fine, as most of the interviews seemed easily intelligible and without issues.
Music and effects taken from the old tapes fared less well, but they remained acceptable given the nature of the recordings. All of this added up to a perfectly satisfactory mix for a documentary of this sort.
We get an array of extras here, and we start with an audio commentary from co-director Rodney Ascher, co-director/editor David Lawrence, producer Tim Kirk, and graphic artist Syd Garon. All four sit together for this running, screen-specific chat that also includes two brief interludes that features a chat with composer Jonathan Snipes. In addition, the main participants call to “Forrest” of a band called the Nightmares at one point for a short discussion of a location.
The commentary looks at the nature of the original footage and its adaptation into a feature documentary as well as other aspects of the program’s creation and thoughts about the various subjects/participants. This becomes a fairly engaging look at Tapes with a good number of insights.
Another audio feature, The Ryan Sexton Tapes fills 34 minutes, 37 seconds with a chat between Kirk and Sexton, the man who shot the circa 1990s footage in the film. They discuss the creation of the original 1990s footage and related elements in this mostly informative piece.
The El Duce Sessions goes for four minutes, 17 seconds and brings comments from musician Jonathan Snipes. He gives us a take on the movie’s score in this short but reasonably informative chat.
With More El Duce Tapes, we find a 12-minutes, 54-second “free-standing alternate assembly of unused material”. Despite the title, these don’t focus solely – or mostly – on Duce himself, as we hear from the other participants found in the main documentary as well. I can’t claim anything especially interesting results, though some decent extensions of the primary topics emerge.
El Duce Stories occupies three minutes, 45 seconds and compiles various Duce stories. This becomes an incoherent package but it boasts some bizarre charm.
Next comes Tape 2: Hollywood Reservoir, a 16-minute, 45-second piece that follows the walk-and-talk footage between Duce and Ryan Sexton. It’s raw material and that makes it more compelling, though we don’t really see anything especially different from the clips in the final film – and “Reservoir” repeats some of the shots in Tapes.
Reality Check Presents the Womentors offers a six-minute, 17-second view of an all-female Mentors tribute band. We hear from bandmembers “La Cuce”, “Clam Dip”, and “Dr. Lorena Chop-It”.
The featurette mixes live footage of the band with the musicians’ obnoxious comments. It boasts curiosity value but it’s more annoying than interesting.
Finally, Return to Rape Rock Mountain delivers a new 29-minute, four-second interview with musician Steve “Dr. Heathen Scum” Broy, though we get a few remarks from musician Allen Wrench as well. Broy takes us on a tour of the band’s former home base and then relates some memories.
The tour sounds intriguing in theory, but the reality proves less effective. Broy has aged terribly – he seems to be 62 going on 90 – and it feels a little pathetic to watch him try to act outrageous as he shuffles from spot to spot. The simple interview works fine, but the tour is a waste.
With The El Duce Tapes, we get an intermittently interesting view of a controversial and self-destructive musician. While aspects of the documentary work, the whole package doesn’t come together as well as I’d like. The Blu-ray brings ugly but acceptable visuals with decent audio and a good set of supplements. Tapes delivers an intriguing but semi-frustrating program.