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JACO-The Film (Blu-ray)

The Movie:

Not many people are aware of Jaco Pastorius, a bass player who tackled most every musical genre that he wanted to be challenged with, be it jazz, fusion, what have you. And if you haven’t heard of him, chances are he’s worked with a gamut of musicians, or influenced them, like Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, jazz legend Miles Davis or folk artist Joni Mitchell. Pastorius’ talent was only surpassed by his volatility, succumbing to injuries suffered from an assault at the age of 35. Friends, family and admirers remember the peaks and valleys of his life in a documentary entitled Jaco.

The film is co-produced by Robert Trujillo, bassist of Metallica, who was part of a separate documentary about his then-new bandmates in Some Kind of Monster). Featuring interviews from some of the aforementioned, along with Pastorius’ bandmates from Weather Report (where he experienced a good portion of success), we see the brilliance of Jaco’s creativity, but also the tragedy of a man trying to combat bi-polar disorder and alcohol abuse, which became part of a slow and eventual degradation of a powerful, creative talent.

One thing that was notable about Pastorius was that he played with a fretless bass, allowing him more flexibility in attaining chords amongst other advantages. Perhaps it’s best summarized by the last interview subject in the feature; Jaco played the music in the air, while everyone else played the notes. He had a knack of capturing the abstract at times in an amazing manner, and that’s what the film attempts to show, serving as 105 minutes of admiration and occasional regret.

The film does a fine job of showing why people to this day appreciate Jaco’s talent, but the segue to his inevitable decline is also given a fair amount of time. Along with video of showing his incoherence, which became increasingly frequent through the years, the film includes phone messages from Jaco’s friends, talking about his needing help, or getting into trouble worse than that in the months before his death. The film (directed by Stephen Kijak and Paul Marchand) shows us the beginning of the end early on before coming back to it late in the film, along with his children’s painful memories of him at times, including one of his sons, who sees him sleeping on his park bench ‘home’ as a child in a heartbreaking story.

With a film like Jaco, or a similar film on an unfamiliar subject, a big challenge of it is to answer the question of investment for the viewer (‘why should I see this?’), which I think they accomplish, but it seems like a halfhearted response. Basically the approach of bringing in peers to explain WHY the center of a documentary is as revered as they are by using more modern figures to explain it is a little tiring at times. Along with the interviews with Flea and others, we also see some of the more technical aspects of why people liked Jaco. I liked this and would have liked to enjoy it more, but not enough focus was put to it for my tastes.

It’s a minor qualm, as both Jaco the subject and Jaco the film come out better for introducing more people as to why Pastorius is so respected, even three decades after his death. Seeing his issues and free spirited nature is worth checking out, and his technical and improvisational abilities are with little objection. He remains one of the best bassists for a reason.

The Blu-ray:
The Video:

The film is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen and in high-definition using the AVC codec. Generally it looks good, with the contemporary interviews possessing a good amount of image detail and color reproduction. The source material does through in stills, home movies and 4:3 video production footage and handles all of them well without any additional image processing or haloing that would otherwise distract from the image. The film is a labor of love and it shows.

The Sound:

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless track is just as up to the task. The soundtrack isn’t immersive or involved with things like channel panning or directional effects, but the interviews are all well-balanced and the music sounds clear as a bell, and you can hear the plucking that Jaco does on the occasional song or two. Not overly dynamic, but it does the job.

The Extras:

A plethora of additional interviews and outtakes (1:39:22) which include the previously mentioned interview subjects along with Herbie Hancock, Carlos Santana, Les Claypool, Sting, Geddy Lee and Bootsy Collins, among a few. They talk about recording and/or touring with Jaco, and what was appealing about his technical and creative abilities. Having all the other interviews here is nice but somewhat redundant to the film.

Final Thoughts:

Jaco is a nice look back at a fleeting artist with enormous talent and refused to accept being labelled, despite his best efforts to do otherwise. With recollections from those who knew him and those who didn’t, but admired him, it’s a nice look into an interesting life. Technically, the disc looks and sounds fine, and the additional interviews are good also. Definitely worth checking out.

What Do You Think?

Blu-Ray Reviews

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Burroughs: The Film (1983) (Blu-ray) Criterion Collection

Please excuse Judge Gordon Sullivan while he replaces his typewriter ribbon.

A 1-of-a-kind non-fiction portrait.

William S. Burroughs sits astride the 20th century like a malignant, creative cancer. His fictional function is justifiably well-known, and his literary themes, strategies, and style have influenced generations of writers. But what makes Burroughs so exciting is the way that his work—perhaps far more than any other author of the 20th century—influenced so a lot of items outside of literature. Bands are named after his work—The Soft Machine, Steely Dan—and he is influential in films and audio art as effectively. It’s no surprise, then, that he’s also 1 of the far more documented authors of the 20th century as properly. There have been numerous article and documentaries, along with appearances by Burroughs in films not strictly about him. Part of that legacy is Burroughs: The Movie, a beautiful gem from the people at Criterion.

Back in 1978, filmmaker Howard Brookner contacted William S. Burroughs (then in a single of his much less visible moments) to document him as a college project. Right after that initial series of meetings/interviews went nicely, Brookner worked more than the subsequent 5 years to flesh out the film to feature length. He sought interviews with Burroughs co-conspirators and admirers, from Patti Smith to Allen Ginsburg. The outcome is a film that tries to paint a far more impressionistic portrait of Burroughs rather than providing a strictly biographical overview. It languished for 30 years before Brookner’s nephew re-discovered the film and had it restored.

William S. Burroughs is a character of the highest order, and like other fantastic artists of the 20th century, his most enduring work was his life. From the reasonably properly-to-do life in St. Louis (exactly where he inherited each a small fortune and oddly Midwestern values) he bummed about for a couple of decades (like stints at Harvard and Columbia) ahead of settling into a life as a writer and (ultimately) a celebrity. He was completely willing to contain drug addiction and homosexuality in his books, helping to make both appear cool. Along the way he released spoken word collection that introduced listeners to his distinctive dry wit and outrageous persona.

Burroughs: The Film largely documents that persona. Brookner does an admirable job getting Burroughs to speak about a variety of subjects. We hear about his childhood, his addictions, his homosexuality, and even his shooting of wife Joan Vollmer (in the course of a game of William Tell, as the story goes). Burroughs is also very much able to run by way of some of his outrageous “routines,” providing a brief rant on a militia to protect homosexuals. There is, nevertheless, always the sense that Burroughs is inhabiting his character. This isn’t a knock on the film—I’m not sure we’d want or want a documentary on the “actual” William S. Burroughs. But these hunting for an unguarded look at the (in)renowned author will probably be a bit disappointed.

Though we have a surprising quantity of footage of Burroughs from his life, what makes Burroughs compelling is the other figures who seem before the camera. James Grauerholtz was Burroughs companion for a number of years, and is nonetheless his literary executor. Handful of knew him far better in the course of his life, so seeing him here is a good treat. Allen Ginsburg was saddled with the Beat tag in his youth, significantly like Burroughs, but also outgrew it. His reflections on a life with Burroughs are fascinating. Patti Smith appears as buddy and someone influenced by Burroughs approach. Much less well-known names—but no significantly less crucial to Burroughs life—include Brion Gysin (with whom Burroughs pioneered his “cut-up” tactics) and Terry Southern.

Regardless of languishing for 3 decades, Burroughs has received a pretty all through restoration process to arrive at this Blu-ray release. The 1.33:1/1080p AVC-encoded image is extremely sturdy through, provided the limitations of spending budget and format. There is a little bit of dirt and a couple of spots of hair, but otherwise the source is in really great situation. Grain is apparent throughout, but handled effectively. Colors are appropriately saturated to the film stocks of the time, and black levels are surprisingly deep and constant. It doesn’t appear like a contemporary documentary by any stretch, but for a forgotten, indie documentary from 1983, this appears fairly remarkable. The set’s LPCM 1. mono track is equally impressive. Dialogue is practically constantly perfectly clean and clear, with only a couple of circumstances of it edging into distortion. Even these moments are just as most likely to be the supply as a difficulty with this track.

Extras, though, are exactly where this release shines, and arguably outstrip the function itself. Items kick off with a fascinating commentary track by Jim Jarmusch. Jarmusch has extended been a friend of the folks at Criterion, and he seems right here because he was the sound guy on Burroughs. He shares insights into the film’s origins, production, and afterlife. It’s a personal, engaging track. The second jewel in the set’s crown is a collection of outtakes from the film. At 69 minutes, it’s virtually as significantly material as the film itself and includes bits of interviews, Burroughs’ appearance at a convention, and Burroughs giving viewers a tour of his arsenal. Brookner seems in an archival interview discussing the film, and his nephew appears to go over his efforts to restore the film. We also get a Q&ampA from the New York Film festival that characteristics a number of participants discussing the film soon after a post-restoration screening. The disc also includes an alternate edit of the function that uses 24 minutes to offer you a lightning-quick portrait of Burroughs. It really is most likely not anything most people will watch a lot more than after, but it attributes some intriguing choices. Lastly, the usual Criterion booklet is a large, fold-out affair with a fantastic essay by Luc Sante.

The film suffers from a couple of issues. The most obvious is that Brookner starts out as a filmmaking student—a senior, sure, but not however a master documentarian. Some of the film feels rough unintentionally, as Brookner was still studying his craft. That may well also clarify the way the film does not seem to have a structure. Even though Burroughs is clearly renowned for his non-sequiturs and reduce-ups, it is a challenging method to master. It signifies that Burroughs usually bounces around with out any apparent rhyme or explanation, even though also not giving the impression of insight via juxtaposition that the ideal cut-up material can do.

Even though it possibly won’t have broad appeal outside those currently familiar with William S. Burroughs, Burroughs: The Movie is a great portrait of the author’s persona. The people at Criterion have completed their usual excellent job with an extras-packed Blu-ray that fans will want to own.

DVD Verdict