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THE RESIDENTS: ICKY FLIX

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  The Residents
Directors:  The Residents, et al
Audio:  Dolby Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.0
Video:  Standard 1.33:1
Studio:  East Side Digital
Features:  Discography, Video Info
Length:  100 Minutes
Release Date:  January 23, 2001

Film ****

The release of Icky Flix on DVD marked a happy day for Residents fans everywhere.  At long last, some of the enigmatic group’s famous (and infamous) pioneering videos were brought together on a single compilation home video, something the group had never shown much interest in doing.  We can thank DVD technology for the fact that they now have, because it gave them a chance to put a new spin on some old work:  in addition to the original music tracks, the Eyeball Ones went back to the studio to record all new versions of their old favorites with multi-channel surround sound in mind.  For the most part, these new versions are VERY new…they sound quite different from the previously produced ones, yet they match up perfectly with the old videos.

For those unfamiliar with the Residents, they have been at the forefront of avant-garde music and video for about thirty years.  They’ve produced countless albums, staged a limited number of unforgettable live shows, and pioneered music video into an art form…yet to this day, nobody knows who they are.  They have never appeared in public or been photographed unmasked, and from some time in the 70’s to this day, they have always donned giant eyeball head masks, complete with top hats and tails, as their personal image.

Their music is original and surreal, and very radio-unfriendly.  Over three decades, the sound of the Residents has encompassed everything from the strangely beautiful to the noisy and disturbing.  Their career has included ambitious projects, such as the three-disc Mole trilogy and accompanying live show, an album of Elvis covers, tributes to Hank Williams and John Philip Sousa, and more.  Two of their most lingering works:  The Commercial Album, which expressed their views that pop songs are all really only one minute long if you take out the repetition…to prove their point, the album consisted of 40 songs, each exactly one minute in length.  And Freak Show, a bizarre concept piece about a carnival that spawned computer animated videos, a graphic novel, and more.

But this DVD concentrates on their groundbreaking videos, starting with one of the medium’s most famous, “The Third Reich ‘N’ Roll”.  Called by some the first ever music video (incorrectly, I think, if you count the Beatles’ promos for “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane”), this bizarre piece combines images of the band, their instruments and their setting all completely coated in newspapers, as they hype out to a strange mix of “Land of a Thousand Dances” and “Wipeout”.  The stop motion animation, Nazi-esque imagery, and black and white photography make this an intriguing and disturbing one…it’s no wonder the video is on permanent display at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

The DVD also includes some new stuff as well…the Eyeball Ones created a video for one of their older songs, “Constantinople”, exclusively for this disc release.  “One Minute Movies”, featuring tunes from The Commercial Album, is also on display at the Museum of Modern Art.  Clips from it were shown as strange promos on MTV during its early days.

One of the earliest videos to use computer animation, “This is a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” from the early 80’s was an indication of the future of the medium, and Freak Show’s “Harry the Head” still is an amazing landmark despite the fact that computer animation has progressed incredibly further since then. 

Two of the best pieces included are “The Gingerbread Man”, which is as visually stunning as it is haunting, and the restored “Vileness Fats” video, an abandoned project that the group began in the early 70’s and added to a little at a time over the course of a decade or so.  The music from this ambitious but ultimately failed concept was later released on a special CD entitled Whatever Happened to Vileness Fats?

Make no mistake, the Residents are not a group for everyone, neither musically nor video-wise.  Their importance is undeniable, but their appeal has been deliberately limited.  I consider myself a fan, and even I tend to find their work a bit much from time to time.  But I’ve always wanted a good Residents’ video compilation…their visuals serve as anti-pop and influential landmarks on the scenery of the art form.  Icky Flix is a body of work of indelible imagery and strange sounds…it’s a celebration of the disjointed and disturbing, and for fans of the group, it’s not to be missed.

NOTE:  We can also thank DVD for bringing the band out of live show hiatus and back to the stage, as they are in the midst of a new American tour in support of the new music on Icky Flix.

Video ***1/2

The 17 videos included in this compilation range from over 25 years old to brand spanking new, so naturally, there are some inconsistencies from program to program.  Overall, though, I was extremely pleased with the video quality.  The integrity of the high-contrast black and white photography of “The Third Reich ‘N’ Roll” is intact despite the age of the video.  Others, like “One Minute Movies”, are deliberately murky, and too much cleaning-up would damage the original imagery.  The computer animated videos look especially sharp and colorful.  Overall, the disc represents exactly what you would expect, and possibly a little more.

Audio:
Original Music ***1/2
New Music ****

The audio choice is a hard one, even for die-hard purists.  I love the original music, and it sounds quite good here in remastered stereo, but that 5 channel track of new music…wow!  The Residents really made full use of multi-channel sound in their new orchestrations, sending various instruments hurtling out of different speakers for an eclectic and absorbing listening experience, with greater dynamic range and more punch than ever before.  Suffice to say, you can’t go wrong with either one…a fun exercise is to switch the audio tracks back and forth on the fly during the videos; you can hear just how much difference there is in the new music!

Features *

The disc contains a paragraph or so of information about each video, accessible from the menus or in the enclosed booklet, which also contains a detailed discography.

Summary:

The Residents:  Icky Flix is a terrific compilation of one of modern music’s most enigmatic bands, putting together a body of work that is strange, disturbing, and historically important.  Spend 100 minutes with these Eyeball warriors, and your perception of music, video, style and pop culture icons will be forever altered (or damaged, depending on your point of view).  With choice of original or new 5 channel music mixes, no fan of the group should pass up this extraordinary DVD.