Lydia Lunch Video Hysterie: 1978 - 2006:
An extra feature in this set of mostly live videos of Lunch's work tells the tale. During a brief snippet of a radio interview, Lunch bemoans the many who comment that Courtney Love has taken on her mantle. Lunch with the takedown - Love copped some of Lunch's look and some of her moves, but Lunch doesn't play dumb, three-chord post-punk songs written by her husband. Plus, she's righteously mad that folks don't seem to have absorbed her message that she's worked hard for decades to lay down. That's America for you.
I'm probably in that group Lunch rails against. I'm mostly familiar with her from her movie work with Nick Zedd and Richard Kern - two of the New York Underground's notable directors. But Lunch's claim to fame really began in the late-'70s with her No Wave band Teenage Jesus and the Jerks. From the stuttery, rhythmic atonal squonks of that band she went on to collaborate with influential musicians from Jim Thirlwell to Rowland S. Howard. If you haven't heard any of these names before, you're probably not the audience for this 80-minute collection of mostly live videos.
Starting at the beginning we get a six-song set from Teenage Jesus, from a handheld video camera. Audio isn't great (to say the least) and the picture looks like what you'd expect from 30-year-old tape. Lunch's manner of singing will remind many of the plaintive caterwauling of the ladies from Sleater-Kinney. Next up are six more numbers with the band 8 Eyed Spy. The music is more 'sophisticated, 'groovy' and 'music-like,' but still very much in the vein of Teenage Jesus' angularity, harsh tones and general tumult. More (slightly better) handheld video and horribly watery audio (first selection only) accompany this early effort. Two songs from Lunch's collaboration with Howard, Shotgun Wedding, will have fans of the sun-baked aggressive weirdness of The Birthday Party somewhat pleased. Lunch is in fine performing shape, swaying with the emotionally miasmic sounds. A one-shot number with just Howard, Lunch and Howard's guitar lead us into a string of one and two song/spoken word snippets, with audio and video improving exponentially, while the quality of performances (from both Lunch and her sidemen) becomes much clearer. From Teenage Jesus' post-punk noise to collaborations with Terry Edward featuring spicy percussion with guitar and jazzy sax accents, Lunch's journey is all here.
Lunch's protean work at a base level combines punk and goth aesthetics with spoken-word ethos to essentially kick at the pricks. Her message is anti-patriarchy, anti-war, and all about accepting responsibility with teeth-bared, and as such is far more influential than anything Courtney Love did or will ever do. Women coming of age today may never have heard of her, but owe a large part of their new place in society (things like Rock Camp for girls come to mind) to Lunch's pioneering work.
This collection of videos, however, is strictly for hardcore fans of Lunch, other members of the No Wave scene, or performers of similar ilk/mentality. Save for an opening music video and a snippet of one at the end, these are all live recordings with varying levels of audio/video quality, and generally, unless you have the volume cranked, Lydia Lunch's vocals (the most important part of the package) suffer the most. If you're a fan, a music historian, or proponent of what we squares might call radical feminism, Video Hysterie is worth a preliminary rent before you buy.
Track Listing - Lydia Lunch with ...
TEENAGE JESUS AND THE JERKS
2. I Woke Up Screaming
3. Freud in Flop
4. Race Mixing
5. Baby Doll
8 EYED SPY
7. Sorry for Behaving so Badly
9. Boy Girl
10. Motor Oil Shanty
12. Run Through the Jungle
13. Blood Is Just Memory
14. Cisco Sunset
ROWLAND S. HOWARD
15. Dead River
16. Inverted Dream
TERRY EDWARDS & JOSEPH BUDENHOLZER
18. Solo Mystico
JOSEPH BUDENHOLZER & KAMILSKY
TERRY EDWARDS, IAN WHITE & JAMES JOHNSTON
20. Knives in My Drain
TERRY EDWARDS, IAN WHITE & MARC VIAPLANA
21. Hot Tip
22. Psychic Anthropology
DAVID KNIGHT & IAN WHITE
23. Violence is the Sport of God
24. Empty Signals
This video collection is presented in fullscreen 1.33:1 ratio, with quality ranging from really bad (but so downtown) for Teenage Jesus, to pretty darn good when Terry Edwards comes in to play. That said, even the good stuff is a little bit soft, but colors seem accurate (lots of colored spotlights, mind you) and there aren't any compression or mastering problems to be found. Considering the source material, this is about as good as you are going to get, and unlike your old Beta cassettes, this will last a long time.
Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 Sound are available. Not sure what good that is for the earliest clips. Obviously when sound was recorded from the mixing board, at least stereo separation becomes viable and important. Not having a 5.1 surround system, I'm not sure how surround is employed, though I imagine it makes the music more powerful. But, as with far too much live sound, vocals (for whatever perverse reason) get the shaft, and that seems to be the case for a good portion of these recordings. Crank it if you want to hear clearly Lunch's hypnotic, simmering pronouncements.
Extras commit the egregious error of improperly deployed apostrophes. First we get self-navigated screens with cover shots and title information for all of Lunch's CD's (sic) and DVD's. Her Books are touted in similar fashion. An auto-navigated Photo Gallery with music from the DVD plays for about 3-4 minutes and shows how much the camera loves Lydia (and vice-versa). Lastly Flashpoints represents an approximately 15-minute long auto-navigation summation of Lunch's career, starting with notable quotes reflecting on her importance, moving through many of the same photos from the gallery and clips of performance from each stage in her career, and culminating in some interviews including the one where she takes that well-earned shot at Love.
Lydia Lunch has had a large, undeniable and somewhat shrouded influence on not only socio-politics and feminism, but also on rock music in general. This career spanning collection of her rock and spoken word output is quite illuminating, and probably essential for ardent supporters. But those ills that most live-music videos are subject to are apparent throughout, with even the pro-productions towards the end leaving something to be desired where Lunch's vocals are concerned. You'll know by now if this is recommended for you, (it is) but for those more casually inclined or curious to learn, seek it out and Rent It.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com