Back around the year 2000, Beastie Boys Video Anthology was the first Criterion Collection title that I bought. New to the DVD format at the time, I remember spending a night transfixed watching seemingly endless permutations of “Intergalactic” and “Shake Your Rump”, the first two songs on the first disc. When selecting a title for the Criterion Blogathon, Beastie Boys Video Anthology seemed the obvious choice. Not only does it shows the great variety of the “contemporary” side of The Criterion Collection, but it’s also an excellent example of their history of pushing the envelope of what could be achieved both technically and artistically in home video releasing.
In 1986, Beastie Boys made an audacious impact with their debut album Licensed To Ill, due in no small part to the boisterous videos for “No Sleep Til Brooklyn” and “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)”. They were a group renowned for making original and entertaining promotional videos and were justifiably awarded the Video Vanguard Award at the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards. Prior to Beastie Boys Video Collection, they had released a number of their videos via the VHS music video collections The Skills To Pay The Bills and Sabotage, most of the highlights of which were ported across to this release along with some tracks from their most recent album Hello Nasty. Having watched these VHS tapes numerous times, the unexpected limitations of that format was immediately apparent on watching this DVD release.
Beastie Boys Video Anthology collects music videos from Paul’s Boutique in 1989 through to Hello Nasty in 1998, when Beastie Boys were at the top of their game creatively. Paul’s Boutique saw the band move away from the juvenile, abrasive and, of course, wildly successful Licensed To Ill to immerse themselves in the possibilities of studio recording experimenting with multi-layering and sampling. With Check Your Head they picked up instruments and covered a broad spectrum of styles from funk to jazz to hip hop to punk. Ill Communication is possibly the high point of their career, extending the musical variety of Check Your Head with a greater maturity and complexity. With the addition of Mix Master Mike, Hello Nasty saw the band’s sound shift towards more electronic grooves with considerably more playfulness in the songwriting, making this an excellent party record.
Beastie Boys Video Anthology comes complete with an “Operations Manual” detailing the instructions of how to navigate the menus and access the various supplements. Although it looks a little quaint today, it gives a pretty overwhelming summary of the sheer volume of content there is to navigate across the two discs. The “Schematic Overview” offers two options on “how to watch this DVD” either as “Videos in sequence” or “Videos with supplements”. “Videos in sequence” offered the original audio and video presentations of the music videos in run order as any VHS would have at the time, but with the additional option of skipping tracks (which is pretty much mandatory for “Netty’s Girl”) and two separate commentary tracks to choose from. The commentary tracks are a mixed bag. The band commentary is a bit bland with them talking about whose dog is in which clip and so on. However, the so-called “Directors Commentary” is hugely entertaining with Adam Yauch and “Ralph Spaulding from The Criterion Collection” (who sounds a lot like Spike Jonze) discussing the videos and calling the directors for those clips not by “Nathanial Hörnblowér” (Yauch) and asking them about the videos before wandering off onto topics such as “what are you wearing?”.
“Videos with supplements” offers an immense, almost overwhelming quantity of extras. The most impressive of these are the variety of ways in which a number of the videos, particularly the Nathanial Hörnblowér ones, can be watched. The first video “Intergalactic” can be watched in nine separate video versions with six alternate audio mixes, with the addition of the two audio commentaries, there are 56 different versions of this video, clocking in at around four and a quarter hours. Although running through numerous variations of each video can be a little bit addictive, watching the raw footage of a single component of the clip used by Yauch against a mix of the song provides an interesting way to deconstruct each video. When available, my favourite alternate audio mixes are always the A Capella versions, these are generally a better match to the video, as well as being something I find really engaging. The last track, “Alive”, contains the most variations with nine video versions and seven audio mixes. The only vaguely frustrating things about the disc are the incredibly clunky menus across this release (which I’m guessing were probably fixed for the 2011 re-release) and a couple of menu options that don’t work correctly for Gratitude.
The best of the music videos on Beastie Boys Video Collection are amongst my favourite clips by any artist. The skill with which the band were able to mash up genres musically is effortlessly transferred across to their visual endeavours, with the videos encompassing numerous fictional narratives, live performances, montage, whatever the hell “Netty’s Girl” is supposed to be and lots and lots of three shots through a fisheye lens. However, where the band excels is in their various pastiches of Sixties and Seventies film and television.
Beastie Boys Video Anthology appropriately kicks off with “Intergalactic”, the signature work of Nathanial Hörnblowér’s oeuvre and clearly (probably not) the inspiration behind Pacific Rim. Featuring not only a fight between a giant robot and a giant octopus monster, but bad wigs, fake moustaches and scientists, as well as fast and slow motion three shots through a fisheye lens. Nonsensical and highly entertaining, Intergalactic is a wonderful take on Sixties Japanese monster movies and probably the video that benefits the most from deconstructing through the alternate video versions.
Adam Bernstein’s “Hey Ladies” video is a pretty hilarious mash-up of Seventies disco and Blaxploitation cinema, owing an obvious debt to Dolemite. It’s a clip filled with random characters: From mariachi bands to karate classes to human clocks to “beatnik chicks just wearing their smocks” . However, I think it is the disco floor fake butt dance-off and Mike D’s O-face which separate “Hey Ladies” from pretty much every music video, well, ever.
Probably as a result of my long-standing love of Mario Bava’s Danger: Diabolik, my favourite video of the bunch is probably “Body Movin’”. Integrating close-ups of the band against footage from Bava’s baffling 1968 crime thriller, Nathanial Hörnblowér crafts a surreal narrative complete with criminal masterminds, sword fights, decapitations, helicopters, car chases, exploding planes and underground lairs all in the pursuit of a top secret fondue recipe. My only quibble is that for some reason the Fatboy Slim remix of the song was used for the video rather than the album version (my preference), although using the audio options this is easily fixed.
The Spike Jonze video for “Sabotage” is one of the big selling points for this collection and notably makes up the bulk of the cover image. An affectionate and hilarious take on seventies cop shows, “Sabotage” is filled with all of the bad wigs, fake moustaches, car chases and mock credits (“Starring Nathan Wind as Cochese”) that you could possibly ask for. It is one of those rare music videos that is endlessly rewatchable and where every image from it is instantly recognisable. For me “Sabotage” is particularly unique as it is the only video I can name that has genuinely made my appreciation of the song better… The song itself is filled with bluster and little substance, but as it is now so difficult to listen to “Sabotage” without the exuberant images of the video coming to mind, it is always given a depth that isn’t really there in the song.
Of the rest of the videos, “Shake Your Rump” sees the band discover the fisheye lens performing to cameras at three different heights and angles. The fisheye lens is a staple across these videos, most notably on the first track (“Intergalactic”) and last track (“Alive”). “Gratitude” wears its influence of Pink Floyd: Live At Pompeii so clearly on its sleeve that “Pink Floyd London” is cheekily painted on the back of their equipment. “So What’cha Want” makes what is essentially three guys walking along a path in the woods pretty entertaining, although my preferred version of the video (Soul Assassins remix) is only included as alternate audio, not as the actual video. Shadrach brilliantly turns a live performance into a painting, a process that can be deconstructed using the different angles available. “Ricky’s Theme” sees the band made up as old men shooting hoops against some kids. “Holy Snappers” collects together really old footage of Beastie Boys when they were starting out as a punk band. “Root Down” is a perfect accompaniment to the song (although nearly veering into “literal video” territory a few times) successfully mixing in classic footage of 1970s hip hop, with New York landmarks and the Beasties performing the track. The only track that the set could have probably done without is “Netty’s Girl”, which is kind of annoying.
Putting aside the music and the technical achievements, Beastie Boys Video Anthology contains a highly entertaining collection of short films. Music videos are a much underrated artform and a proven training ground for so many great directors, including David Fincher, Michel Gondry, Jonathan Glazer and Spike Jonze (who directed several videos in this set). Palm Pictures have put together some great music video collections through the Directors Label (albeit with limited supplements) and it would be great to see Criterion follow suit with a new collection of music videos from another pioneering musical artist or director… Or at the very least the occasional music video as a supplement.
Fifteen years ago, as someone new to the DVD format, Criterion’s Beastie Boys Video Anthology was a revelation. A showcase of the potential of the technology to present and augment art, this was my go-to disc to explain the possibilities of the medium to friends. Beastie Boys also knew how to make an entertaining music video, with the bulk of the clips on this release highly enjoyable viewing whether you are a fan of the music or not. It’s worth noting that a blu-ray upgrade of Beastie Boys Video Anthology would be a great addition to the collection, not only to make use of the improved audio offered by the new format, but also to incorporate the band’s later videos from To The 5 Boroughs and Hot Sauce Committee Part Two. It’s difficult to think of a more apt spine #100 for The Criterion Collection, with Beastie Boys Video Anthology differentiating them as a company willing to experiment with their releases and use every facet of the available technology, as well as creating a pretty unique contemporary time capsule of popular culture at the turn of the millennium.
This is my first post in the Criterion Blogathon hosted by Criterion Blues, Silver Screenings and Speakeasy. To discover more about the Blogathon and look at other posts, click on the picture of Charlie below.