The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 44.0°F | Mostly Cloudy

RENTAL ADVISORY

Three Rhyming White Guys

Thumbs Up for Beastie Boys Video Anthology

By Amandeep Loomba

staff writer

In many ways, DVD (Digital Video Disc or Digital Versatile Disc, depending on whom you ask) technology is a great gift for film lovers. We no longer have to deal with the atrocity of VHS picture and sound quality, the tyrannically imposed linear viewing and searching scheme, the degradation of quality over time, or the unsexy bulk of a big black cassette tape.

At the same time, DVD technology has failed to deliver on some of its greater promises. Being able to turn subtitles on and off is nice, but why would you ever watch a film with its audio in a language other than the one in which it was made? And what’s up with this “alternate angle” business? Has anyone ever used that feature?

Well, apart from the porn industry, there has been one very interesting use of multiple-angle technology, as well as multiple audio tracks and subtitles. It was a landmark release from the Criterion Collection series of classic films and it was a two-disc feature-filled set of Beastie Boys videos.

That’s right. One of the best releases so far on the DVD medium comprises three white guys jumping around spitting out tired rhymes.

Consider 18 videos, each with an average four audio and three video tracks, all of which can be recombined as you see fit. Determining the exact number of unique video experiences a viewer may have with all of the possible combinations is left as an exercise for the reader.

These permutations don’t even include the numerous commentary tracks, in which you can hear the directors or the Beasties themselves try to remember why they were jumping around in the forest lip-synching. Some sample band commentary (from the “Sure Shot” video):

“You look good in a suit, Mike.”

“Thanks.”

“I lost that frog shirt.”

“I don’t remember any of this stuff.”

So the commentary tracks are only as good as commentary tracks on any DVDs out there, which means they’re just an absolute waste of time.

On the other hand, the alternate video and audio tracks are simply amazing. For instance, you can watch the immensely entertaining “Body Movin’” video without having to listen to the immensely irritating Fatboy Slim remix of the tune. You can watch the (unreleased) “Three MCs and One DJ” video from any one of six camera angles, choosing to focus solely on the wizardry of Mixmaster Mike’s turntablism skills if you so desire.

You can separate the different plotlines that make up the “Sabotage” video and sort them out at your own pace. Or you can just take some time to kick back and watch extremely strange featurettes such as “Ciao L.A.” and “The Robot vs. the Octopus Monster Saga.”

Some reasons why you might not already have seen (or purchased) the Beastie Boys Video Anthology addressed:

1) “I only listen to real hip-hop.” Please -- if you can stomach what gets played on the radio these days as hip-hop, rap-rock, Eminem or whatever other garbage Clear Channel got paid to play -- stick with your Hot 97 and avoid this DVD. As Adrock says, “Goatee metal rap, please say good night. “

2) “I’m not too excited about frat boy humor.” You’ve got to remember that the Beastie Boys’ early material was an act, not reality. They started out as a hardcore band, not frat-rockers. Like a party called Jellophilia, it seems obnoxious and sophomoric, but it’s all in good fun. Nevertheless, you’re in luck, because License to Ill is not represented on the video anthology.

3) “Those fools will never save Tibet.” You can’t blame them for trying.

4) “Their rhyme schemes just aren’t very interesting.” You’re probably one of those people who don’t like limericks, right?

Easily the best DVD in my collection so far, the Beastie Boys Video Anthology is almost a perfect release. You can put it on in the background of a party, watch it casually to read the subtitled lyrics, or dig deep into its remixes and video tracks to find the perfect combination and sound and sight. I hope very much that this will be challenged soon by another release from some equally dynamic artist. For example, BjÖrk’s DVD video releases are always filled with compelling material, but they never take advantage of the technology. I suppose we’ll have to continue to rely on the Beastie Boys to push the envelope and broaden the vocabulary of music and entertainment.