Only diehard devotees of Green Day are likely to be intrigued enough to check out not one, but two documentaries of the chart-topping punk-pop band. Indeed, the two-disc Green Day: The Boys Are Back in Town is less an exploration of the group as it is a celebration of their music. While the tone and pace are pleasant enough, the biggest handicap here, and it's a formidable one, is that one of the docs features no music from the Berkeley, California-based trio.
Such are the evident travails of being an unauthorized biography. The makers of The Boys Are Back in Town inform you right up front that the rockumentary (isn't that just a fun word to use?) will not feature any Green Day music or original interviews with the band members. Nevertheless, an honest disclaimer doesn't necessarily translate into compelling filmmaking. Just as one cannot imagine a documentary about World War II without a single clip of wartime newsreel footage, it approaches folly to try chronicling a rock 'n' roll band when you don't have rights to use a single guitar lick of your subject's catalog.
Thankfully, the second disc documentary, Under Review 1995-2000 The Middle Years fares better. In that doc, which focuses on the group's albums more than it does biographical information, the filmmakers apparently were granted permission to make modest use of Green Day music videos and concert footage. The clips are interwoven with a surfeit of talking head interviews.
While some of the interviewees who make up the bulk of the documentaries -- various Bay Area musicians, music journalists, deejays, etc -- are insightful and come equipped with anecdotes, none of it really compensates for the dearth of actual music.
And I'm speaking as a Green Day fan. Incorporating archival photos and some home movies, The Boys Are Back in Town and Under Review do deliver the core facts about the outfit. Formed in the San Francisco Bay area, the band -- guitarist-vocalist Billie Jo Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tré Cool -- first achieved local stardom after releasing a couple of records on the Lookout! indie label. Buoyed by that success, Green Day hopped to a major label, Reprise, which resulted in its 1994 breakout album, Dookie. Propelled by the raucous energy and infectious hooks of tracks such as "Longview" and "Basket Case," the record sold more than 10 million copies and put the band at the fore of a punk resurgence, albeit one with a decidedly pop bent.
The albums that followed, including 1995's Insomniac and 1997's Nimrod, showcased Green Day's knack for hooks and clever songwriting, a musical sensibility that placed the band far ahead of many of their punk-minded contemporaries. And the group certainly spawned its share of less-inspired imitators (I'm looking at you, Blink-182).
But Green Day's career milestone to date, 2003's musically ferocious and politically charged American Idiot, gets no mention in The Boys Are Back in Town and only some token nods in Under Review. Its absence, even in the form of a hasty postscript, is weird, since the album is easily the group's greatest artistic accomplishment thus far.
And let's be honest, it isn't exactly as if Green Day has either the riveting backstory or cultural relevance to warrant an in-depth examination. What is front and center with Green Day is its music.
Both documentaries, presented in full-frame, have the serviceable, if flat, look of home video. There are some slight moiré effects and muted colors, but the DIY aesthetic seems appropriate for a documentary about a punk-pop rock band.
The 2.0 audio track gets the job done for what are, essentially, talking head-heavy documentaries.
Most of the supplemental material is found on Disc Two, with the first disc featuring only a perfunctory photo gallery and discography.
Disc Two boasts Green Day: The Next Move? , a six-minute, 55-second patchwork of interviewees speculating about where the band goes from here. More interesting is what the DVD touts as the hardest interactive Green Day quiz in the world ever. Thrown in for good measure are biographies of those interviewed for the documentaries.
The Boys Are Back in Town and Under Review 1995-2000 The Middle Years are solid rockumentaries ultimately undermined by the conspicuous absence (particularly on Boys) of Green Day music. This is worth a look for fans, but it's hardly indispensable viewing.