When you look at a list of the most influential bands of the last twenty years it's easy to do a double take when you see They Might Be Giants on the list. How could a quirky duo who sings about everything from a night light to string theory have had a huge impact on music? Like most things in life, it's all about timing. They Might Be Giants, a band made up of two guys who both happen to be named John (John Linnell and John Flansburgh) have ridden the waves of the music industry with a strong 'Do it Yourself' credo and little care for the conventional rules of 'The Biz'.
Success came early on for They Might Be Giants as they quickly built a following in the small clubs in New York in the Eighties. It wasn't long until They Might Be Giants got national exposure in the pages of People magazine, who featured their first album even though it didn't have a label backing and was only available directly from the bad via mail order. They Might Be Giants quickly caught the attention of MTV who put their very low budget video for 'Don't Let's Start' into heavy rotation, a first for an independent band at a time where hair bands reigned supreme on MTV.
Now the documentary: Gigantic (A tale of two John's) takes a look at the journey of They Might Be Giants, from their High School roots in Lincoln Massachusetts all the way through to the present. Gigantic has a fantastic mix of interviews, live concert footage and archival material. Director AJ Schnack does a fantastic job of picking people to interview who are both interesting and entertaining in their own right. The interviews flow seamlessly through out the film, when someone discusses something in an interview it's almost always followed by either clips from their live performance (at the Polish National Home Concert) or archival material. All the interview segments are kept short, so there aren't any scenes where people blabber on endlessly about a topic and none of the scenes feel self congratulatory or overly schmaltzy. In addition to the interviews there are several interludes with notable actors who do deadpan readings of some of They Might Be Giants lyrics including: Harry Shearer, Andy Richter, Janeane Garofalo and Michael McKean which show just how strange and interesting some of their lyrics can be.
In addition to great interviews, Gigantic has a really solid mix of both old and new concert/performance footage. I particularly liked how Schnack contrasts the classic They Might Be Giants songs as they were performed in the eighties by two guys and a tape player, to the current band where they're backed by the '3 Dans'. It shows both how much they've grown and the fact that after over fifteen years in the music business they've held on to the same core that they had when they were first getting started. I've seen so many documentaries chronicling the raise and fall of bands it's great to see a film about how a group of musicians have found success on their terms and definitely made me want to revisit and rediscover their music.
Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns is presented in 1.33:1, full frame which is it's original theatrical aspect ratio. The image was very clear and crisp especially for the interviews. Colors were rich and clean and film transfer was extremely solid even for archival footage.
Gigantic is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0, which is the same as it was theatrically. The audio is well mixed and balanced so there's no leap in volume between the quieter interviews and the louder concert footage. The audio from the live segments was extremely good, on par or better than several straight concert films I've seen.
I was literally blown away by the volume of extras on this disc. The disc has a section titled 'Features' packed with extras, one of them being 'Bonus Materials' which leads you on to ANOTHER sub menu with tons more. In all (not including the commentary) the special features clock in at just under 2 1/2 hours!
5 classic They Might Be Giants music videos including: Put Your Hand in The Puppet Head, Don't Let's Start, (She Was A) Hotel Detective, Ana Ng and Birdhouse in Your Soul. Each video has an introduction by the two Johns as well as the director Adam Bernstein. These intros were all pretty in depth and both give the context and back story for each video. Of these my favorite has to be Ana Ng, but it was a real pleasure seeing all these videos again after so many years
3 Videos for Brave New World: ABC's Nightline did a show on science and technology and asked They Might Be Giants to write music about the topics they covered. The result is 3 really fantastically inventive songs on subjects like weedy species, string theory and man vs. machine. The series is introduced by host Robert Krulwich who talks about how They Might Be Giants jumped at the opportunity to write songs about topics that most bands couldn't fathom singing about.
Raw Footage and Interviews:
In this section you begin to really get a sense of just how packed this DVD is:
Dr Worm Sound Check: A candid moment of the band doing a sound check, singing their song 'Dr Worm'. This is the kind of candid moment that doesn't really fit into a documentary but is interesting to see how the band is when they aren't really aware that their being filmed. (runs 4:20)
Guitarmageddon - They Might Be Giants band member Dan Miller talks to John Flansburgh an album he's planning on releasing on the net. Not all that interesting of a clip, just a couple of guys sitting around talking. (runs 2:26)
Knowing The Johns: An extended interview piece with the very sarcastic Syd Straw. She talks about her first meeting with the band and spins some tales. The footage of her in the actual documentary is a lot better, but this clip is amusing. (runs 3:25)
Station ID's with WLIE: Some footage of the band recording promos for one of their gigs at a radio station. Fairly funny and amusing stuff, especially when the takes they do go worse and worse. (runs 3:18)
Feelin' Bad in 94 Extended interview footage with Sarah Vowell (contributing editor to the radio show This American Life) who talks about a show at the Warfield Theater in San Francisco in 1994. An interesting anecdote (runs 1:43)
The Crying Girl Revisited: Extended footage of a VERY emotional girl who bawls at meeting They Might Be Giants at one of their record signings. An interesting look at what it's like to try to interact with an overwhelmed fan (runs 1:00)
Couples Love Cheese Steak Sandwiches: Extended interview footage of John Linnell who talks about meeting women on the road and an incident in Philadelphia and cheese steak sandwiches and a car full of girls. (runs 2:30)
WLIR Cowtown Performance: An extended clip of They Might Be Giants performing Cowtown at WLIR with an enthusiastic DJ trying to accompany on the maracas. There's a shorter version of this in the documentary, but it's nice to be able to see the whole thing. (runs 3:27).
On Factory Showroom: Josh Kornbluth (from Haiku Tunnel fame) talks about the album Factory Showroom. As always Josh Kornbluth is funny. (runs 1:00)
Full House Every Night: Concert footage with John Flansburgh talking about their next album and introducing the band. (runs 1:00)
Old Fashioned Show Biz Extended interview with Ira Glass talking about the piece done by Sarah Vowell on This American Life featuring the band on his radio show for Dial-A-Song. An interesting anecdote that gives some interesting back story. (runs 4:34)
With a Beat: Another quick snippet with Josh Kornbluth (runs 0:21)
Mexican Wrestling Masks: The two Johns talk about slipknot with Conan O'Brien and the entire genre of music from people with Mexican Wrestling Masks. Another nice candid moment (runs 1:52)
Papa's Got a Brand New Belt: John Flansburgh talks about getting a new belt. A random snippet. (runs 0:36)
McSweeny's: McSweeny's publisher David Eggers talks about the real McSweeny and how the two Johns made the McSweeny's theme song. Followed by the actual McSweeny song. (runs 4:09)
This is John and John: An outtake from one of the intros with the two Johns. (runs 0:20)
Live from the Polish National Home:
three songs performed at the Polish National Home Concert not included in the documentary including: They Might Be Giants (runs 4:19), Number Three (runs 1:37) and Fingertips which is extremely interesting to see performed live (runs 5:21).
Who is the head of that guy in the Videos?: Accessed on Features page by click the picture of the guy's head in the blue circle. A short feature on the image of the guy who appears in so many of They Might Be Giant's videos and who exactly he is. (runs 1:17)
This section contains what are essentially 2 deleted segments from the documentary. They both are extremely interesting and definitely worth checking out. Each have an option for Audio Commentary by Producer Shirley Meyers and Director AJ Schnack.
Growing Up in Lincoln: Fills in some of the gaps about the early years of They Might Be Giants. It's a very interesting segment and could easily have fit in the documentary. We learn in the audio commentary that it was cut for pacing. (runs 6:28)
Apollo 18 and Elvis Costello: A segment talking about a rocky patch in the relationship between They Might Be Giants and Elecktra records, after Flood when the record company wanted Elvis Costello to produce Apollo 18. Shirley Meyers and AJ Schnack goof around a bit, talk about the My Fair Lady DVD and why cut the segment. (runs 4:00)
Another entire sub menu filled with extras!!
Birdhouse in Your Soul on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson: The entire performance of Birdhouse in Your Should featured in the main documentary on the Tonight show, with Jay Lenno filling in for Carson. (runs 3:14)
Mr. Me on Joy Farm: Old video concert footage of They Might Be Giants from the eighties when they were just 2 guys and a tape player. (runs 1:47)
Boat of Car & Meet James Ensor Instore Performance: Extended footage from They Might Be Giants instore performance at Tower Records in 2001 to promote the release of their album Mink Car. Here they sing 'Boat of Car' and 'Meet James Ensor' and the crowd seems to love it. It's great to hear the song 'Meet James Ensor' as it's referred to several times in the main documentary but we never get to hear it until now. (runs 3:39)
Flood Promo: A promo video for Flood that's a collection of a number of little segments: First a quick intro and promo where the two Johns talk about their album and race through all the songs on the album. Next an appearance on British TV in 1989 where the snippet 'It's like Being the world's smallest midget' comes from. Then a complete acoustic version of the song Particle Man (which is briefly shown in the documentary, but is complete here), it's a rare treat and worth seeking out. It closes with a snippet of the song 'Birdhouse in Your Soul'. (runs 6:04)
This American Life: Both Sarah Vowell and Ira Glass appear through out the main documentary and this radio show is referred to a lot, so it's very nice to be able to listen to it in full. The Audio piece is called 'When The Telephone is Your Medium' and focuses on Dial-A-Call. (runs 16:20)
Nick Rocks: Clips from They Might Be Giants hosting the old Nickelodeon show 'Nick Rocks'. They read letters from fans, intro videos and promo Dial-A-Song. (runs 3:36)
Excerpts from The Fan Room: Snippets of They Might Be Giants Fans talking about their fandom, some fan snippets were used in the documentary and there are a ton more here. (runs 3:25)
Hide Away Folk Family on Joy Farm: Another snippet from Joy Farm, old video concert footage of They Might Be Giants performing 'Hide Away Folk Family (runs 3:31).
Original "New York City" by Cub: The song 'New York City' performed by Cub used in the documentary. Audio only. (runs 2:59).
Michael McKean: I Palindrome I: Another reading by Michael McKean not used in the film of I Palindrome I. (runs 1:09)
Flansy Stays in The Picture: Accessed by clicking on the picture of John Flansburgh talking on the phone. A short audio sketch which is silly and fun. (runs 1:15)
A full length scene specific audio commentary with Director AJ Schanck, John Flansbeurgh, John Linnell and Sarah Vowell. The commentary is filled with back story about the band, stories about some of the videos and performances and the people who are interviewed in the documentary (as well as some random tangential stories). The two Johns are definitely the stars of the commentary and a lot of it is conversations between them and AJ Schnack about the film. Sarah Vowell pops up occasionally to pepper up the conversation. In all the commentary is very entertaining, but probably more of interest to They Might Be Giants fans than the casual listener.
Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns is an extremely entertaining documentary. It has an excellent mix of interviews, archival footage and live performance. Director AJ Schnack does a fantastic job of picking the right people to talk to and keeping the documentary moving along. The real success of Gigantic is that it plays well both for fans of They Might Be Giants and people who may be less familiar with their music. The Gigantic DVD is literally filled to the rim with extras, and most of them are worth checking out. I particularly enjoyed the deleted scenes on the disc which were more deleted segments than anything else. The deleted scenes both complimented the main documentary and were interesting in their own right and should not be missed. It's a no brainier to give Gigantic a DVD Talk Collector's Series rating for fans of They Might Be Giants, it's hard to remember a more comprehensive documentary and DVD about a band. For everyone else, familiar or not with They Might Be Giants I'm Highly Recommending this DVD it's very enjoyable and definitely worth checking out!