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Dancing to New Orleans

With the notable exception of Les Blank's films, Louisiana music documentaries tend to ramble like a day at Jazz Fest, stopping at various stages to hear a song or two, and moving on. Director Michael Murphy -- whose Michael Murphy Productions is responsible for the recent wonder Legends of New Orleans: The Music of Fats Domino -- offers Dancing to New Orleans, a triptych of local music and musicians, some obscure, some well-known. It's a road trip worth taking -- even if some stops are better than others.

Murphy wisely offers generous slices of music in his 89-minute film. Concert footage of Lionel Ferbos, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown and Irma Thomas (singing a lovely "Ruler of My Heart" with Allen Toussaint at the piano) is all shot and recorded very well, capturing these performers at their best. For narrated sequences, Murphy generally relies on expert sound-biters such as folklorist William Ferris and musician Michael Doucet, although he also has musical wunderkind Amanda Shaw recount a Knowledge Bowl's worth of material about Cajun history. Overall, too much of the Louisiana music lore is growing pretty stale with repeated telling in documentaries, music magazines and travel books. But Dancing has worse flaws in the DVD's extras -- the text is riddled with errors, listing accordionist Amede Ardoin as a fiddler, and fiddler Allen Fontenot and rub-boarder Rockin' Dopsie Jr. as accordionists.

For locals, by far the best reason to check out Dancing to New Orleans is the opportunity to spend a few more minutes with the resplendent Raymond Myles, seen here at a Jazz Fest performance. The late gospel star -- who was so violently cut down in his prime -- commands the Ray-Ban stage with a raucous display of gospel-soul-pop crossover genius. -- Michael Tisserand

Punk -- The Early Years
(Music Video Distributors,

Punk -- The Early Years
is at best an oddity as well as a fitting chronicle of the birth of punk rock in Great Britain. Released by Music Video Distributors, the hour-long documentary lists no director and is haphazardly assembled to say the least.

How different, then, is it from punk rock itself? The bastard child of unwed parents such as glam, rockabilly, ska and the like, punk knows no one author. And the ramshackle production here feels about as D.I.Y. as you can get; even some of the advertised "live" performances are either completely out of synch or blatantly set to recorded versions.

As is the case with most music documentaries, the beauty is in the music itself, and here you can see, up close and personal, the early charm of bands such as Billy Idol's Generation X, Siouxsie Sioux, and X-Ray Spex. Most of the footage is shot before fashion completely ­ emphasis on completely ­ consumed the genre, for most of the action takes place in 1977 and before Malcolm McLaren smeared his paws over everything. Even at this point punkers were complaining about the faddishness of the genre.

The interviews are surprisingly lucid and candid, particularly with Idol; watching him from the safe distance of 25 years ago, you see that his snarl really was a snarl, but he understood what punk was and could become. Ditto T. Rex's Marc Bolan, who gives what is said to be his last interview and looks with optimism at the future of the genre. -- David Lee Simmons

Duran Duran -- Greatest: The DVD
(EMI Distribution)

If the Sex Pistols were the descendents of Iggy Pop then certainly Duran Duran was the shameless descendent of David Bowie. How bizarre is it that Iggy and Ziggy could inspire such disparate godchildren of glam rock. Duran Duran was the definitive music group of the MTV generation, so it's no surprise that these made-up Brits were recently honored -- during this third go-round of the band's popularity -- with a lifetime achievement award from the image-setting network.

Duran Duran purists -- and you know who you are -- have been p'shaw-ing this two-disc collection of the band's videos, a companion to the group's greatest-hits CD released last year. And there's no question this is Capitol Records' way of getting their share of the retro-craze loot that bands like Double-Duran generate. There are no rarities or nuggets here -- just the basics, which remain surprisingly fresh in this repackaging. I mean, who wouldn't want to watch the band's R-rated version of the (dare I say it?) steamy "Girls on Film" one more time? For a bunch of guys accused of being well-dressed flits, Duran Duran sure filled their video work with plenty of babes in various states of undress.

More than any other band, Duran Duran understood the power of not only the image, but the power of the pretty image, and their videos are nothing but pure eye candy. The second disc, which features interviews, a photo gallery and lyrics, is just more icing on an already-sweet cake. -- Simmons

Duran Duran performs at TwiRoPa Mills at 9 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 22.

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click to enlarge feat-7738.jpeg
click to enlarge feat-7738.jpeg


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