Sound: C+ Extras: C Program: B-
Videotape was invented in the 1950s, but it really took
off when TV went full color. By the
late 1960s, cutting-edge shows as diverse as Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In,
Sesame Street, several game shows, several talk shows, and a new
generation of situation comedies beginning with All in the Family best
defined the new look in television.
Film was still being used heavily, but video went beyond TV when Avant
Garde artists and even some filmmakers (like Jean-Luc Godard and Andy Warhol)
would try out the format.
By the debut of the original Saturday Night Live in
the mid-1970s, tape was in full swing all over the air, and off as VHS &
Betamax had just been introduced to the public at large. Michael Nesmith’s Elephant Parts (1981)
represents the next stage of development of what could be done with video,
including the rise of Music Video. Now,
along with Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video and a few other daring programs too
racy to be shown on TV, video had escaped the confines of just broadcast
purposes. VHS & Betamax had been
with the consumer public for a few years at this point, so they even understood
a world outside of the networks, if they could afford it.
The Mr. Mike program was even created by the late
comedy writing genius Michael O’Donahue, who helped make the original “Not
Ready for Prime-Time Players” Saturday Night Live possible. It was the idea that you could take more
risks after a certain hour, especially late night, which gave us such
shows. That eventually got a theatrical
release, despite being shot totally on old analog videotape. Elephant Parts, parts of which are
filmed, had the same expectations.
Instead, it became a minor classic, in terms of its grasp of fragmented
media, Music Video, and as one of the first critical successes that did not
require TV broadcast. It lead to way
for the (usually lame) straight to video trend we see now.
When it debuted, there were those who still thought of
Nesmith as a member of the manufactured Beatles clone, The Monkees. Though not the worst band or TV show ever
prefabricated, there were many viewers and critics who were not going to give
Nesmith credit, no matter what he did.
The snob critics might have been more complementary if they knew what
White out was or that his mother had invented it, but the most ignorant have
their views printed forever in their hack reviews.
Nesmith takes his years on The Monkees, the
above-noted influences, and his experience on the grossly underrated Monkees’
feature film Head (1968) to make Elephant Parts possible. Every convention and limitation of the
medium is commented on or challenged that he can fit into its 62-minutes-long
running time. Nesmith co-wrote every
single skit (and stars in the vast majority of them) with director William
Dear. Like Kentucky Fried Movie
(1977) and Coming Attractions (also 1977, released in 1980, aka Loose
Shoes and Quackers), the many skits are more hit than miss, and were
daring then. Today, the politically
correct crowd would be nearly launching a federal lawsuit (pointlessly) over
the content, but that is part of the fun.
It turns out Nesmith has more talent than he ever got
credit for, and if his funniest moments with The Monkees does not bare that
out, his best work here does. To explain
any of the 41 skits would be to potentially ruin them, but Nesmith and his cast
of really jump in there, giving their all in some often fascinating and funny
pieces that still hold up remarkably well.
The drug references are the ones that date the work the most, but even a
couple of them have something funny to offer.
It also works as a time capsule that ultimately reminds us how much
better TV could be back in the day by spoofing the very conventions that made
it so endearing during its last golden age.
The full screen image is a combination of filmed and
videotaped work that is meant to look as choppy as TV in its day, for which it
succeeds well. Color looks good, black
and white looks like the real; thing, which we do not see anymore. There were at least two
cinematographers/videographers shooting this.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo is actually in Pro Logic surround, which is
impressive for such an early TV production.
Of course, filmed series like Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet
have been remixed for 5.1 sound, but this is a low-budget work that does not
look as cheap as it was. The sound is
dated, but not as much thanks to the encoding.
The only extras are a brief stills gallery and a new-to-DVD Nesmith
commentary where he reflects on the program and its participants 22 years
The program was made and released by Nesmith’s Pacific
Arts video company, who took on the earliest PBS Home Video incarnation, only
to have a mammoth lawsuit with the company.
He won the battle as of presstime, and it seems all his company covered
outside of PBS is now finding its way on DVD through Anchor Bay. That includes many Wim Wenders feature
films. Nesmith’s good taste went beyond
even the making of Elephant Parts, but it is a program you will like if
you like to laugh. Just don’t paint the
playing side of the DVD with White Out!
- Nicholas Sheffo