THE BEAUTY OF BEASTIES
Sometimes artists go their whole careers without discovering the perfect medium to realize their vision. With the release of Criterion's The Beastie Boys DVD Anthology, the self-described "goatee metal rap" band wins the right to shout, "Eureka!" DVD is the greatest medium yet devised for capturing the free-associative randomness of the artistic process. It just so happens that the Beastie Boys have devoted most of their career to exploring that process and capturing its twists and turns on film and vinyl.
One could say this band is all about the process. Arguably the most overtly postmodern pop group of the '80s and '90s, the Beastie Boys let the seams show and frequently turn "mistakes" into marvelous jokes. The helicopter shot that opens "Gratitude" shows the band setting up on a New Zealand beach surrounded by a length of circular track that will carry the camera around them in the next shot. In the grainy, bleached-out "Sabotage," seemingly shot on 16mm stock that had been moldering in someone's basement since 1973, a stock image of a car blowing up is emblazoned with the warning, "For Screening Purposes Only."
Watching the videos in this collection and fiddling with the supplements, you feel you've been granted direct access to the contents of the Beasties' crazed, prankish imaginations. This two-disc set might as well have been titled Check Our Heads. Every piece of art, music, and entertainment detritus that tickled the Boys' imaginations is granted a place of honor, including blaxploitation and disco ("Hey Ladies"), TV-news war coverage ("Something's Got to Give"), New York hip-hop culture in the late '70s and early '80s (the magnificent, split-screened "Root Down"), spy and caper movies ("Body Movin' "), and skateboarding (references too numerous to list).
All the videos are united by the joyous fake-shabbiness of the production values. Though the record label clearly poured money into many of the clips - particularly "Intergalactic," with its pop-locking robot warrior and location footage of Japan - the Boys throw in touches that suggest they're still precocious New York media brats making el cheapo home-video projects in the early '80s, when both camcorders and mustaches were enormous. (Fake hair is another recurring motif in the band's career. The Beastie Boys probably own more wigs than Dolly Parton.)
Beneath the images' wildness is a muted strain of nostalgia for a New York (and a New York childhood and adolescence) that's long gone - a mad, colorful universe of break-dance contests, Foghat 8-tracks, and light-up disco dance floors, college radio shows and graffiti-spattered subway trains, Grandmaster Flash and Kool Moe Dee and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. You don't have to be a fan of rap or rock to enjoy this collection. You need only appreciate creativity and playfulness. And wigs.
- Matt Zoller Seitz
(Originally published in: Sound & Vision, Dececember 2000)
Copyright © 2013 Bonnier Corp. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.