Produced/Distributed By: Chrome Dreams
Total Running Time: 70 Minutes (approx.)
Certificate: E (exempt from classification)
Releases: DVD and VHS
A DVD release comprising of exclusive interviews with people associated with the band. Special features include a trivia quiz and discography. Includes no original music by the band or interviews with actual band members.
This DVD was produced by Chrome Dreams, a label that has produced several unauthorized audio CD biography discs of the band. The CD audio biographies put out by Chrome Dreams have lacked originality and accuracy. They are essentially straight narrative accounts of the band's history, without any interviews or access to band members or band associates, lifting the story, with newly inserted errors, directly from established works such as Michael Azzerad's excellent biography 'Come As You Are'. But Chrome Dreams' first foray into the DVD market is more original, entertaining and interesting than its previous productions.
This DVD contains a series of in-depth interviews with people associated with the band filmed exclusively for this release: the interviews found on this DVD cannot be found elsewhere.
That said, unfortunately these fascinating video interviews shed very little new light on the band as most of the interviewees have already shared their (same) thoughts with other journalists who have subsequently written about the band.
The DVD is divided into eleven chapters, which broadly trace the development of the band from evolution to end. The chapters feature interviews with the following people:
Tim Appelo (a journalist at Seattle Weekly)
Jack Endino (producer of NIRVANA's first album)
Leland Cobain (Cobain's grandfather)
Steve Fisk (producer of the Blew EP)
Slim Moon (music scenester and friend of the band)
Paul White and Steve Shillinger (friends of the band)
Darrin Neathery (a schoolfriend of Cobain)
Charles Cross (biographer of Cobain)
Robert Lang (owner of the studio in which the band recorded their last studio recording)
Ryan Aigner (early "manager" of the band)
There can be no denying that this is an impressive list of interviewees and they were gathered exclusively for this release. However, that said the interviews do not reveal anything new, exclusive or "untold" and this is the insurmountable problem with this DVD which markets itself as revealing "untold stories". All these people have been interviewed by other journalists and they simply rehash the same stories they have told other journalists. For example Jack Endino talks about NIRVANA's first demo with him (recorded on 01/23/88 at Reciprocal Studios) and the recording of the 'Bleach' album, regurgitating everything we already know about his account. He talks about his first impressions of the band (being struck by Cobain's voice), the professionalism of the band (being incredibly focused to complete ten songs in one day), total recording costs ($152.24 for the 01/23/88 session and $606.17 for 'Bleach'), and recording stories (for example, why 'Pen Chap Chew' fades out on the first studio demo) which he has discussed at length numerous times before and even published about on his own website. Similarly Leland Cobain talks about Cobain as a happy child and his early musical influences which can be found in Cross's 'Heavier Than Heaven' biography. The other interviewees do much the same thing. These really aren't "untold stories" at all. We would attribute this to the limitation of the interviewers in digging beneath the surface rather than to any fault of the interviewees. Had the interviews been more probing and/or included those who have not spoken before or very little about the band then certainly they would be more interesting to the ardent fan. That said, to the more casual fan, the interviews on this DVD will be interesting and one shouldn't criticise Chrome Dreams too heavily for failing to ask the questions which super anal fans would like answering! All fans should find it enjoyable to hear band associates give their own accounts.
More generally the number, if not the array, of interviewees is disappointing. Whilst a number of "big names" did contribute, many did not. This was probably not the fault of Chrome Dreams in asking for interviews, but more probably refusals to contribute towards an unauthorized production. The problem this causes becomes all too clear. For example it is Endino who discusses the production of 'Nevermind' and he does so rather briefly and speculatively. An interview with Butch Vig would have been much more interesting and productive. Similarly it is Cross and Appelo, rather than Albini, who discuss 'In Utero'. But that said, had such names contributed they would probably have fallen into the trap of those who were interviewed: simply telling the story that we already know. It should also go without saying that the lack of input by Novoselic and Grohl renders any biography aiming to tell "untold stories" as somewhat problematic.
A final criticism must be that the DVD focuses much more on Cobain than the other band members. Whilst some may argue that Cobain was the most interesting personality it cannot be sustained that he was NIRVANA. The result is a lack of balance, which seems to be a particular problem of any unauthorized production.
These criticisms aside, however, the interviews do have a number of highlights. Firstly the video interviews give fans the opportunity to put faces to the famous names in the NIRVANA story. To actually see people like Lang, Fisk, Endino, Moon, Shillinger and Neathery is interesting in itself. Secondly although the interviews largely do not reveal anything new it is fascinating to hear the interviewees tell the story in their own words, rather than words selectively chosen afterwards by the journalists that have interviewed them previously. The actual cut of the documentary and its chronological development is professionally done and despite the lack of original NIRVANA music, is infinitely watchable. In addition for those fans who have yet to read all that has been written about the band the disc does serve as a gentle introduction to aspects of the band's history and development. And although the interviews will contain very little that is new to diehard fans it does still contain some interesting bits. For example five attendees of NIRVANA's first surfaced gig (03/87 Raymond house party) talk about the show and the DVD also features a few photographic stills which the author of this review has not seen before.
The interview section is really the main body of the DVD, but in line with most DVDs it does have some extra features. Firstly there is an "interactive trivia quiz". This quiz is made up of multiple-choice questions. The quiz is really too short to be a feature in its own right (just fifteen questions) and the quiz will not be looked at more than once (a limitation of any such trivia quiz). The second, and final feature, is an "extensive NIRVANA discography". This discography is anything but "extensive", covering just the main releases (albums, singles and EPs) and a handful of (bizarrely) selected promos and test pressings. It is also very undetailed, for example, only listing the year of releases (not exact dates) and having no extra information on them (for example, quantities, etc). The special features are disappointing and do nothing to enhance the disc. Had the discography been more accurate and if other features had been included too (for example, a picture gallery would have been nice) then the extras could have been a worthwhile addition.
Not much can really be said about the decidedly average packaging of the DVD. The front features a picture of the band taken from promotional pictures for Nevermind and the reverse features a brief description of the content. No additional liner notes are included inside the casing.
If this DVD is judged on the basis on which it was marketed then it is surely disappointing. Whilst it is billed as containing exclusive and "untold" stories most of the anecdotes, told by the very same people, have been recounted before, sometimes in much more detail, principally in the biographies of Azzerad and Cross. If you have read their books this DVD will feature very little that is genuinely exclusive. That said, judging the disc more holistically, it is both interesting and entertaining. To see and hear the stories being told to the camera by the actual people associated with the band rather than recounted by journalists is entertaining, if not original. It is really up to the individual to decide whether this is worth the cost of the disc.
A special thanks to Sylwie at Chrome Dreams for providing a promotional copy for review.
To purchase a copy of this DVD direct from Chrome Dreams click here. Chrome Dreams also stock a full catalogue of CD/DVD biographies of other bands too.