This is a whopper of a rock documentary on the history of the prog-rock icons Yes, nearly three hours in length spread across two discs. Narrated somewhat blandly and uncomfortably by The Who's Roger Daltrey, the 2004 doc Yesspeak follows the band on their 35th anniversary tour of Europe, co-mingling concert clips with revealing interviews with band members Jon Anderson, Chris Squire, Rick Wakeman, Alan White and Steve Howe as the lineage, roots and meaning of Yes are scrutinized, discussed and explained. There's a lot of info here, and for fans of Yes this should be an easy recommendation.
For the rest of us, maybe not so much.
As a teen in the mid-1970s it was tough to avoid the impact of Yes, though at the time there were clear lines of demarcation when it came to being the follower of certain bands. Becoming a fan of Yes took a little more work, a few extra steps on the part of a music fan, as the band's complex and classically-imbued productions were much different than the material being spewed out by the other rock dinosaurs of the time (Stones, Zeppelin, The Who, etc). I did try to jump on the Yes bus a few times, but as much as I appreciated the musicianship their music always felt a little bloated and self-absorbed. Becoming an aficionado of Yes required more attention paid to it than I was willing to put in just to properly absorb and process it all. For me, the whole "prog rock" scene simply meant long, meandering pieces of music and at the time I didn't have the patience for all of that.
Decades later that holds true for a film like Yesspeak - directed by longtime Yes friend Robert Garofalo - which at just under three hours means there is way more here than I need or want to know about the band. Sure, vocalist Jon Anderson - whom I always suspected as being part elf - possesses one of rock's most endearing voices, and the immense talents of keyboard virtuoso Rick Wakeman is without question. Ditto for Squire (I did enjoy his 1975 Fish Out Of Water solo disc), Howe and White, each of whom bring a level of finesse that most bands could never come close to touching. It also means that three hours is about ninety minutes more than I need personally, but I can certainly recognize the fact that Yes faithful (and that just ain't me) will likely swoon over all of the up-close-and-personal material.
The film is broken up into general history (including the departure of key founding members), with the middle portion divvied into spotlight sections on each band member. I would imagine it is these individual segments that represent the meat-and-potatoes of Garofalo's doc. The interview segments are lengthy and in-depth, with the Yes men upfront and honest about the band's direction, their history, their personal lives and the like. Fan or not of the band there is little arguing that Garofalo's in-their-face access is the film's strong suit, and without it much of this would cover familiar rock-bio ground.
I may secretly applaud their longevity and talent, but that doesn't mean I want to watch a three-hour documentary on them. You decide where you stand, my friend.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is somewhat hit-or-miss, operating under the "when it's good, it's great when it's not it's not" sort of sliding scale. Interview segments tend to look the best (in a manner of speaking) as the extreme closeups of the band members reveal more facial details about Rick Wakeman (for example) than I really needed to see. The concert clips, on the other hand, suffer all sorts of soft-edged indignities, looking noticeably lackluster by comparison.
The documentary is presented with a pair of fairly decent audio mixes in either Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS. The talking head portions - which is the majority of the film - don't benefit as much as the intermingled performance clips, which come alive with deep bass and a very clean sense of instrument separation.
While the main doc is split across two discs, it is on disc two that only extras appear. It is an audio-only feature (augmented by still images) entitled Live Audio Set (02h:06m:05s), presented in Dolby 5.1 surround that presents an entire Yes concert. The concert set list contains:
Don't Kill The Whale
In The Presence Of...
We Have Heaven
South Side Of The Sky
And You And I
To Be Over/Clap
Rick Wakeman Solo
Heart Of The Sunrise
Long Distance Runaround
I've Seen All Good People
Yours Is No Disgrace
No Opportunity Necessary,No Experience Needed
Unlikely to win over new fans the 2004 documentary Yesspeak is made for the faithful, an insider's look at one of rock's most durable entities. Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS audio options are nice, but it is the up-close-and-personal with the band that should be the appeal for Yes-heads.