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ELEPHANT PARTS

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Michael Nesmith
Director:  William Dear
Audio:  Dolby Surround
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Anchor Bay
Features:  Commentary Track, Stills Gallery
Length:  62 Minutes
Release Date:  March 18, 2003

“I cast Europe into the Dark Ages…JUST to prove a point!”

Film ***1/2

Trivia question:  who won the first ever Grammy awarded for music video?  The answer:  Michael Nesmith, for Elephant Parts.

Ah, Elephant Parts…I can imagine those of you out there who remember when this unusual and influential video first came out sitting back with big smiles on your faces at the thought that it's finally reached DVD.  The rest of you may be going “whaa?”  But that's okay…for the tragically hip or the culturally curious, this is project worth remembering.

Michael Nesmith may be best known for being a member of the Monkees (the one who always wore the cap), but before and after his stint with the first made-for-TV rock band, he was a songwriter and an artist who always seemed interested in carving out his own niche. 

In the late 70s, he and his frequent collaborator William Dear started creating the first real music videos.  Before then, there were the occasional promo shoots of artists singing their songs, but Nesmith and Dear really stumbled upon a unique idea:  create images to support the music and let the song be the connecting force rather than worry about cinematic narrative structure.  It was a crazy, out-there kind of concept at the time…yet twenty years later, it's still being done by EVERYONE.

But back then, there was no MTV.  The question…how to distribute and market these videos?  The answer…create the world's first video “album”.  And so, Elephant Parts was born:  an hour's worth of comedy and sketches wrapped neatly around five Michael Nesmith music videos.  It was fresh new territory for Nesmith and Dear, so they approached it with an anything-goes mentality.  Fans ate it up…they'd never seen anything like it.

Most of the bits are as hysterical today as they ever were.  “Rock and Roll Hospital” diagnoses some unusual disorders, while “Elvis Drugs” exist to help remind grown-ups to take their drugs every day!  The running gag “Pirate Alphabet” is a riot, as is the very funny “preview” for a shocking new horror movie “Have a Nice Day”.  A popular Canadian band even took its name from one of the sketches, “Foundation for the Tragically Hip”!

But for me, the real trip down memory lane was in seeing the video for “Cruisin'”, which I hadn't seen in at least 20 years, and had almost forgotten the song as well!  Those adventures of “Lucy and Ramona and Sunset Sam” were a trip to relive.  But as mentioned, four other Nesmith tunes make the cut in video form, including “Rio”, “Magic”, “Light” and the rousing finale “Tonite”.  It's hard to categorize Nesmith as a solo artist…to some, he's a genius, to some, he's just odd.  It's safe to say he doesn't have the same sound as he made with his old bandmates.

Elephant Parts is a solid hour of laughs and music, and deserves to be remembered as one of the most influential musical projects of the rock era.  Without it, video may never have killed the radio star.

BONUS TRIVIA: The title is a reference to the parable about the blind men and the elephant, where each of the men touched a different part of the animal and came away with a very different impression of what it was! 

Before he became a Monkee, Michael Nesmith penned the hit song “Different Drum” for Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys.

And here's one more tidbit for you…Michael Nesmith's mother is the inventor of White-Out!

Video **

Anchor Bay preserves the full frame aspect ratio of this once and future direct to video release.  It shows its age a little bit, as the 80s continues to be the most problematic era for DVD transfers.  Though it's perfectly watchable with no major complaints for a two decades old offering (and one that was fairly low budgeted), one can't help but notice minor problems here and there.  When images get dark, you can see some of the print limitations, and there's a bit of softness here and there.  Colors range from good to looking about a click down from normal.  There's certainly nothing so bad that you'd want to avoid the disc, mind you…just some typical 80s-ish video difficulties here and there.

Audio **1/2

Presented in Dolby Surround, this is a decent audio offering that really shines during the songs.  The rest of the program is mostly dialogue oriented, without much call for the rear stage until you get to the vivacious finale.  Spoken words are clean and clear, and the track seems free of noise or other limitations.  A better than average presentation.

Features ***

There's not much in terms of quantity, but it scores in this department for quality…the commentary track with Michael Nesmith is a wonderful listen!  He speaks with the warmth and humor of…well, a Monkee…and he offers plenty of great insights as to how they managed to make this video on a shoestring budget.  You'll be surprised at what you can do with two garbage bags, colored lights and a fan!  It's a real treat all the way.  There is also a gallery of photos and stills, and the menu screens play a couple of verses of “Cruisin'” while you navigate.

Best of all are the chapter stops…there are a full 41 of them for a 62 minute video, meaning EVERY bit, sketch and song is easily accessible.  Way to go, Anchor Bay!

Summary:

Elephant Parts is a pioneering video project and a terrific hour's worth of comedy and musical entertainment.  Michael Nesmith's adventures won him a Grammy and helped give birth to a modern art form in the music video.  Kudos to Anchor Bay for bringing this title back for DVD aficionados.