The Best Of… Best Video’s music DVDs

By Hank Hoffman

For those of us at Best Video in Hamden, where I have worked since 1994, music is as much a passion as movies. The store is well known for its non-stop soundtrack of browsing music — jazz, classical, world music, roots, reggae, and underground rock. These days Best Video also promotes music with live concerts in the shop’s Performance Space. Eclecticism is the rule here, as well — we have booked a string quartet and a hip-hop group, Brazilian music with jazz colorings and pop punk bands.

Musical taste is deeply subjective. The list of best music DVDs below was complied by Best Video owner Hank Paper and manager Richard Brown and me and reflects our predilections for rock, jazz, and roots music. An aficionado of classical music might prefer From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China, Horowitz in Moscow, or Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould.

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The Beatles: A Hard Day’s Night; The First U.S. Visit

A Hard Day’s Night is simply one of the most joyful pop movies ever made. What could have been a throwaway project instead captured the phenomena of Beatlemania in full bloom with personality, cheeky irreverence, and gentle anti-authoritarianism. The First U.S. Visit, a documentary by the Maysles Brothers, is the cinema vérité counterpart to A Hard Day’s Night, a narration-free backstage pass to the epochal arrival of the British Invasion on American shores. What did John Lennon really think of Murray the K, the DJ and self-proclaimed “Fifth Beatle?”

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Monterey Pop

Woodstock is better known but I prefer Monterey Pop. This D.A. Pennebaker documentary of the June 1967 pop music festival captures the musical counterculture in its Edenic phase. Monterey Pop features career-making turns by Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, and others.

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The Rolling Stones: Gimme Shelter

If Monterey Pop depicts the counterculture in its innocence, Gimme Shelter captures the end of illusions. From peace and love to murder by the Hell’s Angels in two eventful years. Jagger plays the devil and there’s hell to pay. Honorable mention: Charlie is My Darling, a Peter Whitehead documentary of the Stones’ 1965 Irish tour, and Shine A Light, Scorsese’s 2008 concert film of the band in its still-vibrant dotage.

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The Last Waltz

Featuring an overflowing marquee of stars and directed by Martin Scorsese, The Last Waltz documents The Band’s 1976 farewell concert. An exemplary concert film.

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Stop Making Sense

Talking Heads defined twitchy, art school new wave, inflecting it with a dollop of white funk. By 1984, when the Jonathan Demme-directed concert movie Stop Making Sense was filmed, they had scaled their act up to arena proportions. David Byrne needed a Big Suit to contain his ambitions, which are well realized here.

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Buena Vista Social Club

A feat of musical archaeology, Buena Vista Social Club documents the glorious rediscovery of aged Cuban musicians whose social club milieu was suppressed by the Revolution. Wim Wenders directed Buena Vista Social Club, which also features American slide guitarist Ry Cooder. By recording with musicians Compay Segundo, Ibrahim Ferrer, and Rubén González in Havana, Cooder ran afoul of the U.S. embargo. It cost him a $25,000 fine but won him wide plaudits

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The Howlin’ Wolf Story

Legendary bluesman Chester Burnett, aka “Howlin’ Wolf,” was a giant of a man with a voice to match. A disciple of Delta blues king Charley Patton, Howlin’ Wolf had his greatest success recording for the Chess label in Chicago in the 1950s. A notable highlight of this video is an intimate Chicago nightclub scene culminating in an exchange between Howlin’ Wolf on stage and bluesman Son House heckling from the audience.

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High Lonesome:
A Story of Bluegrass Music

A primer on one of the “rootsiest” of American roots musics, starting with the innovations of mandolin player Bill Monroe. More than just a musical history, High Lonesome situates the music in its social context, beginning with the Great Depression.

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The T.A.M.I. Show

Long unseen, The T.A.M.I. Show (standing for “Teenage Awards Music International” and pronounced “Tammy”) was finally released on DVD in 2009. Filmed at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in October, 1964, the live concert was a thrilling snapshot of the pop world some six months after The Beatles conquered America, with a bill encompassing British Invasion rock, pop, surf, and hot rod music, Motown soul, James Brown funk, and 1950s rock ’n’ roll. The Rolling Stones topped the bill, having the deeply unenviable task of following a magisterial performance by James Brown.

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The Harder They Come

Reggae riddims and outlaw politics combined with a star turn by Jimmy Cliff and one of the all-time greatest pop music soundtracks make The Harder They Come an underground classic.

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