This new "2-DVD Set Collectors' Edition" featuring two Marvin Gaye programs is actually a re-packaging of two previous Gaye releases, the documentary What's Going On: The Life & Death of Marvin Gaye and Greatest Hits: Live in '76. Nothing new has been added, so if you already have these discs, then you are all set. If you don't, this is a good way to score a couple of solid productions showcasing one of R&B's greatest singers.
The 60-minute 2005 film What's Going On is the lead on the first disc. It's a fairly concise but informative overview of the crooner's career, with particular attention paid to the contradictions that plagued his life. Raised by a strict father who was a Pentecostal preacher and a cross-dresser, the film posits that Gaye spent the rest of his life trying to find a balance between the intense spirituality he was raised to have and the carnal pleasures he would later discover. Through his early career at Motown and his mid-period artistic breakthroughs in the 1970s, and on into the drug years and his tragic end in 1984, dying at the hands of the same father that he felt he could never please, the movie covers the full extent of Gaye's journey, all the ups and downs and the successes and failures.
What's Going On is built around interviews with Marvin's two wives, his friends, his colleagues, and his family, with an actor's readings of excerpts from interviews with the singer used as narration. Best of all, though, the documentary is liberally seasoned with recorded songs and live performances so that the man's artistry is never lost. For a performer who used his music as therapy, often unable to separate the onstage persona from the private person, this is essential. It also keeps the production, which can be a little dry, from being bogged down as the darker elements of Gaye's life take over the story. Some of the dramatic reenactments are a little unnecessary, but these are limited, and mainly from the less-documented time periods: childhood and the final days.
Disc 2 holds a concert special called Marvin Gaye Greatest Hits: Live in '76. Recorded in Germany and running 52 minutes (the box incorrectly says 60 minutes), it features the singer in a smooth, sensual, soulful mood. As the title implies, the set list includes a variety of his more popular songs, as well as some that are maybe not so well known. A lot of the bigger hits (read: older material) is put together as medleys, and chestnuts like "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" and "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)" get new arrangements to fit Gaye's then-contemporary, less pop-oriented sound.
The concert as a whole is excellent. Gaye is backed by a full band, who make all of the songs sound robust. It takes the singer a couple of tracks to get warmed up, and he seems to strain to hit some of the high notes throughout, but once he launches into "Let's Get It On," the performer comes fully to life. The clear joy he feels while on stage makes it an equal joy to watch, and his smile could light up the theatre all on its own.
Visually, Greatest Hits: Live in '76 isn't anything fancy, filmed with a pretty straightforward multi-camera set-up. It's Gaye's leprechaun-green suit that makes the show look particularly dated, though. Then again, it was the '70s, so what do you expect?
The full tracklisting for the concert: 1. All The Way Round 2. Since I Had You 3. Come Get To This 4. Let's Get It On 5. Ain't That Peculiar 6. You're A Wonderful One 7. Stubborn Kind Of Fellow 8. Pride & Joy 9. Little Darling (I Need You) 10. I Heard It Through The Grapevine 11. Hitch Hike 12. You 13. Too Busy Thinking About My Baby 14. How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) 15. Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) 16. What's Happening? 17. Save The Children 18. You're All I Need 19. Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing 20. Heaven Must Have Sent You 21. It Takes Two 22. Ain't No Mountain High Enough 23. Distant Lover
What's Going On has a pretty good 16X9 video transfer. Both older footage and newer material is clean and clear, and outside of some weird time-lapse problems in some of the interview with Berry Gordy, I didn't see any problems or glitches.
Marvin Gaye Greatest Hits: Live in '76 is full frame (4:3), and it looks like it was probably mastered from a video source (it's only ranked DVD 5). The image is mainly pretty clean, with only a little surface noise. There were a mere two instances where I noticed a flickering line across the top of the screen. The overall image is a tad grainy, and there are times when wavy lines can be discerned running across the screen. Still, at least it's not beat up.
Again, this new coupling of these two features actually brings together two previously released discs that were originally dropped in 2006 and 2007. There is nothing here to indicate that these versions are any different than the previous single-disc releases. They haven't been remastered for this release.
Both features have a stereo mix, with What's Going On in Dolby Digital and Marvin Gaye Greatest Hits: Live in '76 in PCM stereo. The concert sounds just fine, though it does lack in the simulatd live atmosphere we might expect from more contemporary recordings.
The main feature on What's Going On is subtitled in French, Spanish, and English.
The extras are all on DVD 1 and go with the documentary.
First are deleted scenes from the interviews, eight in total and covering just over sixteen minutes, featuring people from the movie, including Lamont Dozier, Kim Weston, and Martha Reeves.
Second is 22-minutes of extra live performances: 1. Let's Get It On 2. Medley: What's Going On / Save The Children 3. Medley: Hitch Hike / How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) 4. Distant Lover. Except these aren't extras, these are actually the same performances from the German Live in '76 concert, so a total disappointment.
A folded insert features track listings and details of the extras, as well as liner notes. The clear plastic case is slightly thicker than a normal clear plastic holder. There is a single tray for each disc, with the one inside the front cover being on a hinge so that the booklet can fit underneath. The second disc nestles inside the back cover.
Recommended. The full retail of these two programs when sold separately is $27, while this new "collectors' edition" prices Marvin Gaye - What's Going On/Greatest Hits Live in '76 at $20; so no two ways about it, the new packaging is a bargain for Marvin Gaye fans who have not purchased these DVDs. Both of the programs are a little slim, not even reaching two hours before the extras on What's Going On is counted, so this is really the best way to get the most bang out of your buck. The material itself is also pretty good, with What's Going On being a solid examination of the singer's career and the 1976 concert showing the artist at his commercial peak. If you're a fan already, you know you will enjoy it, and if you aren't hip to Gaye's music, this package is a good primer to get started.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent projects include the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat; Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, a loopy crime tale drawn by Dan Christensen; and the horror miniseries Madame Frankenstein, a collaboration with Megan Levens. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.