When we speak about the '60s - and those of us from a certain age bracket and generation still do - we tend to forget that other countries experienced their own wave of counterculture insurgence as well. While we imported most of the Summer of Love's soundtrack, America wasn't the only nation with hippies, happenings, and high minded university students determined to change the world. As with all spheres of influence, we only know about ourselves because that's all we ever concentrate on or hear about. But in the mid part of the Peace Decade, Britain experienced in own explosion in radical social rethinking. Beginning with yearly nuclear disarmament displays (the CND marches), continuing through a controversial poetry reading by Alan Ginsberg (and others) at the Royal Albert Hall, and culminating with a concert known as The 14 Hour Technicolor Dream at Alexandra Palace, the entire movement was summed up with a simple set of elements - the burgeoning underground, the UFO club/experience, and a house band known as The Pink Floyd. Thanks to the fascinating documentary that takes part of its name from the seminal experience, we can revisit the UK's most influential event of the nation's post-War reawakening. It's not always complete, the story is worth telling.
It all started with a group of visionaries. They wanted to change the way the citizens of Britain, and in particular their own youthful peer group, got their information. Convinced the standard media channels and institutions of higher education were literally lying to the people, broad minded individuals like John "Hoppy" Hopkins and Barry Miles began the London Free School. Before long, they were sponsoring Beat writer from America and musical performances. As an extension of their connection to the growing underground, they started UFO. A weekly club happening, the house band for the communal coming together was a trippy jam collective called The Pink Floyd. Building a real reputation as sonic provocateurs, frontman Syd Barett and bandmates Roger Waters, Rick Wright and Nick Mason used feedback, reverb, and any available light show to illustrate their haunting, hallucinatory sound. With a management team that saw big things for the group, Floyd found an audience eager to hear them play. As part of an ongoing desire to fund their ideas, the 14 Hour Technicolor Dream was born. An all day/all night music and art experience, it would come to represent the high water mark, and the beginning of the end, for the UK counterculture.
Sometimes, an idea is so inherently interesting and unique that no amount of filmmaking falderal could mess it up - not even a standard talking head documentary with limited archival footage and endless minutes of middling mental archeology. For all its information, A Technicolor Dream is often a very dry, very drab experience. It tells its story in halting, half-complete anecdotes, attempting to bring it all back into the center once the final statements are made. As much about the rise and commercial success of early Pink Floyd than the actual UK underground, the scope of this film is almost its undoing. Imagine an American director taking on Haight-Ashbury, the yippie/hippie movement, and the Monterey Pop Festival all in one 90 minute narrative - and then add in a history of the Mamas and the Papas for good measure. Stephen Gammfond, the main creative force behind the scenes, seems content to try, and for the most part, he just barely succeeds. Though each subject gets a far too cursory glance, the insights provided are enough to keep us engaged. Besides, when was the last time you got to look at another country's reaction to the radical movements of the '60s?
Still, many will come to this presentation hoping for some perspective on Floyd, their fine first incarnation, and the man who made their psychedelic pop such an important era influence. Barrett remains an endlessly fascinating subject, something that no one medium could possibly comprehend fully. Google his name and see the stunning array of fan sites and analysis. The late great - and certifiably insane - singer/songwriter truly left his mark on old school UK quirk. Unfortunately, the subject of Syd comes up sparingly here, and former bandmates Waters and Mason aren't much on talking about him. They give what must be by now perfunctory plaudits about their fragile former friend and leave the legacy at that. The music the band made is sprinkled all throughout A Technicolor Dream. Sadly, it is scissored up and presented in piecemeal fashion. Finally, there are some who complain about the actual archival material. Many have argued that a previous semi-documentary, Tonite Let's All Make Love in London presented most of this footage before. While it's clear that very little actual film was available to illustrate the events (a discussion of Notting Hill ends up utilizing modern video of the locale), the borrowing appears forgivable.
For the chance to see a theater overcrowded with young people desperate to hear new voices speak, for the opportunity to witness a blitzed out John Lennon wander around the Ally Pally experience, to understand how a stiff upper lipped nation broke out of its post-World War II shell and started experimenting with life all over again, A Technicolor Dream is an invaluable, sometimes incomplete primer. It meticulously walks us through the time, the place, the people, and the possibilities that came with a social revolution, and implies the many reasons why it didn't last. Many of the living participants are forthcoming and incisive, even if Roger Waters argues that he remembers little or nothing about his participation in it. The focus on Floyd will probably inspire fans who thought the group first broke through with that weird Wizard of Oz soundtrack, Dark Side of the Moon, and one can never get enough of the Fab Four - or at least songwriting wizards Lennon and McCartney - discussing the state of the "scene". As documentaries go, A Technicolor Dream is efficient if unfinished. The ideas it illustrates, however, remain innately captivating.
Typical of your standard Eagle Entertainment release, the tech specs offered on this DVD are pretty good. The 1.78:1, 16x9 anamorphic widescreen image is clean and crisp, the recorded interviews meshing well with news footage from decades past. There are very few defects (a little flaring here and there), but overall the transfer is terrific.
Oddly enough, there is only a Dolby Digital Stereo mix offered on this release. While old school Floyd was mostly a mono - or split high fidelity - experience, the lack of at least some minor remastering is sad. When the songs play, they sound very flat and rather tinny. They stand in sharp contrast to the newly recorded material meant to mimic the psychedlia of the time. At least the interviews are easily discernible, with subtitles for those of you flummoxed by arcane English accents.
Offering up two classic Floyd 'videos' - for "Arnold Layne" and "Scarecrow" - plus a performance piece for "Interstellar Overdrive", things on the added content front start off promising for this DVD. Happily, they get even better as we are treated to a collection of extended interviews. With input from Waters, Mason, Miles, former manager Peter Jenner and producer Joe Boyd, this supplementary material really helps fill out the overall documentary experience. In some ways, the extras are the best part of the entire Technicolor Dream presentation.
Flaws in filmmaking are easily forgiven when the subject being explored has a true sense of scope and importance. Such is the case with A Technicolor Dream. It takes on too much and doesn't do enough with what it manages to work in, but overall, it's a fascinating, informative document. Easily earning a Recommended rating, fans of Pink Floyd and individuals interested in the history of the counterculture movement worldwide will be instantly won over. Nitpickers and those who want some manner of transcendence with every factual story a motion picture tries to tell will have to settle for something less. There is definitely more than a saucer full of secrets here. The UK underground movement was loaded with interesting ideas and inspired individuals to see them through. That A Technicolor Dream decides to focus on too many of them for far too short of time is its major flaw. Otherwise, it's a very effective survey of England in the mid '60s.