Van Morrison,
Under Review 1964-1974
(Sexy Intellectual, 2008)

A key to this DVD is contained in the small print on the back cover: "This DVD is not authorized by Van Morrison, his management or his record company." This statement does not mean that the documentary is without value; it simply points out that if you're expecting a first-hand look at the notoriously reclusive artist, you're going to be disappointed.

Morrison and his people had absolutely nothing to do with this documentary, which means he and the people closest to him are not interviewed. It's all built on secondary sources. We hear from such people as Sam Smyth, a journalist and impresario who booked early Morrison shows; Gavin Martin, a music critic and journalist; and two men who have written prior biographies of Morrison, Johnny Rogan and Steve Turner.

They tell some interesting stories, but in all, it's like sitting at a party, filling the time while waiting for the guest of honor to show up. It's a big game of remember when, and all of our noted personages offer their memories and make definitive statements about Morrison that, since he does not participate, cannot have their level of definitiveness confirmed.

The packaging promises "rare and classic Van Morrison performances, reassessed by a panel of esteemed experts," which sort of leads you to expect film clips. Well, clips is exactly what you get: 30 seconds or so of him doing "Here Comes the Night" and "Gloria," a minute of "Brown Eyed Girl," and so on. As soon as you begin enjoying the performance, it ends, and we get a Morrison "expert" telling us that Morrison loved Dylan's "Spanish Harlem Incident" and wrote "Brown Eyed Girl" as his own take on interracial love.

Call me crazy, but I'd rather hear the song.

All of this is not to say the film has no value. Many of the interviews are interesting and, since the DVD covers a wonderfully creative time in Morrison's career, we learn stuff we hadn't known before. The only problem is that it doesn't live up to its promises.

review by
Michael Scott Cain

5 July 2008

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