Rock and Roll 'rockumentaries' can be an excellent way to enjoy a favorite group, but very often the trimmings - interviews, docu background - can get in the way of what we go to see and hear, the music and performances. Some of the most frustrating times can be had with compilation docus about 'The British Invasion' that for brevity's sake bring their star groups on in chopped-up excerpts. There are a couple of Who performing videos from the 90s that are fine in their way, but they're not the same as shows from the 60s and 70, when Pete Townshend had his hearing, Keith Moon was still alive, and the group's attitude was at its caustic best.
1979's The Kids are Alright was an attempt by a fan/insider to gather all the existing footage of the Who performing, just so that when they stopped touring, the impact of their great stage presence wouldn't fade and be lost. I saw the film in the early eighties, and it delivered almost two hours of pure Who - almost too much, but also enough to really get a grip on the boys' appeal and raucous personalities. The good news was that it was basically a series of performances spread out over ten years, as uninterrupted as they could be: from television, concerts, the film Woodstock, foreign television shows and even collectors' 8mm movies. The bad news is that in New World's grainy prints it didn't look very good, and the sound quality was all over the place.
I never saw it on video, but the VHS and laser were said to be eyesores that time-compressed the film to make it fit on one laser platter. Now Pioneer has done a phenomenal job restoring the show for DVD - fans of The Who are going to flip when they see the quality and the extras.
Starting with My Generation, The Kids are Alright ties together about twenty performances, most from library footage and a few shot new in 1978. Interspersed within are some odd bits of film, some new scenes, and a splattering of aggravating television interviews. The largest of these, with harried host Russell Harty, is serialized throughout. Townshend makes a point of never answering questions and calling his own work rubbish when he's one-on-one. He does come out with the cogent point that the group can't go on doing windmill guitar licks and destroying equipment forever, exactly why the performances needed to be preserved.
Painstaking audio restoration by Ted Hall of P.O.P. Sound has revived even the worst of the audio, and opens up the stereo tracks to a shimmering 5.1 . It is all, of course, very loud. The only fragmented songs are from European television shows, where the band is lip-synching to their records anyway.
MY GENERATION The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour 1967, I CAN'T EXPLAIN Shindig! 1965, BABA O'RILEY shot for the film 1978, SHOUT AND SHIMMY Fifth National Jazz and Blues Festival 1965, YOUNG MAN BLUES The London Coliseum, Covent Garden 1969, TOMMY CAN YOU HEAR ME? Beat Club, Hamburg 1969, PINBALL WIZARD, SEE ME FEEL ME, MY GENERATION Woodstock 1969, ANYWAY ANYHOW ANYWHERE Ready Steady Go! 1965, SUCCESS STORY Entwhistle home, 1978, HAPPY JACK New Action Ltd. 1966, A QUICK ONE WHILE HE'S AWAY The Rolling Stones Rock'N Roll Circus 1968, SPARKS Woodstock 1969, BARBARA ANN, for the film 1977, ROAD RUNNER/MY GENERATION BLUES Metropolitan Stadium Michigan 1975, WHO ARE YOU? promotional 1978, MY GENERATION Monterey International Pop Festival 1967, WON'T GET FOOLED AGAIN for the film 1978.
Pioneer's DVD of The Kids are Alright is a very friendly package. A fat booklet is included that lays out the basic facts of the film and the restoration. The original director had input, as did John Entwistle for the final remix. The picture looks excellent throughout, with ample evidence that even the rattiest clips were given the best possible digital cleanup. There are comparison demos of the sound mix between this new version and the old VHS master, and video comparisons as well. A lengthy docu shows the restoration process in detail - from examining elements to the digital clean up. At one point we see somebody putting a negative element up on an editing table - a no-no I've never seen done before - ?
Another interesting extra allows us to see a couple of performances using the ANGLE selector on our DVD machines. I'd forgotten about that feature, not being a fan of porn (honest). And by cycling through the AUDIO selector, we can hear John Entwhistle's isolated base line during a song. Both of those features are, well, really neat. There are other trivia quizzes and interviews that interested me less. They all looked to be quality goods and will surely interest more diehard Who fans. A full list of goodies is below.
As a seventeen year-old, I discovered Tommy and played my LPs and 4 Track Muntz Stereo-Pak tapes of Who records until they fell apart. I've only heard bits of newer remasterings of the original recordings; it seems The Who's earliest American albums were poorly manufactured. The Kids are Alright sounds really, really good. For a music DVD it's in the same league as Stop Making Sense.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Kids Are Alright rates: