"Beastie Boys Video Anthology"

Porn does it right and so do the Beasties: The best, most obsessive rock video set ever produced also makes great use of the DVD "angle" feature.

Published January 29, 2001 8:00PM (EST)

"Beastie Boys Video Anthology"
Directed by Nathanial Hörnblower, Spike Jonze, others
Starring Michael Diamond, Adam Horovitz, Adam Yauch
Criterion Collection; original full screen
Extras: Band and director commentary tracks, extra scenes using different angles, remixes, photos, storyboards, lyrics, subtitles

Sooner than later someone was bound to produce a DVD that is essentially nothing but extras. The "Beastie Boys Video Anthology" is as close as you can get. The collection features 18 videos of roughly three minutes each -- less than an hour of back-to-back content. But there's so much additional stuff -- commentaries, alternate takes, storyboards, remixes -- that the "Anthology" takes up two discs. ("The Wizard of Oz," by contrast, with loads of documentaries, audio tracks and cut material, fits on one disc.) The accumulation is a fan's delight and an example of just how far you can go with DVD technology. It's also, hands down, the best, most obsessive rock 'n' roll video set ever produced.

In their best videos, the Beastie Boys and their directors -- chiefly Nathanial Hörnblower and Spike Jonze -- have made little movies that spoof film genres. Perhaps most famously, "Sabotage" reproduces the look and feel of 1970s cop flicks. There's also "Intergalactic" (Japanese robot B-movies), "Body Movin'" (based on the 1967 Italian-French film "Diabolik") and "Hey Ladies" (a valentine to the pimpin' Dolemite). The lesser-known and older videos are mostly one-note theme pieces, gracefully executed. "Ricky's Theme" features the three rappers dressed up as old men playing basketball with some neighborhood kids. "Holy Snappers" clips together Super 8 footage of the superyoung Beasties in the early 1980s. The incredible "Shadrach" uses splotchy animation to turn a live concert into a moving painting. Almost all the videos, like Beastie rhymes, are packed with so many details and in jokes that they're worth watching a few times.

The most striking visual feature of the DVD collection is all of the additional camerawork. Generally only porn videos have found a reason to use the DVD "angle" feature, which lets you switch between different footage on the fly. Here, you can use the feature while watching a video to switch among up to nine different cuts. For example, in "Shadrach" you can look at just the animation, the original live footage or a superimposition of the two. It's harder to get to the alternate music tracks on the fly, but there are zillions to choose from. The 18 songs come remixed 51 different ways, including live, a cappella and by Moby, Peanut Butter Wolf, Micky Finn and dozens of other artists. (A handy card provides a guide to all of the features, but the title menus are so clever that you don't really need it.)

There are two commentary tracks that can be played with all the videos. (Bonus: Turn on subtitles and you get the lyrics.) The first is the band's and it's mostly worthless, like watching someone else's slide show: "That's Mike's sister's cat," there's so-and-so's apartment, "that's my Spanish teacher." The commentary track featuring a roomful of video directors and Beastie Adam Yauch is a bit more informative. Spike Jonze commands the affair: What was this video about? How long did it take to shoot? Who is that? Jonze also poses as an intern from the production company who prank-calls some of the directors, starting out serious and ending with questions like, "What are you wearing?" He's so silly, and he has so much energy, that you can see immediately why the Beasties like to work with him -- and why they seem to be having so much fun in all those videos.

By Jeff Stark

Jeff Stark is the associate editor of Salon Arts and Entertainment.

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