In the almost four years since DVDs hit the shelves, there have been a few titles that were announced but just never seemed to make it out the door, and it appears that many of them are owned by Sony. Slowly but surely, we’re getting many of them. Ghostbusters appeared in 1999, while Men In Black showed up in 2000, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind is rumored to finally come out in 2001. The timetable’s been frustrating, but at least the high quality of the eventual releases has made the wait more acceptable.
Although it’s not as high-profile a release, the DVD of Bruce Springsteen’s Video Anthology 1978-1988 is another long-awaited title that some - including me - started to think would never see the light of day. In many ways, the delays were more frustrating than with the aforementioned movies. At least in those cases, our waits were rewarded with higher quality efforts; had Ghostbusters or MIB come out in 1997, there’s no question that they would have lacked all of the fine supplements they eventually included.
Such promise didn’t seem to accompany the Springsteen package, and that’s why it’s been such an annoying wait. It appeared to be nothing more than a straight port of the 100-minute video collection. I figured there was no chance we’d get any extras with it, so what was the problem?
I was wrong. After the long wait, the video collection has finally hit shelves. However, instead of a simple reproduction of the 1988 version, the package has been updated to cover the 21 years since the release of the original set. As such, Video Anthology 1978-2000 offers a much more broad and encompassing look at Bruce’s work.
As was the case with the live album - which included only one tune recorded in 1985 - the title to the original package was somewhat misleading. It includes one song filmed in 1978; “Rosalita” from 1973’s The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle, shot live at a Phoenix concert. It’s a sloppy clip that focuses too strongly on Bruce himself; it would have been nice to see the rest of the band as well. However, it’s a raucous performance punctuated by frequent appearances by women who bypass the apparently-nonexistent security and who proceed to molest Bruce. He doesn’t seem to mind, and it’s a wild affair that provides a fun experience.
After that, the only footage shot in the Seventies comes via two ditties from one of the September 1979 “No Nukes” concerts. There’s a version of the then-unreleased “The River” - which would function as the title tune of Bruce’s 1980 double album - and a rendition of “Thunder Road” from 1975’s seminal Born to Run. The No Nukes film also included the “Detroit Medley” but that doesn’t appear in the Anthology. “The River” is sloppy but heartfelt and moving, while “TR” sounds rough - Bruce’s voice wasn’t at its best - but still works. As with “Rosalita”, the camerawork still focused too much on Bruce to the exclusion of everything else, though that method worked fine for the intimate and personal “The River”; “TR” should have been opened up more, however.
Bruce didn’t start to make any non-concert videos until 1982’s Nebraska, the album that provides the Anthology’s fourth track. Even then, he went into the format - which had gained considerable ground between The River and Nebraska due to the 1981 launch of MTV - with baby steps. Nebraska’s sole video - “Atlantic City” - is a stark black and white affair that simply shows grainy images of that town’s contrasts; we see shots of plush casinos and hotels intermixed with more down and out sights but no images of Bruce himself appear. It’s an interesting clip that fits the tone of the song, but I actually think it would have worked better in color; the bright lights of the casinos would have contrasted more clearly with the drabness of the rest of town in such a scenario.
With the next video, Bruce more fully embraced the video format. The next five clips all came from 1984’s smash hit Born in the USA. This record achieved an incredible feat: it was the best-selling album for 1985. That occurred despite the fact it was released in early June 1984. It’s not unprecedented for an album to sell really well months and months after its initial appearance; sometimes it takes a while for an artist to reach their audience. However, in the case of BITUSA, it spent the last seven months of 1984 near the top of the chart; it had already moved millions of copies before 1985 started.
The album spawned an amazing seven Top Ten singles, five of which appear on this DVD. It starts with the famous - or infamous, depending on your point of view - “Dancing in the Dark”, the first single from BITUSA. It’s fashionable among serious Bruce fans to disparage this song, and it is one of his more overtly-poppy efforts. However, it’s a decent piece of work; it probably would have been better with less of a studio sheen attached, but the song itself is solid, and the recording is glossy but enjoyable.
The Brian De Palma directed video is Bruce’s first foray into the wild world of lip-synching. Shot at the start of the 1984-1985 tour in Minneapolis, we see newly-buffed-out Bruce ruin his song. If you listen to the lyrics of “DITD”, it’s not exactly a happy affair, yet Bruce played it as though it was a chipper party tune. Well, despite the inappropriate tone, the video is still watchable, if just to see Bruce’s goofy attitude, and of course it contains the first significant performance of Friend-to-be Courtney Cox as the short-haired chick in the front row who Bruce pulls on stage.
No video appeared for “Cover Me”, the second BITUSA single, but we did get another live clip for the third 45, “Born in the USA”. Although it was filmed as part of an actual concert - “DITD” was done at the Minneapolis shows but specially staged within those events - “BITUSA” wasn’t a pure live piece. Nor was it a simple lip-synch job ala “DITD”. Instead, “BITUSA” was filmed live and the album version of the song was played on top of it.
And that’s why it’s a terrible video. Rarely have picture and music been linked together more poorly. Much of the reason for this stems from the fact Bruce doesn’t simply replicate the recorded versions of his songs when he does them live. This means that many times during the video, the lip-synching is way off-target. The “real people” shots of apparent small-town folk that are intercut with the performance don’t help. “BITUSA” remains Bruce’s most widely-misunderstood song, and this lame video didn’t help.
“I’m On Fire” - the fourth single and third video - was a much more interesting affair. This was the first conceptual video in which Bruce appeared and - gasp! - acted. He plays the role of a grease-monkey for whom some rich married babe apparently has the hots. Much flirting occurs when she drops off her car for what seems to be the umpteenth time, and the video shows Bruce as he fights his manly urges to give her a taste of the old New Jersey devil.
Somewhat surprisingly, Bruce offers a natural, understated presence, and the video works well. The minimal story suits the song, and it’s endured much better than most conceptual videos.
Along the same lines, we get more acting in “Glory Days”, the fifth single from BITUSA and the fourth video. Here Bruce plays a construction worker who’s married with kids but he still fantasizes about What Could Have Been if he’d become a baseball player; we watch him toss the old bean on a ramshackle field. Interspersed with the shots of Suburban Bruce are images of Rockin’ Bruce; a lip-synched bar performance with the full E Street Band - including then-departed member Little Steven - gives the video some musical grounding.
As with much of BITUSA, “Glory Days” is another lyrically downbeat song that was turned into a peppy rocker via the album’s production. Whether this is good or bad depends on your point of view, but the video does little to dispel the frat house ambiance of the tune. It’s a chipper and fun affair despite itself, and it went far toward solidifying Bruce’s stature at the time.
The sixth single from BITUSA - “I’m Goin’ Down” - received no video, and from what I’ve read, Bruce planned to skip a clip for the seventh and final release as well. However, eventually a video came out for that song. A live performance from the one of the fall 1985 LA concerts at the end of the long tour, “My Hometown” proves to be the most satisfying piece of the BITUSA bunch. That’s because it’s the only truly live video of the five. The song was one of the few melancholy tunes from BITUSA that was allowed to sound that way on the record, and the live rendition plays up its mournful nature even better. The visual presentation seems appropriately restrained - though more varied than the Bruce-centric offerings of the late Seventies - and it’s ultimately a solid clip.
More of the same comes in the next video, the first of three offerings that accompanied 1986’s Live 1975-1985. Also recorded at those gargantuan LA shows - performed at the 100,000 capacity Coliseum - “War” covered the old Edwin Starr song with fervor and energy. The clip looks very good as well. It starts with staged shots of a father and son as they watch the progress of the Vietnam War on TV - a subject revisited at the end of the video - and also displays images from the era during Bruce’s spoken introduction to the tune. The performance itself presents a solidly edited and clear effect that isn’t mucked up by overly-active camerawork or cuts; it fits the song nicely.
Even more restrained is the next video for “Fire”. This Springsteen-penned song was a hit for the Pointer Sisters in the late Seventies, and Bruce finally reclaimed it for himself on the Live album. However, the version of the tune heard in this video is not the same one on the record. Instead, we hear and see Bruce’s acoustic performance from the 1986 “Bridge” concert, one in an on-going series of benefits staged by Neil Young to support a San Francisco-area school for disabled kids.
For “Fire”, Bruce played acoustic guitar with accompaniment from E Streeters Nils Lofgren on guitar and Danny Federici on accordion. It’s a decent performance of the song, though it doesn’t reinvent the wheel or do anything terribly new with it. The video is very laid-back; it only uses a couple of cameras and essentially just focuses on Bruce, without much editing or elaborate photographic techniques. Which is fine, since a quiet performance like this wouldn’t lend itself to a hyper video.
Not so for out next clip, a rendition of “Born to Run” that finishes the videos to promote Live 1975-85. Although most of the program comes from the same September 30, 1985 show that was featured in “My Hometown” and “War”, “BTR” also includes snippets from about a million other concerts during the 1984-85 tour. Despite the potentially-distracting pacing, the frenetic piece actually comes together nicely and creates a solid “tour souvenir”; it’s an exciting and compelling video.
Matters tone down considerably for the next clip, “Brilliant Disguise”. The first single off of 1987’s Tunnel of Love, this video was shot simply; it’s just Bruce sitting in a kitchen as he sings and plays guitar. The camera starts in a wide shot and gets closer and closer at a slow pace until Bruce’s face is captured in a serious close-up. It doesn’t sound like much, but the video fits the suspicious, paranoid tone of the song itself. As will be the case for a number of other future videos, the backing track is from the studio version of “BD” but Bruce’s vocal was recorded live on the set, a fact that gives the song an even greater urgency. The video for “BD” is a quiet masterpiece.
Up next is the title track from TOL. It’s a more conventional video in which we see gritty black and white carnival images interspersed with subdued lip-and-guitar-synch footage of Bruce. The editing can be a little too frenetic, and the video makes little sense in regard to the song itself - it takes the carnival motif of the tune too literally - but it’s still an entertaining clip as a whole.
Somewhat better is the third video from TOL, “One Step Up”. In many ways, this piece feels like a companion to “I’m On Fire”, except Bruce plays the married character in the video, one who’s clearly feeling other urges. Essentially, he just wanders around, hangs out in a bar, and looks conflicted. The video suits the song fairly well, though - in contract to “TOL” - it may be too true to the lyrics; the clip largely just acts out the tune’s concepts, which doesn’t leave much to the imagination. Still, the tone is appropriate and it serves the song well enough.
The remaining videos on the first DVD all come from live sources. “Tougher Than the Rest” is another TOL track that was taped during an April 1988 “Tunnel of Love Express Tour” show in Los Angeles. Most of the material comes from that performance, but some outtakes from other shows - or at least different parts of the LA concert - are mixed in with the “TTTR” footage.
Frankly, I could do without the extra snippets, as there’s enough going on during “TTTR” itself; we don’t need the added “spice”. Watching the simmering drama of “TTTR” and those long, longing glances between Bruce and Patti is enough. As such, it’s a flawed video but it’s largely a solid clip. It’s also a good performance of a fine song that somewhat broadens the album version.
The next track more broadly opens the original TOL rendition. “Spare Parts” comes from a European concert in the summer of 1988, and it stays mostly with footage from that show. During the extended intro to the tune, we see footage shot in the area, but once the song proper starts, the focus stays on stage. “SP” isn’t one of my favorite Bruce ditties, but it did come more to life live, and this video provides a blistering version. The clip itself is a serviceable live offering; it’s not particularly noteworthy, but it does nothing wrong, either.
DVD one’s final video goes back to the LA shows from April 1988. We get a live acoustic rendition of “Born to Run”. Honestly, I never thought the song worked particularly well in the slowed-down, more introspective version; many of Bruce’s tunes are as good - if not better - in solo performances, but “BTR” loses its vitality. The video presents a standard clip; it’s a simply-shot affair in which Bruce plays the tune without much gimmickry. It’s not a terribly interesting video, but it accurately portrays the original performance.
When we move to the second DVD, we jump quite a few years - four, to be precise. Bruce was virtually inactive publicly between the end of the Amnesty International “Human Rights Now!” shows in the fall of 1988 and the simultaneous releases of two albums - Human Touch and Lucky Town - in the early spring of 1992. During that three and a half year span, he disbanded the E Street Band, got divorced, remarried, and had a kid. Bruce’s musical life took a backseat, and apparently he suffered from writer’s block during part of this period.
In any case, the dual releases of HT and LT marked his return with a vengeance. The albums received mixed reviews and lackluster sales - for Bruce, at least - but they had some excellent moments; a compilation of the best 12 songs from both would stand up against virtually anything else the man has ever released. However, that doesn’t mean I think he should have mixed the two projects. From what I understand, HT took a long time to record, while LT was a more spontaneous project that evolved after the completion of HT. The two albums sound and feel rather different. HT is fairly glossy and poppy, while LT is more raw and rootsy; material from the two may not have mixed well.
The first video on DVD two comes from HT. We get that record’s terrific title cut which is presented via the full album version. Actually, I much prefer the shorter “radio edit” of “HT”; it abbreviates the song’s instrumental coda and focuses the tune better. Nonetheless, this is a decent but unexceptional video. The images match up with the song’s passion but it’s still an unremarkable combination of Bruce’s lip/guitar-synch and moody shots of strangers. One point that some may find noteworthy: “HT” marks the first - and so far last - shirtless appearance of Bruce in a video.
Up next is “Better Days” from Lucky Town. (For the record, both “Human Touch” and “Better Days” were the first single from their respective albums; they appeared as one “double A-sided” release.) This clip is a semi-live piece that showed an apparent rehearsal. However, it sounds like the audio was compiled ala “Brilliant Disguise”; only Bruce’s vocals seem to be live, and the rest appears to come from the album version of “Better Days” though the tune mixes in some actual rehearsal material at its beginning and end.
It’s a decently-energetic little clip that mixes the rehearsal footage with murkier shots of Bruce and family, and Bruce kidding around with others. As usual, I’d prefer a straight performance video, but I didn’t object strenuously to the additional elements. Note that despite what the DVD’s liner notes say, this video does not use the same band as the following 1992 live cuts. The “BD” group and the actual live band share some components - sole E Street holdover pianist Roy Bittan and bassist Tommy Sims - but none of the other depicted performers went on to follow the tour.
My least favorite of the 1992 videos comes up next with “57 Channels (And Nothin’ On)” from Human Touch. A lot of Springsteen fans despise the tune, but I never had much against it. The video, on the other hand, is an exercise in the obvious. Essentially the clip depicts the notions described in the song and does little to expand upon those ideas. It’s a mildly entertaining piece on its own, but it seems vaguely pointless.
Our final 1992 piece arrives next via a live version of “Leap of Faith”. This wasn’t one of the better songs from Lucky Town, but it came to life nicely during concerts, and this video does a decent job of depicting that experience. As is the case with many of these kinds of clips, it also combines shots from other shows - or at least from other portions of one concert - to ramp up the alleged excitement level. I continue to prefer videos that stick with the single performance itself - the 1985 version of “Born to Run” being the major exception - but at least the cuts in “LOF” don’t interfere with the progress of the action, with one exception; during the song, Bruce would jump into the crowd, and the video depicts this event poorly. Nonetheless, it’s a decent little clip, and an energetic rendition of the song, which is indeed an action live performance of “LOF”, not a lip-synched pseudo-live piece.
We now move ahead to 1993, when Bruce achieved an honor that has greeted very few non-wimpy rock stars (yes, Phil Collins - I mean you): an Academy Award. Bruce produced the moody and haunting “Streets of Philadelphia” for Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia. The video largely just shows Bruce as he walks through the less-cheerful areas of the City of Brotherly Love; a few seconds of footage from the film is very subtly integrated. It’s a simple video but it seems appropriate for the material and it works nicely, especially since it’s another clip that features a live vocal from Bruce.
Not too long after that, Bruce did what fans had wanted for the prior few years: he reconvened the legendary E Street band to record some new tracks. These were completed as support for his early 1995 Greatest Hits album, a package that combined 14 classics - from “Born to Run” through “Streets of Philadelphia” - with four previously-unreleased tracks. Among those four were the subjects of the next two videos.
Up first is “Murder Incorporated”, a tune that had been around since the early Eighties but never made it out the door. Here we find a fine live version of the tune, played with the E Streeters in a small club. It’s not a flawless performance and it’s not as sharp as the renditions pumped out night after night during the 1999-2000 tour, but it’s a lively version that serves the track well. The video is a simple but effective piece that doesn’t offer much flash but it works nicely.
The other new songs provides a more traditional and flowery video. “Secret Garden” features lots of stylish shots of - generally attractive, generally young - women intercut with images of Bruce as he sings and plays guitar. It’s a watchable but unspectacular affair.
Our next clip is the last one related to Greatest Hits. We get an allegedly-new version of “Hungry Heart” played with a full band in Berlin during 1995. I say “allegedly-new” because other than Bruce’s obviously-new vocal, the backing track sounds awfully similar to the original. This may be a wholly-new rendition, but if that’s the case, then the Germans who perform with Bruce offered a virtual duplicate of the album version. I listened to the two renditions back to back and hear enough production differences to believe that the German cut is different, but boy, are they similar! In any case, the video provides a somewhat generic but still fun live clip. It integrates the standard “shots around town” with the performance images for a solid video.
After the recaptured joys of working with the E Streeters, Bruce became more somber and produced some material closer to Nebraska than anything since 1982. Most of these songs appeared on late 1995’s The Ghost of Tom Joad, but one tune showed up elsewhere. That was the title cut to Dead Man Walking, though the song is actually renamed “Dead Man Walkin’”. The video combines clips from the Tim Robbins-directed film with solo footage of Bruce as he sings the tune. As is often the case, this appears to be a live vocal from Bruce, although the backing track seems to be prerecorded. It’s a simple but effective piece directed by Robbins himself.
The only true video to come from Joad was the included clip for the title song. This piece hearkens back to “Atlantic City”. It’s a gritty black and white affair that depicts a series of moody images with no shots of Bruce himself. It uses a 2.35:1 aspect ratio and works fairly well, though I don’t think it’s as good as “Atlantic City”. The song itself is a nice piece that stood as one of the album’s better tracks.
However, the Joad recordings came to life much more effectively during Bruce’s 1995-96 solo acoustic performances; these songs tended to sound a lot alike on the album, but the focus added in the concerts brought out their strengths nicely. We don’t find any footage from these shows, but we do get a solo rendition of “TGOTJ” that Bruce played on The Tonight Show. I would have preferred to hear a different song, since “TGOTJ” is one of the few Joad songs that actually works better with the full band, but the clip is an interesting addition nonetheless.
As I write this in early 2001, Joad remains Bruce’s last studio album to date. However, that doesn’t mean that he’s been inactive during the almost five years since the conclusion of the acoustic tour. In 1998, he issued a long-anticipated package of B-sides and unreleased material. This four-CD set called Tracks was a treasure-trove for die-hards like myself, and it provided a wealth of excellent material.
However, it didn’t offer any videos, so the last three clips on this DVD are unrelated to Bruce’s late Nineties releases. Created in 2000, “Highway Patrolman” takes a song from 1982’s Nebraska and combines it with visuals from Sean Penn’s 1991 film The Indian Runner. Why? I have no idea, though the video makes sense since Penn’s movie was clearly an expansion of the song; the picture used the same names for characters and - as we see in the clip - they follow the identical events. It’s an odd piece that’s comprised totally of scenes from TIR.
More sensible is the next video which presents a new version of Lucky Town’s “If I Should Fall Behind”. This tune functioned as the penultimate ditty at many of Bruce’s 1999-2000 shows, and here we get a rehearsal rendition that accurately replicates the new E Street edition. It’s a simply but effective video that uses one camera to film various band members - Bruce, Little Steven, Nils, Patti, and Clarence - as they take their turns at the microphone. Shot in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, it’s as far from flashy as you can get, and it works wonderfully.
The final cut on the Anthology also represents material as performed on the 1999-2000 tour, though the film predates the prior clip. We get a solo acoustic version of “Born in the USA” that comes from Bruce’s November 1998 appearance on The Charlie Rose Show. Timed to coincide with the release of Tracks, that set indeed includes an acoustic rendition of the song, but this one differs from it. I’m not wild about the recasting of the tune, but I was pleased to have this simple but compelling version of the song.
Video Anthology 1988-2000 appears mainly in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on these two single-sided, single-layered DVDs; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Two videos use non-fullscreen dimensions. The studio version of “The Ghost of Tom Joad” is 2.35:1, while “If I Should Fall Behind” is 1.85:1.
As I’ve noted many times when I review music video compilations, it can be extremely difficult to provide an accurate picture quality grade due to the wide variety of sources, and that’s definitely the case for VA. After all, the clips span a period of more than two decades, and the production values vary radically.
That said, the visual quality of these videos largely seemed very good. Not surprisingly, the oldest clips looked the worst. The live versions of “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)”, “The River” and “Thunder Road” all presented muddy, murky visuals. Focus was consistently soft and colors appeared quite heavy and thick. They seemed too dark as well. (For the record, “Rosalita” offers an edited version of the song that omits band introductions present in the full piece. This was true on the prior video incarnations of the VA, so while it’s regrettable, it’s not news.)
After those opening pieces, we get to the first true video for “Atlantic City”. This clip looked somewhat edgy but it generally seemed accurate and well-defined. It contained some intentional flaws since the piece is supposed to look worn, and the video was fairly well-reproduced here.
Nonetheless, we don’t find any attractive visuals until we get to “Dancing in the Dark” in 1984. Although the clip displayed some grit and presented a mildly gauzy appearance that was typical of many videos from the era, it marked a significant improvement over the prior four songs. “DITD” generally looked bright and clear, especially via the vivid and bold colors.
“Born in the USA” was a slight regression, as it seemed a bit soft and hazy. It also showed more grit and print flaws than we witnessed on “DITD”, and the colors were less solid. It’s still an improvement over the pre-1984 material, but it didn’t appear especially good-looking.
“I’m On Fire” showed some minor concerns as well. I saw a few speckles, and the image looked slightly soft and flat at times. However, it boasted nicely deep blacks and clear shadow detail, and sharpness appeared good.
Similar comments applied to “Glory Days”, though it didn’t look quite as strong. It showed slightly heavy and thick colors and again featured the “gauziness” prevalent in that era. This meant the video came across as somewhat hazy and fuzzy for the most part.
The live rendition of “My Hometown” offered the first terrific picture found on this collection. Some of the other Born in the USA clips looked decent, but this one presented a very solid image. Sharpness seemed crisp and clear, colors were bold and accurate, blacks appeared deep and rich, and shadows were nicely-delineated. All that and I noticed no print flaws either! It’s an excellent presentation.
Duplicate those remarks for “War”, which is no surprise since it comes from the same source. The opening and closing shots that introduce the video could seem hazy and flawed, but the actual performance footage looked fantastic.
Quality declined significantly with “Fire”, however. This clip looked like it was shot on someone’s home camcorder, which may well be the truth; it’s the only video in this package for which no director receives no credit. The picture appeared extremely soft and colors were exceedingly heavy and blurred. I even saw rolling bars often prominent on bad VHS recordings! While it’s a worthwhile clip, the video looks bad; it’s likely the ugliest piece in the VA.
Matters improve significantly with “Born to Run”. Mainly taken from the same concert as “My Hometown” and “War”, the majority of the clip looked similarly crisp and vivid. Since it’s something of a “tour souvenir”, “BTR” tosses in snippets from a myriad of other shows, and the quality of these can be weak; you’ll encounter a variety of flaws at those times. Nonetheless, the general appearance seemed good during this excellent video.
After the erratic quality of many of the preceding videos, the situation becomes generally more consistent starting with the Tunnel of Love programs. “Brilliant Disguise” provided a solid black and white image. The clip seemed distinct and well-defined, and the monochrome image presented fine contrast and depth. It’s a fine-looking piece.
Also strong is “Tunnel Of Love”. Many of the clips’ images were intentionally distorted, but none of these flaws resulted from transfer problems. The video lacked strong colors, but it presented a solid image.
“One Step Up” hearkened back to the older clips to a slight degree. It came across as a little muddy, with mildly oversaturated colors and modest haziness. However, it still offered a generally positive image.
The live “Tougher Than the Rest” provided a crisp and nicely-realized picture. As is often the case with videotaped pieces, I saw some jagged edges from guitar strings, but black levels were deep and rich, and the image largely seemed clean and solid.
“Spare Parts” falters slightly. It looked too soft and fuzzy for the most part; these tendencies weren’t horrendous, but they seemed excessive. Colors also appeared heavy and oversaturated, and some of the typical problems with “jaggies” occurred.
Although it came from the same source as “Tougher”, the acoustic “Born to Run” seemed murkier. The image looked a bit soft and hazy, and blacks appeared somewhat muddy.
On DVD two, “Human Touch” started off the proceedings nicely. Though the colors looked a little too warm and thick, the clip stayed appropriately crisp and well-defined and it showed good depth. “Better Days” then mixed clear and accurate rehearsal footage with some purposefully-flawed “impromptu” material. The latter is black and white, grainy, and scratchy, but that was done intentionally, so I won’t fault it. Otherwise, it’s a vivid video, with excellent colors and fine focus.
“57 Channels (And Nothin’ On)” presented another solid visual experience. Colors looked especially bold and strong during this surreal clip. Some jaggies cropped up at times, but otherwise it was an excellent visual piece.
In “Leap of Faith”, we find a well-reproduced live video. The image looked accurate and detailed, and colors seemed full and warm. “Streets of Philadelphia” went for a more stark, monochrome appearance; though shot in color, much of the video presented rather desaturated hues that matched the stark material. The video displayed good sharpness and seemed positive.
Although “Murder Incorporated” looked very dark due to the club environment; it appeared well-reproduced. Even in the low light setting, the images seemed clear and accurately defined. The few colors we see are nicely duplicated; red lighting displayed none of the problems that often mar its appearance.
“Secret Garden” marked one of the more stylized videos in the collection. It featured a heavy blue/green tint much of the time, and it seemed washed-out during most of the clip. Within those constraints, the video looked good. It presented a clear and crisp experience with no unintentional flaws on display.
The live version of “Hungry Heart” worked somewhat less well. Although still very watchable, the clip seemed unattractive. It came across as drab and murky much of the time and it didn’t match up well with the other videos in this package.
Better looking was the clip for “Dead Man Walkin’”. This combination of live performance and movie snippets seemed clear and accurate. It’s a stark piece with no stylization on display, and it presented the material nicely.
The studio video for “The Ghost of Tom Joad” traveled the same path as “Atlantic City”. Made up largely of black and white stills, the clip showed a myriad of concerns, but all were intentional and done for atmospheric reasons. It’s not an attractive clip, but since that was the point, I won’t complain.
The Tonight Show rendition of “Joad” fared less well. This video seemed bland and fuzzy without any real depth or accuracy. I’m surprised to find such relatively weak quality for a piece shot on a major show, but the clip looked drab nonetheless.
Also flat and murky are the film snippets found in “Highway Patrolman”. The pieces lack much definition and seem somewhat poorly reproduced, especially in comparison with the relatively-vivid clips from “Dead Man Walkin’”.
Much better was the one-camera sequence for “If I Should Fall Behind”. This video seemed very crisp and clean, as it showed nice depth and excellent clarity. Due to the presentation, colors were subdued, but they appeared appropriately-saturated, and the piece as a whole looked quite good.
Lastly, the acoustic version of “Born in the USA” ends the collection on a fairly positive note. Although the video showed signs of jaggies, it generally came across as clear and accurate. Colors again were weak, but that was due to the presentation; shots of Bruce by himself don’t lend themselves to wild hues.
Ultimately, the videos on the Video Anthology looked pretty good, but the sound seemed even better. Usually that’s the case with collections of this sort; audio recordings tend to suffer less from the span of time. However, that doesn’t mean that all of these tracks are created equally, and some variations definitely occur.
Probably the worst-sounding clip of the bunch was “Rosalita”, but even it appeared pretty decent. It seemed a little harsh at times, and it could have featured greater depth, but I heard no truly substantial problems. “I’m On Fire” displayed moderate hiss for reasons unknown; the opening sequence prior to the start of the song initiated this concern, but it continued to a mild degree during the tune itself.
The acoustic version of “Born in the USA” offered what sounded like glorified mono. The side channels were used, but they provided the same information, and though the center speaker was active, it seemed subdued. The general quality of the performance appeared good, but this odd presentation worked against it.
As a whole, however, the audio quality of the VA clips seemed very solid. These songs have been remastered for Dolby Digital 5.1, but don’t expect any auditory revelations. These tracks are stereo for all intents and purposes. The surrounds may contribute some modest reinforcement, but that’s it; there were no instances of active rear usage or any split-surround instrumentation that I could discern.
Which is fine with me. Although I like to hear rejiggered mixed like the one found on Roy Orbison’s A Black and White Night, I won’t complain because the music accurately replicates the original material. The 5.1 track has taken the songs and reproduced them cleanly and boldly. I’ve heard these tunes many times over the years, so I’d recognize any significant problems associated with them. I didn’t hear any of these sorts of issues, as the Video Anthology offered clear, smooth, and deep audio during the vast majority of the program.
18 of the VA’s 32 clips feature music that in some way differs from the “standard” versions. As a (hopefully) helpful guide, I’ve created a list of all the tracks on the VA that differ significantly from the album renditions.
-“Rosalita”: 1978 alternate live version not available on other albums;
-“The River”/”Thunder Road”: 1979 alternate live versions not available on other albums. Though I believe these appear in the No Nukes film, only the “Detroit Medley” can be found on the album of the same name;
-“Fire”: 1986 alternate live version isn’t the same track found on Live 1975-85;
-“Born to Run: September 1985 alternate live version, whereas the Live 1975-85 cut comes from a Giants Stadium performance in August 1985;
-‘Brilliant Disguise”: features live vocal;
-“Tougher Than the Rest”: live version that can also be found on Chimes of Freedom EP;
-“Spare Parts”: live version that also appears on European “SP” CD single from 1988;
-“Born to Run” (acoustic”: live version that can also be found on Chimes of Freedom EP;
-“Better Days”: features live vocal;
-“Leap of Faith”: live version also available on import CD single;
-“Streets of Philadelphia”: features live vocal;
-“Murder Incorporated”: live version also found on various CD singles;
-“Hungry Heart”: live version also available on import CD single;
-“Dead Man Walking”: features live vocal;
-“The Ghost of Tom Joad” (second video): live version from The Tonight Show;
-“If I Should Fall Behind”: live rehearsal version;
-“Born in the USA”: live version from The Charlie Rose Show.
Sometimes it becomes difficult to grade the various components of DVDs. I’ve already related how a variety of source materials means that it’s hard to choose a general grade for the picture and sound of music videos, but the rating complications of the Video Anthology run deeper than that.
On the surface, it appears that VA includes few supplements. In fact, the only really noticeable one is an “alternate version” of “Secret Garden”. This clip offers the same visuals that we find on the “regular” video, but the audio provides a remix that features strings.
In addition, we get a “Discography” for all 11 of Bruce’s studio albums plus other compilations and videos. All of these except for the videos include brief audio samples from the records, though no lyrics are available.
Based on this description, one would think the VA should get a very low grade for supplements. However, other factors make the issue more murky. First of all, can’t one consider the entire second DVD to be an extra? After all, Sony easily could have simply released the original 1978-88 edition of the VA and left it at that. Instead, the package added more than an hour of material that appeared since the first one hit the shelves.
However, since the DVD is called Video Anthology 1978-2000, it would seem odd to consider the additional songs to be extras. It’s kind of like the problem I encounter with “director’s cuts” of films. Pretend that The Abyss only featured the movie and had none of its extensive supplements. If that were the case, although the extended version of the film offers an extra half an hour of footage, I’d still have to give the DVD an “F” for supplements. However, if those shots were left out of the movie and appeared on the disc in a different section, my rating would probably be a “C+” or better.
Fair? Probably not, but one could also argue that if it’s in the film itself, it no longer counts as an “extra”. In any case, I won’t really count the second DVD as a “bonus feature”, though I suppose I could.
As such, since we’ve seen so few overt extras on the VA, how could I justify the “B-“ grade I awarded it? I’ll acknowledge this is probably my most subjective rating ever, but the VA earned that fairly high mark mainly for one exquisitely thoughtful touch. If you watch the end credits that follow the acoustic version of “Born in the USA”, you’ll hear the full version of Bruce’s “Lift Me Up”. This song was recorded specifically for John Sayles’ Limbo and has appeared on nowhere else but that movie’s soundtrack album.
What makes the song’s inclusion all the more wonderful is that it continues well past the end of the credits. However, the DVD’s producers don’t truncate the tune to fit their needs. Instead, we get a black screen for the song’s final two minutes and 45 seconds. All that, and it’s presented with the standard choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 or PCM stereo sound! No, the quantity aspect of this DVD’s extras isn’t high, but the addition of this obscure but lovely tune went a looong way for a fan like myself.
It’s this kind of touch that makes Bruce Springsteen: the Complete Video Anthology/1978-2000 such a terrific compilation. Sony Music easily could have just copied the old 1988 video package onto DVD and sold a bunch of copies, but they made the package a much more special and all-encompassing program. Bruce never embraced video to a terrific degree, but it’s still great to see the changes through which he has gone over the last two decades, and this set depicts those movements nicely.
Although the quality is erratic, the visual images on the DVDs largely looked quite good. When they seemed problematic, the concerns were almost always the fault of the source material; the videos we find seem to have been well-transferred. Audio quality is even better, as the vast majority of the clips sounded clear, deep and rich; the original recordings appeared to be duplicated accurately. Although the VA lacks a wealth of extras, what we find seems thoughtful and valuable.
Ultimately the Video Anthology falls into the category of “must-have” for anyone with any interest in Bruce. Die-hard fans like myself will snap it up without a second thought; it provides a lot of excellent material that did not previously appear on video. Less-obsessive fans will also be very pleased with this package. It functions as a de facto “greatest hits” program; of the 18 songs on the 1995 Greatest Hits album, only three - “Badlands”, “Blood Brothers” and “This Hard Land” don’t appear here in some form, and those last two were technically “bonus tracks” and weren’t actually hits. Add to those 15 tunes a slew of other great songs and you have a total winner.
The Video Anthology currently stands as the best package of this sort currently on the market. Although it lacks the slew of extras found on the Beastie Boys Anthology, it makes up for that with many more videos. On Bruce’s release, we get 32 videos compared to the Beasties’ 18 tracks. Bruce’s set is also a pretty complete package, whereas the Beasties’ set leaves off videos from their License to Ill period. Other factors related to preference will be affected by your taste. I’m about 10,000 times more fond of Bruce’s work, but that’s me. Objectively, it’s a close call, but I think the VA is the best music video set on the shelves - it’s an excellent piece of work.