Sole Criterion: Beastie Boys Video Anthology
By Brett Ballard-Beach
August 2, 2012
In theory, the Video Anthology should be more of a must-have than the reality turns out to be. With the amount of material available for viewing and listening to and reconfiguring in hundreds of ways, this would appear to be an audiophile’s and B-Boys fanatic’s dream come true. Inherent in the foundation of the set’s schematics is an underlying flaw, at least for me. So that one can leap from remix to remix and alternate footage to alternate footage with the push of a button, all the alternate clips and the remixes (many of which were done specially for this collection) have to come in at a particular length, that is to say, pretty much the same length, give or take a few seconds, as the original video clip and the (oftentimes) album version of the song. The option to listen to a remix without any visual aid is not offered, meaning one may have to resort to listening with one’s eyes closed to avoid watching an alternate angle for the umpteenth time.
I can’t claim to be concerned one way or the other with this time restriction as per the clips, many of which are just a glorified form of outtakes. But, in a further synergy of allowing one to mix and match at will, many of them also feature the band lip-syncing along in sequence to the particular song. Where I am headed with this (perhaps you have already guessed) is that in order for all this to work, the remixes themselves have to follow the exact same verse chorus verse structure with no deviations allowed in intros, outros, instrumental breaks or anything else that might allow this new tune to spin off into a beast of its own nature. (For a measure of where I’m coming from, my all-time favorite remixed song is New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle” in all its myriad versions, favorite remix album is Nine Inch Nails’ Things Falling Apart and current favorite remix is the Thin White Duke’s take on the Killers’ “Mr. Brightside.” Other favorites include Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm Remixed, Le Tigre’s Remix and Death from Above 1979’s Romance Bloody Romance.)
I can appreciate the germ of the idea to allow the fan/consumer to construct their own track after a fashion, but the binding of these inherent restrictions placed on the remix artists cuts against the very creativity the Beastie Boys made a touchstone of their career, and against the idea of the remix itself. Remixes that all come in around the same length as their source material aren’t inherently uninteresting, but with most all of these also being forced to keep the verses and chorus as well, the ability to completely fuck a song up or reimagine it (which I consider a plus) is lost.
That said, a few of the tracks do stand out against the majority, which I should stress are flawed and underwhelming, not failures. Moby’s remix of “Alive” burns with a sad nostalgia that reminded me of his take on Smashing Pumpkins’ “1979.” It’s a more bittersweet optimism than what the lyrics conjure up. The Prisoners of Technology’s take on “Intergalactic” is one that is able to most do away with lyrics and suggest the aftermath of the robot/octopus smashup and mashup of the video. Elsewhere, the Count Bass D remix of “Hey Ladies” goes for broke by ditching the best cowbell break ever in favor of pulsating beats.
Examining the videos themselves, it would be less accurate to say I prefer the non-Nathaniel Hornblower videos than to acknowledge that my opinions on his ten run the gamut from love to meh to weary. Yauch’s first video as Hornblower, “Shadrach” finds a way to make concert footage fresh and exciting by trace animating it. This may be the most unexpected of the Beastie Boys’ disguises, hiding in plain sight as nearly as in “3 MCs,” and the mix of vibrant primary colors, and dark shadows draws one in and makes a second viewing a necessity, to suss out some images that tumble by too rapidly, including an unexpected crowd surf. “Alive” is a joyous and goofy ode to NYC with the band at their most relaxed, still prankin like the just of their teens from a decade ago, but with the air of a band still together after 20 years and just doing it for themselves. The Snuggie-like outfits they are wearing only affirm the coziness.
“Intergalactic” and “Body Movin” don’t hold up to repeated consecutive viewings like “Shadrach” or “3 MCs.” However well each evokes a particular foreign cinema and time (1950s Japanese monster movies/1960s Italian spy capers), they fail by their own cleverness. There isn’t anything there beyond the sets, the camp, and the attitude. Added to this, Fatboy Slim’s remix, the one that accompanies the “Body Movin” video, by default becomes incessantly annoying the more one listens to it. Plowing on for a grueling five and a half minutes, it is well-represented by its clip. Playing like a deserved outtake from You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby, it is all one-note flash, sonic wallpaper for the video’s antics.