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Saturday Night Live compliations have long been a hot video franchise for producer Lorne Michaels. I was in my middle twenties for the first five years of SNL and at the time it was the perfect show - sketch humor that made sense, irreverent jabs at commercial television, and great music. The fact that it was all broadcast live was a guarantee of value - just as with the Golden Age of Television, no retakes meant that we were seeing real raw performances. I remember tuning in for the first time in 1976 (I guess I was a year late) and seeing a new bunch of Muppets that didn't catch on. Madeline Kahn was doing a spoof of I Feel Pretty from West Side Story, but dressed as the Bride of Frankenstein.
This compilation represents well the years I watched, and might do the same for later viewers of the long-running show. Each disc in the 5-volume set is about 83 minutes long, with the musical guest spots interposed between chosen music-related skits. There are separate Music and Sketch menu pages to access each clip individually, which is helpful. The show uses guest hosts like Chevy Chase and Martin Short to introduce each segment. They're mercifully brief, as the comedy patter ranges from thin to obnoxious. But when the songs hit, it's nostalgia time. For many of us who didn't tune in to the show for years at a time, it's nice to be able to put faces on performers previously heard only on the radio.
Originally, each week's host introduced the featured musician or group, and the image would dissolve right to the song, sometimes in the middle of the first bar of music. The editors of this compilation cleverly use generic graphic 'bumpers' to jettison the original introducers and cover up the old transitions, making the songs flow smoothly.
By and large, the accompanying skits are well chosen. Steve Martin's Disco Tut shows off its terrific art direction and costumes, and Gilda Radner does her wasted punk-rocker act; John Belushi imitates Ray Charles and Joe Cocker, and Bill Murray sings Star Wars. Mick Jagger gets a lot of screen time, along with Wayne's World segments involving Aerosmith and Madonna. Perhaps others will find a lot of goodies to be missing, but I was surprised and pleased with what's here ... even though Madeline as the Bride was a no-show.
I didn't see a listing of the actual contents on the SNL site or anywhere else on the web, so I transcribed them from the menus:
Plus Sketches starring John Belushi, Steve Martin, Jane Curtin, Laine Newman, Gilda Radner, Chevy Chase, Paul Simon, Bill Murray, Andy Kaufman, Lorne Michaels, Dan Aykroyd and Mick Jagger
Plus Sketches starring Martin Short, Eddie Murphy, Billy Crystal, Ringo Starr, Stevie Wonder, Joe Piscopo and Rich Hall
Plus Sketches starring Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Aerosmith, Chris Farley, Patrick Swayze, Jon Lovitz, Harry Hall, Mick Jagger, Phil Hartman, Michael Myers, Chris Rock, Sting, Valerie Bertinelli & Eddie Van Halen
Plus Sketches starring Mike Myers, Mick Jagger, Dana Carvey, Madonna, Phil Hartman, Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, James Taylor, Rosie O'Donnell, Kevin Knealon, David Spade, Paul McCartney, Michael Bolton
Plus Sketches starring Matthew Broderick, Will Ferrell, Paula Abdul, Jon Lovitz, Kevin Spacey, Beck, Michael Palin, Garth Brooks, Joshua Jackson
Lion's Gate's 5-disc SNL: 25 Years of Music has a great picture and a really punchy audio track, as befits a performance-based disc. Although some of the video from the early years shows its age, the color and detail is uniformly excellent. The nicely-designed SNL performance setting always looks great, far better than when I tuned in live. A favorite highlight is Neil Young's extended 1991 performance of Rockin' In the Free World, an anti-Bush 1 and anti-Gulf War protest song. It now bounces back as a great anti-Bush 2, anti-Terror Wars anthem.
Each disc could surely hold more content, but if keeping the volumes under 90 minutes each is what allowed better encoding for pix and audio, there's no complaint from Savant. The only quibble is a detail: the music behind the menus is much louder than the average program content, so skipping around on the review disc was hard on the eardrums.
Savant can't comment on the packaging or its graphic layout & text, as the review was written from unpackaged check discs.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,