Four Flicks mostly appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on these single-sided, dual-layered DVDs. However, that only applied to the Paris and New York shows. The London concert came in a ratio of 1.78:1, and that image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Since the package included three separately shot shows, I felt it was most appropriate to discuss them on their own.
The only 16X9 effort in the bunch, Twickenham looked absolutely amazing. Sharpness appeared rock solid. Even when the camera went far out from the stage, the Stones still seemed well defined. This allowed me to notice an editing mistake, as a wide shot from “Brown Sugar” showed Keith on stage before he then entered again in a closer take! The concert looked extremely concise and accurate from start to finish.
I noticed no signs of jagged edges or moiré effects, and edge enhancement appeared absent. As for source flaws, I detected none. The program appeared totally free of artifacting, noise, or other issues.
Colors seemed gloriously distinctive and lush. The show derived most of its hues from lighting, clothes and backdrops, and these were rich and vibrant. Never did I discern any hints of bleeding or runniness, as the hues truly leapt off the screen. Blacks were deep and firm, while low-light shots came across as accurate and very well defined. All in all, the Twickenham show offered a glorious visual experience that occasionally made me feel like I was watching a hi-def TV. This was probably the best-looking live performance I’ve seen on DVD and it earned an “A+” for picture quality.
The 1.33:1 Madison Square Garden show couldn’t live up to that level, but it represented the event well. Sharpness was mostly solid. Occasional shots came across as slightly soft, particularly when we saw them from one camera that viewed Mick head-on; it sometimes betrayed a mild lack of definition. Nonetheless, this seemed minor, and most of the program was concise and detailed. A few examples of jaggies and shimmering appeared, but not to any significant degree; the video screens in the background inevitably caused most of the latter. I noticed no signs of edge enhancement, and the program lacked any form of source defects like artifacts or noise.
While not quite as dynamic as those on the Twickenham disc, colors remained quite solid. Some of the lighting combined with stage smoke made a few hues look slightly heavy, but that didn’t really interfere with things. For the most part, the tones seemed well developed and vivid. Blacks stayed dense and taut, and shadows came across as clean and smooth. Ultimately, MSG was a fine visual presentation that merited a solid “B+”.
Finally we move to the Olympia show and its 1.33:1 image. For the most part, this show looked a lot like the MSG one, so the majority of my comments for it applied here as well. The main differences came from the color palette. The Olympia featured fewer vivid tones as part of its design, so the hues came across as more subdued and muted. However, the disc still replicated them well, as I noted no problems with bleeding, noise, or other issues. All else remained very similar, so I felt the Olympia deserved another “B+”. That meant a cumulative grade of “A-“ for the three shows combined.
Each of the three concerts presented Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks that differed a little but seemed similar enough for me to discuss them all at once. As one might expect of concerts, the soundfields stayed mostly anchored in the front. The forward channels offered appropriate stereo delineation and created a nice sense of the live stage. Mick’s vocals remained logically placed in the center, while the various instruments spread well and distinctively across the front speakers. The surrounds reinforced those elements to a degree but mostly concentrated on crowd ambience. Somewhat surprisingly, the Olympia show featured the most active audience noise from the rear, but all three seemed reasonably well balanced in that regard.
For the two larger shows, audio quality started off as somewhat iffy but improved quickly. Both MSG and Twickenham were a bit loose and thin during their early moments. Those didn’t last, happily, and the sound quickly improved. The Olympia began well and continued along those lines; it didn’t suffer from the same “growing pains”.
Except for those moderately weak early moments, audio quality seemed solid for all three shows. Vocals mostly came across as warm and natural. The producers largely backed off of unnecessary echo to give the singing that large venue sound, so the vocals were generally direct; they demonstrated enough reverb so they didn’t sound like they were recorded in the studio, but that tendency failed to become distracting. When the band did the three songs on the “B”-stage during the MSG show, Mick’s mike suffered from some distortion that made his singing rather edgy. No similar concerns of that sort emerged during other parts of that show or the other two concerts.
Instrumental definition seemed quite good, though some variation occurred. Across the board, the Olympia show presented the cleanest audio and seemed to be the most concise and detailed. The other two still sounded clear and accurate, though, and the instruments seemed accurate and well defined. Highs were clean and appropriately bright, while bass response seemed firm and rich. Again, the Olympia worked best in all these regards, but it didn’t differ radically from the other two. All three offered lively and smooth sound that complimented the concerts well.
Four Flicks packs a mess of extras. Many of these appear on the concert discs themselves, and we also get a fourth DVD of supplements. The Backstage Pass accompanies Twickenham and the Olympia. With this active, the show will occasionally shift from the action on stage to show some backstage footage. This might display performers as they walk on stage or as they change between songs. It gives us a minor insight as to their perspective, but not much of one. It doesn’t much anything to the proceedings, but at least it melds well with the action and doesn’t cause any awkward distractions.
Band Commentary comes with all three concerts. With this active, an icon will appear on screen when a band commentary becomes available. This accompanies three songs from Twickenham (“Sympathy for the Devil”, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, and “Gimme Shelter”), three tunes from MSG (“Street Fighting Man”, “Happy” and “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll”), and three off of the Olympia (“Start Me Up”, “Honky Tonk Women”, and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”). The commentaries consist of short interview clips with Jagger, Richards, Watts, and Wood. Mostly we get notes about the songs’ genesis and development, but we also hear elements like Wood’s enjoyment of “Satisfaction” before he joined the band as well as thoughts on history and influence of the material. (Wood gives us less material than the others because most of the songs discussed were created before he joined the band.) Not a lot of revelation appears here, as the band present some info fans have heard in the past, but the notes nonetheless seem fairly interesting and informative.
A very cool feature, Select-A-Stone accompanies “Honky Tonk Women”, “Angie” and “Monkey Man” from the MSG show. “Women” actually shows up on the MSG disc, while you have to check out the Olympia platter for “Angie”, and “Monkey” comes on the bonus platter. “Select-a-Stone” offers exactly what the title implies: a multi-angle feature that lets you choose who to watch. We get five options: the regular program plus one angle per Stone. It’s a lot of fun to check out whomever we want and flip back and forth. In a nice touch, five icons appear on the left part of the screen, so we can see what’s happening with all the angles at once. Someday I’d love to see a whole concert with this option, but in the meantime, “Select-a-Stone” is very entertaining and enjoyable.
Each disc includes some unique material as well. The Twickenham DVD presents AC/DC and the Stones, a four-minute and 20-second clip from the June 2003 shows in Germany. AC/DC opened for the Stones there and they came out to play with Mick and company during “Rock Me Baby”. We hear some audio from that song as well as soundbites from Jagger, Richards, Watts and Wood about AC/DC and their involvement in the shows. This is entertaining, but I would have preferred an uncut performance to this montage.
Also on the Twickenham disc, we get Jumbotron Animation. This four-minute and 15-second clip offers an alternate take on “Honky Tonk Women”. It highlights the cartoon that featured on the enormous video screen during the song. It’s cool to get a closer look at this piece.
One of the additions to the MSG disc presents Sheryl Crow and the Stones. Crow tells us of her love for the Stones and the band talks about their affection for her. We also learn notes about their onstage collaborations. It’s not terribly informative, but we get some fun comments in this two-minute and 26-second piece.
This DVD also includes Making the HBO Special. The five-minute and 22-second piece features comments from Mick, Keith, director Marty Callner, producer Randy Gladstein, and production manager Jake Berry as they discuss the pressures of live broadcasts and other related issues. We also see some shots of the soundcheck and behind the scenes bits. It doesn’t tell us a lot, but it provides a decent glimpse of the action required to air the concert.
On the Olympia disc, we get a featurette called Solomon “The Rev.” Burke. This three-and-a-half minute piece includes comments from Mick, Keith, Ronnie and Charlie as we watch clips from their performance of “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love”. (Note that this didn’t come from the Olympia; Burke showed up for the Los Angeles date at the Wiltern.) Song snippets dominate and they don’t say much, but it’s interesting to hear Mick’s reaction to the gift Burke gives to him.
Playing the Olympia runs two minutes, 22 seconds and presents info from Ronnie, Keith, Charlie and Mick. They discuss adaptations to the smaller stage and those various challenges. It’s moderately informative, and we also get a couple of short shots from the soundcheck.
On the bonus DVD, we get a mix of materials. The main one is Tip of the Tongue, a 50-minute and 35-second documentary about the tour. This presents various forms of behind the scenes shots along with interviews. We hear from all four Stones plus set designer Mark Fisher, tour production director Jake Berry, worldwide tour director Michael Cohl, keyboardist Chuck Leavell, bassist Darryl Jones, lighting designer Patrick Woodroffe, and media coordinator Tony King.
”Tongue” starts with the May 7 2002 press conference staged to announce the tour. From there we go to Paris for some recording sessions and Toronto for show rehearsals. We also watch the Stones as they work on stage design, song selection, and all the other issues connected to launching a massive tour of this sort. They also reflect on the evolution of tours from the primitive days of the Sixties to now. The interviews talk about relationships within the band and the pressures and challenges of live performances. I wouldn’t call these comments totally blunt and frank, but the folks don’t completely shy away from minor criticisms of the others; really, how could Mick and Keith discuss each other without a discussion of their frequently strained relationship?
The behind the scenes material seems most valuable, though. We get lots of rehearsal and soundcheck footage, some of which features songs we don’t hear elsewhere. Ultimately, “Tongue” offers a pretty entertaining and informative examination of the Stones’ path to the road.
Next we find another documentary called Licks Around the World. This 22-minute and 15-second piece includes footage of the Stones in various countries plus interviews with the four main members as well as occasional soundbites from others such as Bill Clinton and Vaclev Havel. (This sounds weird but makes sense if you watch the show.) We get notes about the LA benefit show they played to promote awareness of global warming and then head to other countries. We get info about the Stones in Japan, India, Germany, Spain, Prague, and London. Essentially they reflect on their experiences in each locale. For example, they talk about the behavior of the audiences in Japan and chat about the rain in India. It’s once again good to see more performance footage, and the comments offer nice insight in the band’s thoughts about various locales.
More of a teaser than anything else, Toronto Rocks gives us information about the massive benefit show the Stones headlined in the summer of 2003. They played Toronto in front of hundreds of thousands with a long roster of acts such as AC/DC, Rush, and Justin Timberlake to endorse tourism after the SARS scare. This five-minute and 38-second piece features soundbites from the Stones and many of the others as well as rapid-fire performance clips. It ends with “coming soon on DVD” and is really nothing more than a long ad.
For more valuable performance footage, we go to The Bootlegs. Here we find five songs from the November 4, 2002 club show at the Wiltern in LA: “Beast of Burden”, “You Don’t Have to Mean It”, “Rock Me Baby”, “Bitch”, “I Can’t Turn You Loose”. We also get some loose jams called “Extreme Western Grip” and “Well, Well” that were taped in the recording studio. Shot anamorphic 1.78:1 with 5.1 audio, the Wiltern clips are great, though as an insatiable fan, I wish we’d get the whole show. (Actually, since they shot it anamorphic, I’d prefer the Wiltern concert over the Olympia one, but that’s a moot point, I guess.) The two jams are pretty much a waste of time, but the live footage offers a very valuable addition to the set.
One note about my extras grade: I didn’t simply count the official supplements when I came up with it. I felt that since Four Flicks included three almost-complete concerts, it didn’t seem fair to not factor that into my mark. If the package’s producers presented one show as the main attraction and the other two as add-ons, I definitely would have given the set an “A+” for extras. That didn’t occur, but any release with this much material really deserves accolades in some way, so I gave it an “A+” for supplements to convey how far above and beyond the average release Flicks went.
An almost unimaginably packed set, Four Flicks stands as the best concert DVD ever produced. Others do some elements better; you’ll find stronger interviews, commentaries and outtakes elsewhere. However, none of those include so much material in one place.
It also helps that Flicks presents one of the greatest bands of all-time in fine form. All three shows offer distinctive and strong performances that the DVDs capture well for the most part. I can quibble with the editing and camerawork, and I remain displeased that none of the shows come without cuts, but with 43 unique songs and five and a half hours of concert footage, I can’t really complain.
Production values seem strong. One of the three shows provides shockingly excellent picture quality, while the other two look very good. All three demonstrate positive audio, and as I noted, the package of extras becomes second to none if we factor in the inclusion of three concerts. Four Flicks sets the new standard for concert DVDs and belongs in the collection of every rock fan.
Note: as I write this, one can purchase Four Flicks only at Best Buy, a fact that angered quite a few retailers. However, apparently Best Buy enjoys a limited window of exclusivity that allegedly ends in February or March of 2004.