Opry Video Classics II (Time Life, 7/26) has to be seen in the greater context of what true classic country music represents. This second volume of Grand Old Opry songs (the first set came out in 2008) contains eight discs, each with over forty-five minutes of vintage clips, mostly from the 1950s and 1960s. The Grand Ole Opry was broadcast once a month on the nascent ABC network from 1955 to 1956 and afterwards was syndicated on various independent television stations. The numerous clips contained on this set reflect the output over the years when the songs that define classic country western were penned and performed.
Country music in the 1950s was still part of a traveling troubadour aesthetic that can be traced back to songs from the 19th century, songs like Stephen Foster classics “Oh! Susanna” or “Camptown Races” or “Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair.” There’s a current genre of singer songwriter performance known as Americana. That’s a direct descendant of the songs heard on this set.
You can’t even begin to count the massive amount of talent that unfolds, in both black-and-white and color. Conway Twitty in a green suit with a wide lapel that wouldn’t be out of place as the costume for a super villain belting out “(Lost Our Love) On Our Last Date.” Johnny Cash doing a five-song medley that includes “Walk the Line” and “Ring of Fire,” with the Staler Brother and the Carter Family. A twenty-something Dolly Parton singing a duo with Porter Wagoner, himself in his 40s. A 1956 clip of Faron Young singing the Don Gibson standard “Sweet Dreams.” The list goes on.
Many of the songs are obviously lip-synched, yet there are some performances that are absolutely live, like a blistering bluegrass instrumental from Bill Monroe and his band where you can hear the lead guitar, mandolin and banjo break free at the appropriate time. At one point, Ray Stevens pops up singing a hilarious version of “Ahab the Arab” using his lavaliere mic as his singing amplification.
These are artists that have recognizable first names: Ronnie, Faron, Dolly, Tammy, Waylon, Loretta, Porter, Tex, Chet, Kitty, and last names as commonplace as Cash and Paycheck, Tubb and Pride, and Jones, and a whole lot more. This collection has a guaranteed shelf life whether you’re in the mood for the kings and queens of country or just some jukebox memories.
(Opry Video Classics II was reviewed on DVD.)
Lee Scratch Perry’s Vision of Paradise (Cadiz Music, 7/22) takes you behind the scenes of the godfather of ska, reggae, dub and a few other beats you may have forgotten. This two-disc set contains footage shot over a fifteen-year period by director Volker Schaner.
You feel like a fly on the wall in Perry’s homes and studios both in Jamaica and Switzerland, which themselves seem to be a work in progress to judge from the constantly changing art on the walls. There’s also some back history of how Ethiopia figures into Perry’s cosmology. One painting has Perry alongside Bob Marley and the Queen. The packaging itself is superb with 24-pages of art, illustrations and text and bound like a book.
The Last Diamond (Cohen Media, 7/26) starts with an elaborate jewel heist, followed by a series of double crosses and recriminations. And would you want mysteries any other way? This fast paced French thriller stars Yvan Attal and Bérénice Bejo, and includes extra interviews with the actors as well as helmer Eric Barbier.
Crimes of Passion (Arrow Video, 7/19) was the second film Ken Russell made in Hollywood — the first was Altered States — and 1980s cinema was never the same. This smart Blu-ray release includes two discs (one loaded with extras) and two versions of the film restored in 2K: Russell’s director’s cut and the unrated version.
The salacious narrative of this 1984 release has a prostitute, China Blue, played by Kathleen Turner in a performance as erotic as anything you can imagine from a mainstream actress, whose obsessed clients include a mild mannered husband (John Laughlin) and a terrifying and obviously crazy preacher (Anthony Perkins, perfect for this part) who wields a dildo with a razor edge. Annie Potts and Bruce Davidson co-star. Original score by Rick Wakeman.
Before he died in 2011, Russell wanted to reunite with Turner to make a musical version of Alice in Wonderland. That project never reached production, and a letter Russell sent Turner about the proposed role is included in the accompanying booklet.