The Beach Boys And The Satan:
I thought it, Don Was said it, and this hour-long German TV program had it in mind all along. What a bummer, man, is all I can say. Youngsters might not get this, except for my bro Felix, an old soul if ever I knew one, and I'm just a wannabe too, but many of my heroes lived it, and like HST saw that salty limning, where the high-cresting wave of the Summer of Love '60s broke and sucked back into the sea.
Something of a German version of VH1's Behind The Music, Pop Odyssey in 1997 put together Der Beach Boys Und Der Satan, (the German title) a programmatic version of a salt lick for you cows of '60s music (I'm one). It means if you like to ruminate on musical glories gone by, of a particularly surf-y variety, you'll giddily lap up this offering, no matter how schooled in the matter you are. Or maybe not; I've certainly heard or read plenty of what's presented in this mix of 1997 interviews and archival footage, but somehow it all seems new, fresh, or at least still thrilling to me, and hopefully if you love Brian Wilson as much as I do, you'll feel the same.
Starting at the roots of surf music, vintage clips of goofy movies like Beach Blanket Bingo merge with Dick Dale's thunderous opening to Pulp Fiction, establishing the whys, wherefores and protean power of the Californian Craze. Jan and Dean make an appearance before The Beach Boys ultimately eclipse everything. And as we tool along happily in our Woodies, we watch the Wilson Brothers rise, duke it out with the Beatles, become subsumed by the Summer of Love and its aftermath, and by the last 15 minutes of the program, get seriously bummed by what Charles Manson et al did, including their psychotic, tangential relationship to The Beach Boys vis-à-vis Dennis Wilson. Like I said, bummer, man.
I mean, it's a serious bummer, but as I was thinking, and Don Was points out, it's all a big ball representing what happened to the '60s peace and love movement: giddy feelings of euphoria and freedom followed by a horrible crash. Wilson climbs into bed for a year after burning out on drugs and self-hate, hippies become junkies become bums, and Manson gets his chippies to literally stick a fork in it. Fun's over, kids! But while it's bubbling, what a joy. The immense talent of Brian Wilson shines through in multiple audio and video clips from the era. And listening to producer/ musician Was wax rhapsodic while sitting in front of the dove-shaped pool his producer/ resurrector career has brought him just helps raise those Good Vibrations goose bumps. Or is it listening to Pere Ubu/ Two Pale Boys singer David Thomas's staggering version of Surfer Girl that gets under the skin of Wilson's genius? For my dollar, '70s clips of Wilson at the piano knocking out versions of The Warmth Of The Sun or Surf's Up from the once-legendary, now finally realized (and thus less than Platonically perfect) album Smile are what makes me think this is a program I might revisit more than a few times. Forget about that crazy man and his brainwashed sex slaves, someone's always around the corner to corrupt and destroy. When I watch The Beach Boys And The Satan, I'll note The Satan only takes up about ten minutes of time at the end. Me, I've got the warmth of the sun within me tonight.
This is a television broadcast program full of archival clips, most of which will be to Beach Boys fans as Reese's Pieces are to E.T. (just trying to prove how uncool and behind-the-times I am). That said, it's a full frame 1.33:1 ratio picture of wildly varying quality. 1996 Interview segments with Don Was, Kim Fowley, Wilson himself, and numerous other lights of the California music scene are clear and sharp, with good colors (though I could do without Fowley's wardrobe) while the rest certainly show their various ages. The concern is less for visual quality - though no clips are so degraded that they're unbearable - but more about content, and you the fan win big in that regard.
Not much in the way of audio processing information is given, so we'll Call it Dolby Digital Stereo and just enjoy the fact that you can hear everything perfectly clearly. Of course source audio for the musical clips varies from fair to very good. My complaint comes from Fowley's weird guitar-accompanied interview-song narratives, in which he reveals himself to be a weird smarty-pants. It's tough hanging out with musicians, I tells ya.
No extras are included on this DVD.
This concise hour-long documentary plants The Beach Boys and Brian Wilson squarely in the middle of the surf music scene of the '60s and beyond. From dizzying highs (LSD and number one singles) to catastrophic lows, (Spahn Ranch and Sharon Tate) it's a thoroughly entertaining and engrossing, Wilson-centric abstract of an era as huge and sunny as all of California. Great interviews and fabulous clips make this bare-bones release something serious fans will want to revisit, while even regular music-heads and '60s fetishists will get a serious charge, making me howl; Recommended!
- 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