New Order Story was previously released in the USA on both VHS and laserdisc. It was made in 1993 and detailed the rise, and eventual fall, of the group known as New Order. No discussion of New Order would make sense without looking to its roots in a band called Joy Division though so here's the quick version. Joy Division was a dark and moody group led by a man named Ian Curtis. He committed suicide 25 years ago and the remaining members of the band, Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris, and Peter Hook continued on under a new name (which has been explained under various reasoning over the years). Joy Division was anything but top 40 so most of its audience in the USA was from college radio and clubs. As the band became a name on its own terms, settling in on a new wave style using synthesizers and electronic effects, with the group adding Gillian Gilbert and Phil Cunningham as the roster changed a bit.
Their videos were also known for artistic vision rather than the usual fare offered up on MTV, using directors that weren't familiar with the popular cable channel or even the music of the band. This was in part to keep it all fresh and the results often stand up decades later with a few exceptions that make me wince whenever I see the usual VH1 "crap music videos of all time" (or whatever the title is) since I know New Order will get some airplay on the show. The music itself relies heavily on a drum beat and the mentioned synthesizers with a lot of people observing that many of the songs sound alike. I think that was the nature of the music industry at the time but it produced a lot of danceable music.
The New Order Story has been released in an edited cut domestically and a much longer cut elsewhere. I checked numerous sources and I believe this version refers to the uncut, unedited, version as originally directed by Kevin Hewitt, lasting 138 or so minutes. There was a lot of footage of the band as they sang various versions of their songs but also interviews with the people behind the scenes that added so much more depth to the documentary. The songs in order on the DVD were:
The songs were sometimes interrupted or otherwise narrated over in the course of the documentary but it was a compelling view into the life of the band over their years of existence for me as I never really followed the behind the scenes adventures of the group in their heyday (I distinctly remember all my fellow New Order aficionados dropping them from play lists after the soccer song, World In Motion, came out but to this day, I stop everything to listen to Bizzare Love Triangle, Blue Monday, and my personal favorite, True Faith, when they air on television or the radio). They were always trying to stay out of the limelight and allow their music to do their talking for them, much like their contemporaries the Cocteau Twins. In a sense, they inspired a lot of other bands to use the new technology and expand its use but they also managed to revive an interest in music as art (including their album covers) too. The documentary alone was worth the price of admission but I was most interested in the second disc of the set that contained the videos, A Collection. Here are the tracks in order on the lengthy DVD:
Paris – Beijing
I wish every band had a similar release like this since too many have been found wanting, from the technical deficiencies of Pat Benatar's collection of video hits to the truncated ZZ Top release, I can safely say that New Order: Item was worth a rating of Highly Recommended for fans of the band, fans of interesting music from the 1980's, and those who want to see a colorful evolution of the music video format over the years. The only people that will probably not enjoy this that much will be the hearing impaired but the visuals alone will still be worth a good rating, even for them (there aren't any closed captions here).
Picture: The New Order Story documentary was presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen color. It's my understanding that all previous versions of the show were done in full frame (1.33:1) so this marks a positive change in the show. Made in 1993 as a low budget documentary, the show had plenty of grain and visual flaws but managed to capture the spirit of the band quite well. It certainly looked better than the OOP laserdisc I saw it on years ago so fans of the band can look forward to it on that basis alone. I saw no addition of compression artifacts or video noise, making me believe the DVD was mastered nicely too. The A Collection disc was presented in the original 1.33:1 ratio full frame color, as the videos were made in. I saw these originally on MTV and on state of the art club systems in the 1980's (well, many of them) and they looked very good here, unlike far too many works by other recording artists of the period). Some of them used animation techniques and other effects that are still ahead of the curve compared to modern performers.
Sound: The set had two choices for sound, a new 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround track or a 2.0 PCM (pulse code modulated) track. The surround track was very well done with nice separation and enhanced spatial characteristics. I'm sure if the band were able to completely remake the audio for the tracks, they'd be able to do even more with them but it sounded very good or better in all cases (keeping in mind how old some of the videos are and how they were made on limited budgets decades ago, they held up extremely well in fact).
Extras: With two full discs of material, I wasn't expecting a lot of extras and that's good because there weren't a lot of them to offer. The best of the lot was a booklet written by Michael Shamberg in June of 2005. It listed the tracks with their information but also provided an overview of the band that was somewhat closer and more personal than the documentary could ever have hoped to be. He dedicated it to the band's now deceased manager, Rob Gretton, and I suggest fans read it for the insights he has (if you go to his personal website, you can get a lot of background on the video's from the band; Michael being the producer of most of them is in the best position to tell their stories). The other extra was the "personal playlist" that allows you to pick up to 8 selections and listen to them over and over again. Both discs came in a box with minimal artwork and each disc was separated by a standard DVD case, each side having art or a commentary.
Final Thoughts: New Order: Item was a very interesting release for me since I was a fan of the band's work over the years. I know that some people think of the multitude of one hit wonder bands when they think of the 1980's (Kajagoogoo anyone?) but if ever a pop band managed to fuse many influences in a manner that allowed them to remain danceable, it was New Order. Further, their lyrics and artistic influence on others continues to this day and with the body of their work put together in this 2 disc set, many of you will find it well worth the Highly Recommended rating I gave it. Fans of the band can look online to find numerous musings, essays, and discussion of its work so I kept it to a minimum here but check this one out if you like music on DVD.