It's no big secret that when the pop/rock group America burst on the Top 40 scene in 1972, it's because a lot of people thought Neil Young had a new song out called "A Horse With No Name." Often chided by critics for being derivative (first of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and then later, when they were working with producer George Martin, of various Beatles, notably Paul McCartney), America nonetheless tallied up a string of significant singles and album sales through the early 1980s, despite the departure of founding member Dan Peek in 1977.
This 1979 Central Park concert finds the remaining two original members (Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Buckley) in energetic and enthusiastic form, aided by Dennis Dickey on vocals. Unfortunately the concert film is a vestige of a bygone era, with late 70s tricks of the trade like freeze frame, time lapse and the like frequently cutting away from the actual concert footage itself. While some of this is fun (the candid shots of people in the Park especially), a lot of it seems gratuitous and disruptive to the flow of the concert.
Director Peter Clifton obviously wanted to liven up the visual proceedings with frequent "opening up" shots, which include various vistas of New York, an in-studio snippet of a recording taking place, as well as stock shots of San Francisco (for one of the few cover tunes America essays, "California Dreamin'"), Los Angeles and a desert (for "A Horse With No Name," of course).
While the band sings and plays extremely well, there's nothing truly exciting here for non-America fans. They of course cover all of their big hits up to that time ("You Can Do Magic" would be a few years in the offing), as well as a couple of covers (as mentioned above). Bunnell and Beckley are fresh-faced and in fine fettle, and Dickey seems hopped up on some strange brew that repeatedly makes him jump up and down and instigate clapping in the audience. But it all has the faded aroma (pot, most likely, due to the many shots of people getting one toke over the line, so to speak) of a bygone era and will likely not captivate those who find America passe.
The enhanced 1.78:1 image is acceptable, nothing more. It has the graininess and darkness so typical of live footage shot in that era. The stock footage is pretty bad, especially the San Francisco segment.
There's a real difference to be heard between the Standard Dolby and Dolby 5.1 soundtracks. The Dolby 2.0 sounds muffled and severely compressed, while the 5.1 is nicely opened up, with good highs and lows. The DTS option is fine, but to me showed no significant difference from the 5.1.
Director Clifton opines in occasionally pointed comments on a commentary track, which touches on not only the making of the documentary itself, but also the music industry of that time.
This re-release will be fun for America fans, who will probably want it in their collections. Anyone else with a passing interest will most likely be satisfied with an evening's rental.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet