Change is inevitable, as is progress, but that doesn't stop people from trying to stave it off. One of the places progress is often most keenly felt (and fought against) is in major metropolitan areas, where city leaders can try to rejuvenate once-vibrant neighborhoods or discourage unsavory activities by calling for what's derisively referred to as "gentrification."
Director Dean Budnick's Wetlands Preserved: The Story of an Activist Nightclub tells the story of Larry Bloch's improbably fusion of cutting-edge club and grassroots-minded social activism that resulted in one of New York City's most beloved, controversial and landmark venues, the Wetlands.
Housed in a former Chinese food warehouse very near the Holland Tunnel, Bloch and his associates built a name for hosting shows featuring bands from nearly every genre conceivable as well as building community interest in such things as corporate responsibility, recycling and more.
Most importantly, the Wetlands was the proving ground for many of the Nineties' biggest bands, including the Dave Matthews Band, Phish, Blues Traveler and many more. Members from most of those bands return to sit for interviews and offer up fond reminisces of the notoriously hot, always crowded venue. Indeed, most of Wetlands Preserved's charm comes from the oral history-style presentation, which allows Budnick to string together literally dozens of talking heads, all offering unique perspectives on the Wetlands and what it accomplished.
While Budnick can get a bit cute with his graphics, Wetlands Preserved is a mostly successful look back at a club of which many may have not been aware. Certainly those that follow "jam bands" will have some knowledge of the Wetlands, since many acts of that persuasion set foot on the Wetlands stage at some point, but as a document of a New York City that doesn't really exist anymore, it's equally fascinating. Change is inevitable, but then, so is nostalgia. Wetlands Preserved: The Story of an Activist Nightclub illustrates the benefits of both.
Presented in a fine 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, Wetlands Preserved: The Story of an Activist Nightclub isn't without its problem spots -- mostly archival footage shot on videotape that looks washed out and fuzzy -- but all of the newly filmed interview segments are crisp, vivid and lacking in any glaring flaws.
It's a shame a doc so heavily focused on music couldn't be presented on DVD with a robust Dolby Digital 5.1 track; as it is, viewers will have to settle for this Dolby 2.0 stereo track that conveys the dialogue and copious amounts of concert footage with no major problems (again, some vintage material has drop-outs and distortion, but the newly created footage is fine). There are no optional subtitles.
Budnick's film clocks in at a lean 97 minutes, so it's not surprising there's excised material: 21 outtakes (playable separately or all together) are included, as are three live performances only glimpsed in the finished film -- an eight minute, 46 second clip of Frogwings (presented in rough-looking fullscreen); a five minute, 25 second clip of New Year's Eve 1997/98 (again in rough-looking fullscreen) and a five minute, nine second clip of Project Logic and Friends (presented in comparatively sharper, cleaner fullscreen). A photo gallery, along with a seven minute, 38 second featurette "Wetlands A to Z," an alphabetical list compiled by the club that names every band ever to play a set there, with trailers for On the Rumba River, To the Limit, Howard Zinn: You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train, Homemade Hillbilly Jam and Monumental and a 15-second ad for Relix magazine completing the disc.
Certainly those that follow "jam bands" will have some knowledge of the Wetlands, since many acts of that persuasion set foot on the Wetlands stage at some point, but as a document of a New York City that doesn't really exist anymore, it's equally fascinating. Change is inevitable, but then, so is nostalgia. Wetlands Preserved: The Story of an Activist Nightclub illustrates the benefits of both. Recommended.