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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Depeche Mode: 101
Depeche Mode: 101
Warner Music // R // November 11, 2003
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Randy Miller III | posted November 20, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
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The Documentary

101 is a very fitting title for this 1988 documentary of the UK's Depeche Mode. First of all, the majority of the footage takes place during the (final) 101st concert of their successful Music for the Masses tour at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. However, there's another meaning, too: it's an excellent lesson about the band's cultural position in the late 1980s.

First of all, I must admit I'm not the biggest Depeche Mode fan out there. I own and enjoy several of their albums, but I just missed the boat for the 80s-era of the band. The first album of theirs I bought was 1990's Violator, released just a year or two after this documentary was filmed. Although I have gotten several of their albums since that time, I never got the chance to explore their back catalogue. So while I'm a little new to the music itself featured here, at least I know the band itself. Therefore, this was quite an interesting trip to see a whole new side of a band I was used to seeing in a somewhat different light.

After the 1987 release of their Music for the Masses album, Depeche Mode embarked on the previously mentioned world tour. In hindsight, the title of their album couldn't be more fitting: this concert covered a lot of ground, and a lot of people showed up. In fact, you could say that 1987-88 was the year that Depeche Mode really hit it big in several countries, including America. Once again, this film features tons of behind-the-scenes footage of the band on the road, preparing for this final concert on their tour. It's a very interesting look inside the minds of the band members themselves, although it seems rather dated despite having only been released about 15 years ago. Maybe it's the hair.

Directed by D.A. Pennebaker (music documentary extraordinaire, and perhaps most famous for directing The Monterey Pop Festival), 101 is a mixed bag. It's very interesting for hardcore fans, and is most likely a favorite of anyone who attended a Depeche Mode concert from that tour. However, it seems a bit light and fluffy at times, almost like a Road Rules episode that the band crashed...only much more funny. Still, I think that was the intention here…to capture the nervous, light-hearted, exciting, sometimes-blurry moments associated with a stadium-sized concert. On the actual music end, 101 captures the energetic feel of the performances, and is one of the more professional music-related recordings for its time---even while maintaining its raw look. That's hardly a surprise, though: Pennebaker had been doing this for years. Even though he went on record as saying he didn't know much about the band prior to filming, it still paints a fine picture of Depeche Mode in the latter days of the 80s...if you'd never seen it before (like me), it'll surprise you.

However, if you're the type of fan who's worn out your old VHS copy of 101, this DVD will be a virtual gift from the gods. Featuring an all-new 5.1 remix of the music itself, as well as some nice extras, this is the definitive version of the documentary. Let's see what's on board here:

DVD Contents

Disc One
- The complete film by D.A. Pennebaker, Chris Hegedus, and David Dawkins
- Optional Audio Commentary by the band members and filmmakers (absent are filmmaker David Dawkins and band member Alan Wilder)
- Audio Options: 5.1 Surround, PCM Stereo, or Commentary

Disc Two
- Live at the Pasadena Rose Bowl, June 18, 1988
- Exclusive interviews with Dave Gahan, Andy Fletcher, Martin Gore, Daniel Miller, and Jonathan Kessler
- Interviews with the fans: Christopher Hardwick, Oliver Chesler, and Jay Serken
- Everything Counts: Official promotional music video
- Audio Options: 5.1 Surround or PCM Stereo (concert only)

Quality Control Department

The video is remastered nicely. Presented in the original 1.33:1 fullscreen aspect ratio, there's a good amount of clean-up work done here, though the film still looks raw. There's a moderate amount of grain and dirt present, but the overall look is excellent and never distracting. Colors are bright and look very natural, and blacks come through perfectly (although some of the darker scenes are a little washed-out). Overall, this was a fantasic job, and should really thrill fans with worn-out VHS copies.

The audio is also excellent. As mentioned before, you get several choices: 5.1 Surround or PCM Stereo for both the main feature and the concert on Disc Two. Both sound pretty darn good, but I'd have to give the edge to the new 5.1 remix. While some purists may now hate me, it's hard to deny that 5.1 Surround captures the feel of a live concert sound more accurately. It never sounds forced at all, and is a great listening experience overall. While it would also have been awesome to here a DTS track (I'm thinking back to Criterion's excellent presentation of The Rolling Stones' Gimme Shelter), what we get here passes with flying colors.

Quality of Extras:
The extras themselves are very substantial. The audio commentary with (most of) the band members and filmmakers was a good listen, and adds yet another level of detail to this presentation. On Disc Two, the Rose Bowl concert itself is a wonderful addition. While some may argue that the concert is incomplete (a few songs are trimmed), we should be happy with what's here. The promotional video is interesting, but the Exclusive Interviews are especially nice. For those not sure about 'Interviews with the Fans', it's basically catching up with some of the fans featured in 101. My favorite of these interviews was with a guy that made a rather funny insult directed towards Guns 'N Roses on film, only to meet Axl Rose at the premiere (whoops!). While it may seem like overkill, these "catching-up" sessions really help establish a sense of history. If anything, I'm sure everyone would like to forget their bad haircuts, though.

Menu design and presentation:
The menus were perfect! Both animated and still footage were featured in the background, while Depeche Mode's Pimpf played in the background (a song featured several times throughout the main feature). Menus were easy to navigate, and really held everything together. The packaging was also well done: sepia-toned photos adorn the digipak foldout case and outer slipcover. A booklet is also included, containing photos and more information. Overall, the presentation was excellent, and is but one of the highlights of this release.

Should anything else have been included?
I can't really think of much. Obviously, it would have been nice to see the entire Rose Bowl concert, but it's still pretty meaty for a "bonus feature". I was pleasantly surprised with everything else included, especially the Audio Commentary. With that said, virtually all the bases were covered well, so I can't complain (and neither should you).

Final Thoughts

101 remains a very important landmark in the career of Depeche Mode, and really captures the final gasp of the 80s experience. While this movie is a subject of much argument within the band's fanbase, I thought it was very well done. With the addition of several excellent bonus features, it'll be hard for any music fan to overlook this release. This is very modestly priced for everything included, so Depeche Mode fans should be advised to toss those old VHS tapes away…this is the version you're looking for. For new and long-time fans alike, 101 comes Highly Recommended.

Randy Miller III is a part-time cartooning instructor based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in an art gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.
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