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For the past few days I've had the pleasure of screening part two of the new The Song Remains the Same release. I was pretty excited about finally seeing the film to go with the soundtrack and the bonuses certainly sweeten the deal a little.
Originally, I had thought that the additional footage would be interwoven into the film and hoped that perhaps the live footage would be available uncut as well (as in without the corresponding fantasy sequences), but that is not the case. I believe this is because of legalities that prevent the re cutting of the actual film as I remember reading that somewhere, but you know how accurate "somewhere" is so I don't know for sure. In a way I'm glad, as the original film is a historical document of the times during which it was produced both culturally and creatively for the band and so I like seeing that insight into Led Zeppelin. Still at the same time, I wish I could see those concert clips completely uncut. A few are included on this new release and a few other concert clips from these Madison Square Garden shows appears on the DVD set that accompanied How the West was Won, so we're not going completely without.
For those of you who are like me and might not have seen the film before, let me give you a brief synopsis. Organized loosely around a live performance by the band at Madison Square Garden in New York, there is plenty of concert footage intermixed with backstage moments, the band in their limo and just regular shots of the city itself. During the performances themselves, there are a number of psychedelic effects including an instantly recognizable split screen mirroring effect. Also during the longer numbers the footage blends with a series of fantasy scenes with the pinnacle character as one of the band members... "No Quarter" revolves around John Paul Jones, "The Song Remains the Same" and "The Rain Song" involve Robert Plant, "Dazed and Confused" is for Jimmy Page and of course "Moby Dick" is with John Bonham.
The DVD set is laid out as follows:
- Song Order -
1 - Rock and Roll
2 - Black Dog (version with the Bring it Back Home riff)
3 - Since I've Been Loving You
4 - No Quarter
5 - The Song Remains the Same
6 - The Rain Song
7 - Dazed and Confused
8 - Stairway to Heaven
9 - Moby Dick
10 - Heartbreaker
11 - Whole Lotta Love
"Bonus Features" (in no order)
1 - Original cutting take of "Celebration Day"
2 - Over the Hills and Far Away
3 - Misty Mountain Hop
4 - The Ocean
Plus some original TV spots, radio spots, interviews and other interesting bits.
Also, my copy of this set is the collectors edition. There were a few different ones released... I'm not sure the differences... but this one also came with a series of still frames, pictures, tickets, a t-shirt and some other memorabilia. These are all interesting additions that a collector like me enjoys having, but probably not necessary for everyone.
As I've mentioned previously, this was actually my first viewing of the film, having only seen clips over the years. Although I understand where some of it's critics were coming from, at the same time I don't find myself judging it nearly as harshly as I anticipated. There may be some moments of melodrama and pretension, but I think that those moments were far more pretentious and melodramatic back in 1976 when it was released. Post 1980s heavy metal, it seems like a different story. When I compare this film to some modern musical stage shows, music videos and concert films it doesn't seem nearly as over the top. There are some absurd moments, like the sword fighting during the fantasy scene for "The Rain Song", or that mask Jones is wearing during the one for "No Quarter", but overall I don't see these fantasy scenes really detracting from the music as some critics might suggest. Instead they give a unique insight into some of the imagery the band associated with their songs at the time. At the same time though, they are a little over the top. There are some exciting artistic moments within each through, adding a unique visual element to the music.
As for the backstage moments, information about the infamous Drake Hotel theft, and other bits and pieces woven through, they are interesting, but not overly compelling.
If you choose to interpret the film as a portrayal of the "poor rock band" with their money being stolen, having to be rushed away from their relaxing lives to play tour dates and Peter Green as the "enforcer" keeping the monsters at bay (he even slays a few as a mobster in the opening scenes including a werewolf and a faceless guy)... then I'll agree and say that that is pretty pretentious and overblown. I think this is a little cynical to judge the film in this way though. There are certain elements that do point to that, but in terms of the concert footage and the fantasy scenes I actually think it's a pretty personal look at the band and some of their creativity, with each scene giving an idea of what imagery the music recalls for each individual member.
As for the performances themselves, I think there are still moments where the band seems a little tired, just as will the soundtrack, and often times the video increases this feeling. Other times though, like "Dazed and Confused" actually seem to "sound more self indulgent and dull than they look". "Since I've Been Loving You", "No Quarter" and "The Rain Song" are all standouts though just like with the audio.
Overall though, I really enjoyed the film, but primarily for what it is... a historical part of the complete Led Zeppelin picture. The fact that it just so happens to feature a few great live concert moments and artistic elements is a bonus, but it is in no way perfect.
As for this new release, I was slightly disappointed with the second disk of bonus material. It is justified because having video to that slightly twisted version of "Over the Hills and Far Away" from the expanded soundtrack and "Celebration Day" are great. The additional interviews/TV spots etc are also interesting, but nothing spectacular. The same is true for "Misty Mountain Hop" and "The Ocean", both of which are almost identical to the footage from the other major Zeppelin DVD release, and in the case of the latter I actually think is the same performance footage, just edited slightly different. Still, additional material is always welcome, but in this case are not exactly anything mind blowing.
In terms of the sound, I never heard the complete original film, but if the clips I've seen and even just the bit of sound that you can hear from the trailer contained on this set are any indication, then this new release is a huge improvement. The picture also looks crystal clear, but I can't make comparisons, and the effects used to create those psychedelic images sometimes can make it hard to determine the actual video quality. I still think the DVD set that accompanied the How the West was Won release is a better collection of live footage, but that doesn't mean I don't think fans should own a copy of the film as well. The improved quality alone might justify Zeppelin fans picking this new release up in many cases and fans should definitely own a version of the film.
As a complete re-release, this new version of The Song Remains the Same, both album and film, are an incredible improvement in sound quality and that validates their purchase. The additional material included on both are welcome additions, but only a few parts are really impressive. Led Zeppelin fans who don't own either, certainly cannot go wrong picking up both these latest releases. Fans who already own the soundtrack though will still probably want to get the new version, while fans who own the film on DVD already, probably don't need to buy it again, but might want to in the effort of trying to complete the collection or for the improved sound.
So the song remains the same, but has the film improved? Definitely... Is it perfect? Hardly... Is it a definitely part of the legend that is Led Zeppelin? Of course, and it always will be.
You can read part 1 of of this piece here: The Song Remains the Same Part 1: An Album Review
Check out the album directly from Amazon here: The Song Remains The Same (Remastered / Expanded) (2CD)
And the DVD set here: Led Zeppelin: The Song Remains the Same (Collector's Edition)