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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Music > Biography > Industry > Autobiography > The Greatest Ears In Town: The Arif Mardin Story (2010/Shelter Island DVD)

The Greatest Ears In Town: The Arif Mardin Story (2010/Shelter Island DVD)

Picture: C+ Sound: B- Extras: B Documentary: B+

In the arts, there are great people you rarely hear of and if you do, you might vaguely remember their names or possibly seeing their names in passing... somewhere. Some of them include some of the most important, talented people in the arts and entertainment. One place this applies is in the world of sound. Despite the claim by so many that they love music and that life would not be the same or as good without it, most making that claim are unaware how that music and sound occurs.

In motion pictures and even TV, there are people who need real skill and have to have real talent to record sound, dialogue, music and sound effects well, plus do location audio without botching it. Of the more complex films and even few great TV shows that get made, people who know what they are doing and care are behind some of the most impressive sound you hear. After these skilled technicians and engineers, there are a small handful who are masters of sound, including composers of music for both mediums. You have editors of image and especially sound like Walter Murch, you might have heard of Phil Spector because the producer became a star before his recent legal battles. You know Alan Parsons because of his group but he was a big music producer first. Even some singers and songwriters are also producers like David Bowie and Beatles fans know Sir George Martin was their real Fifth Beatle.

Then there are music geniuses who have literally invented and reinvented music itself over and over, innovating and creating amazing music that becomes the backbone of the artform and industry. Besides some o the names above, you might know Quincy Jones who was a musician before becoming a huge producer, but you are less likely to have heard of Tom Dowd, Jerry Wexler, Giorgio Moroder, Phil Ramone, Narada Michael Walden or the late, great Arif Mardin. The Greatest Ears In Town: The Arif Mardin Story (2010) is a remarkable and never-long-enough documentary on the life, work and legacy of one of the most important figures in music history.

Originally from Turkey, Mardin came to the U.S. and after some struggling, landed up getting desk work at one of the most important record labels ever and in their early prime: Atlantic Records. The owners eventually realized he had some talent and he started working on music, studying with the amazing Tom Dowd who had worked on The Manhattan Project and was a teacher, but was bored teaching dated materials (he could not teach top secret physics), so he became involved with music and Mardin was his biggest beneficiary. The company also had the first catalog of true stereo recordings, so they were on the rise.

Mardin soon made a name for himself producing a female singer who had been with Columbia Records who simply was not having hits or finding material that fit her best talents. The result was the rise of Aretha Franklin as the Queen of Soul. Mardin gave The Young Rascals their classic hit Good Lovin', handled the actual tapes of every artist at the label throughout the 1960s, brought out the best of Dusty Springfield by going down to Memphis with her and Wexler, he became a premiere producer of soul music and much more. He was just beginning.

In the 1970s, he helped Daryl Hall & John Oates find their naturalistic, updated blue eyed soul sound and they would eventually surpass the great Everly Brothers as the most successful duo in music history, then turned around and helped the already successful and respected Bee Gees find a new sound in falsettos (Barry & Robin Gibb are separately interviewed here) with the Main Course album that included the influential hit Jive Talkin' and set them on their course in being the number one vocal group of the 1970s and disco era with the biggest sales and charting since The Beatles. In the 1980s, he instantly grasped new Rap and Hip Hop trends in his remake of I Feel For You with Chaka Khan breaking in those artforms along with the success of his previous soul efforts over the previous decades.

And that is just a sample of the amazing career he had and landmark work he kept turning out over and over again, but co-directors Joe Mardin (Arif's son) and Doug Biro deliver much more than a chronological history of his music achievements, but cross that history with stunning interviews, a lively biography of the man himself, huge helpings of vintage clips, autobiography by way of Arif Mardin's own writing, interviews and studio work, plus seemingly (and rightly) endless tributes from the family and friends who loved and and still do. This meld together incredibly well and makes it one of the best music documentaries we have ever seen and we have seen some great ones over the years.

At the center of all this is a new Arif Mardin album bringing out a who's who of top names in the business to work with him. Seeing the man making music is incredible because he is at least three steps ahead of everyone on what he wants, how the song is written, arranged, should sound, will sound and he is one of those rare people (like Clive Davis or Ahmet Ertegun) who could hear a hit a mile way. But what he heard as pure music, his loved music and his grasp is the music equivalent of a Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, Francis Coppola or rare film scholar who understands the medium like few others on a genius level, so it is with added joy and fun that he professes his love for Film Noir.

That he was also a great guy and joyous human being shows the spirit of the man and how he managed to take all of his talent and back it up with that energy, which is why his music is some of the most important that ever has been recorded or will be recorded. It is one of the great untold stories of music, sound, heart, soul, art and success that has gone untold for too long. I'd list the other artists and brilliant people who also appear here and he also worked with, but I'll quit at this point so I don't ruin any more of the many, many surprises in store. The Greatest Ears In Town: The Arif Mardin Story (based on a hilarious song written and performed by longtime friend and collaborator Bette Midler in her Divine M form best) is a textbook example on how to make a great documentary. Don't miss it!

The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image is as good as it is going to get in standard definition, mixing vintage film and analog video footage with new HD footage and stills that are very efficiently exited for maximum impact and bringing the story more to life as a result. This deserves a Blu-ray release, which I would further encourage from the PCM 2.0 Stereo, which sounds really good and is presented with great clarity for this format and sounds good. In a lossless presentation, possibly in a 5.1 mix, this could only get better.

Extras include several clips of promos for and footage not used in the film, including alternate versions, but all worth seeing and especially after watching it, plus we get a terrific feature length audio commentary track by Joe Mardin (in lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo) that is easily one of the best of the year.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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