|Public Enemy - It Takes a Nation: London Invasion 1987|
|Written by Paul Lingas|
|Tuesday, 10 May 2005|
The most gratifying and interesting aspect of this rundown DVD is its nostalgic value as an artifact of musical history. The three main members of Public Enemy, Chuck D, Flavor-Flav and Terminator X, have gone on to do various things in their lives and careers, including romantic interludes with Brigitte Nielsen, but this DVD shows them in the early years of their prime, assaulting the London stage for the first time in their careers. The extremely poor quality of the sound and video does the main disservice of making the group seem more dated than they actually are.
The DVD consists of some concert footage sandwiched around and between various interviews. It is interesting and informative to listen to what they have to say, especially since most of the interviews are done by the British press, who had to have their own education as to what Public Enemy stood for and what their genesis was. It is important to remember that in 1987, Margaret Thatcher was prime minister, Ronald Reagan was president, the Berlin Wall was two years away from falling and Nelson Mandela was still in prison. In many ways, things have changed since then, but in other ways they have stayed the same, at least in terms of what Public Enemy was singing and talking about.
Flavor-Flav and Chuck D do essentially all of the talking, which makes sense because they do most of the singing. There is a little cameo by LL Cool J where he is listening to some music in the background while Flavor pontificates. Then LL decides to throw in his own little rap. Boy, do they all look so young. There’s also a great bit where Flavor is speaking to an old English woman on the street and she tells him he needs to go to hospital because the large clock he always wears around his neck is running a little slow. It’s too bad that there isn’t more of this footage included in the DVD, because this is what gives the flavor of a band (no pun intended). The entire concert is provided on another feature, so they really do spend too much time showing the concert footage during the main part of the documentary. The time could have been better spent and simply serves to frustrate the viewer, who essentially ends up watching the concert twice. Also, although much of the effect of seeing a live performance is lost in any concert video, the dropoff is particularly noticeable here because it is very difficult to see or hear the audience most of the time and the way the concert is shot and recorded makes it feel very flat.
There is virtually no quality to speak of here, either visual or audio. The footage is almost all videotape and there are not only blurs and artifacts, but also contrast, clarity and color desaturation and breakdown. Pixels swim around; colors and lines bleed into each other. It seems like a lot of the concert footage is very guerilla, in that a lot of the camera angles are awkward and not preset. This is not to mention the fact that there is about a half-inch of squiggly lines at the bottom of the image that essentially make it look like video that needs to be tracked. Most of the photos in the photo gallery even look like they’re printed on newspaper and then photographed. The Dolby 5.1 mix sounds terrible, because the original source recording was so poor. It really only serves to make things louder, so my recommendation is to watch and listen in stereo. Though this was the first-ever Def Jam European tour, it seems remarkable that they didn’t plan to get a better audio recording of the whole thing.
Special features are few and not so special. The Australia Live portion is a two-track sequence from a 2003 tour. The difference in quality is striking, as this footage was obviously recorded on digital video. The audio commentary is very interesting and honestly the best part of the DVD, as Chuck D explains many things, from the tour’s genesis to why they wore the large clocks around their necks. He’s a very knowledgeable, lucid and intelligent commentator, which is more than I can say for a lot of feature film directors. Chuck D is very good about explaining what’s going on in the footage and also what the impact of Public Enemy was in 1987 and in the U.K. He also gives lots of interesting little tidbits about the other members of the group.
Overall, this is a very disappointing DVD and is not very worthwhile for anyone, even Public Enemy aficionados, who will know pretty much everything that you can learn and who will have much higher-quality recordings of other live performances. As mentioned earlier, it’s mostly interesting simply to see the group 18 years ago when they were very young and as demonstration that makes us appreciate just how bad VHS recording was.