To begin, caveat emptor: though Morrissey: From Where He Came to Where He Went--which has the further subtitle "With and Without the Smiths," if you really want to get unwieldy--may be a new product, but it does not contain new programming. What the packaging and the general marketing copy does not tell you is that this two-disc set contains two previously released documentaries, Morrissey: The Jewel in the Crown and The Smiths: Under Review. Knowing how obsessive Morrissey fans can be, I am sure the hope is that people who already have either of these discs will buy this reissue/repackage to satiate their need without realizing they've already bought both and feel deceived.
And if you just got that, then you're probably one of the intended victims.
Packaging sneakiness aside, on the material alone, this is a fairly good set for fans who might want a little extra Mozzer in their life, though the documentaries may be a little underwhelming to those who don't know who he is. The Jewel in the Crown show, which is inexplicably DVD 1 despite being "where he went" and not "from where he came," does little to usher you into the world of Morrissey if you aren't already well-versed in his career. It's one of the many unauthorized musical documentaries that are flooding the market these days that are comprised entirely of interviews with people who were tangentially involved but none of the actual musicians and, as a result, is entirely absent of music. Disclaimers as to Morrissey's disdain abound, both on the DVD box and before the movie rolls. Worst of all, though, is the half-assed music they throw into the doc' here and there to try to sound Morrissey-esque. The melody of my typing sounds more like the man's music than what's on The Jewel in the Crown. Not exactly the best way to sample the singer's wares.
That said, for those who do like Morrissey, The Jewel in the Crown is not a bad trip through the performer's post-Smiths solo career. Beginning at the break-up of the band and Morrissey's initial toe dips into the solo waters, and ending just following the release of his 2004 "comeback album" You Are the Quarry, the program tracks the ups and downs of his discography, working from album to album, controversy to controversy. Of note to those who want to know how things came together are producer Stephen Street and guitarist Vini Reilly, who disagree over who did what on the first record, Viva Hate; alleged "fifth Smith" Craig Gannon; the late Factory Records impresario Tony Wilson; one-time co-writer Mark Nevin; producer Clive Langer; sound man Grant Showbiz; and former bassist Jonny Bridgewood. Biographers David Bret and Mark Simpson also weigh in, as do various British journalists. A couple of these latter commentators tend toward the unctuous and the self-serving, particularly the smug and egotistical Stuart Maconie, who can't even keep the songs straight and yet has an opinion on all of them. There is a reason why most people hate critics. Hell, I should know. (Physician, heal thyself! How pompous you sound right now!)
The minute details to which the filmmakers go to fill up their time here means some interesting tidbits do come out. Then again, obscure can also mean boring. Do we really want a rundown on the cover design of Southpaw Grammar, an album cover so despised it's being dropped from the forthcoming reissue? Ooooh, stories about typeface. How exciting! Still, I am a nerd and this is my thing, so I can't actually pretend I was bored.
The Smiths: Under Review, a.k.a. DVD 2 and From Where He Came, a.k.a. "With...the Smiths" rather than "Without," is cut from much of the same cloth as the Morrissey solo piece, with the same commentators and quite often even the same interview sessions--though some outside critics are dropped (bye-bye, Maconie!), one or two picked up. Added to the line-up of talking heads this time is early Smiths producer John Porter and engineer Kenny Jones (no, not the Small Faces/Who drummer), influential radio DJ David Jensen, and journalist/Goldblade frontman John Robb.
Also added to the mix is actual music from the band! The Smiths most likely fall under some separate rights area than latter day Moz, and so we see the band represented mostly by TV performances and videos. This means that Under Review not only tells us what the band was like, but it gives evidence, making for a far more informative viewing. Ironically, this does detract from the minutia, so at times it feels like the documentary rushes through the group's history where The Jewel in the Crown was able to linger and dissect it all.
Still, the purpose of any good documentary should be to take a subject, open it up, and give people at least something of a primer on a topic they may not have formerly been hip to. You can't do that with a music film if you don't have the music. That said, and keeping in mind that this is a bundling of two already available movies, Morrissey: From Where He Came to Where He Went is still a nice bookshelf addition for fans. For the curious, you're probably better seeking The Smiths: Under Review out for a solo rental, but the baptized can go ahead and jump in.
Both documentaries are presented in a 4:3 full frame format and look fine enough for low-budget music documentaries. Nothing really to complain about outside of a touch of digital combing. These aren't exactly pieces that would win any renown for their cinematography, or even intended to be as such. "Oh, the way they lit those talking heads!"
Both shows also have stereo audio mixes that are decent, no distortion or levels problems, everything coming through clear.
DVD 1 extras are all text based and all perfectly useless: a Morrissey quiz, a discography, and an advertisement for some other unauthorized Smiths-related product. Yes, the veritable extra track and a tacky badge.
DVD 2 also has a quiz, more ads, and instead of the discography, "contributor biographies." It also has a short video piece (about eight-and-a-half minutes) featuring the commentators from the program sharing their opinions of the post-band efforts of both Morrissey and Marr.
Morrissey: From Where He Came to Where He Went is packaged in a cardboard digipack with plastic trays.
Recommended, but only just. First, know what you're getting. Do you have this already? Second, know what you're getting. Do you love Morrissey enough to sit still for a detailed discussion of albums like Kill Uncle? Do you even know what Kill Uncle is? The second disc of the set, The Smiths: Under Review, works as a nice overview of the influential band's short history, complete with samples from their catalogue. The first disc, Morrissey: The Jewel in the Crown, is only for the true believers.
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.