The Concert in Central Park

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel
Director:  Michael Lindsay-Hogg
Audio:  Dolby Digital Stereo
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  20th Century Fox
Features:  Bonus Trailers
Length:  88 Minutes
Release Date:  August 19, 2003

“If you need a friend,
I’m sailing right behind.

Like a bridge over troubled water,
I will ease your mind.”

Concert ****

When the legendary folk rock duo of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel reunited for a spectacular one night only show in New York’s Central Park before a rabidly enthusiastic crowd of about half a million people back in 1982, it was an indelible highlight in both of their musical careers.  For one young, unknown, wide-eyed dreamer in Jacksonville, Florida, it was not only a highlight, but an apex…the most pivotal point of his soon-to-be discovered musical life.

Simon and Garfunkel need no introduction.  The third party was me.  I can still remember it as clear as the resonating vocal harmonies of those master performers.  I was thirteen.  My family and I were in Tupelo, Mississippi visiting my sick grandmother.  The spirit of Elvis Presley, who had been born in that little town ages ago (or so it seemed to me) could still be felt whistling through the trees and across the dusty roads.  And one quiet night, trapped in a small hotel room with my parents, I was forced to watch two men whose names I had surprisingly never heard before as they took the stage on HBO for a dramatic reunion.  My mother assured me it was a huge event.  I was skeptical.  The third Star Wars movie coming out the following summer…THAT was a huge event.

And so I watched.  And listened.  And the more I listened, the more I realized I was indeed in the presence of a happening.  The songs were beautiful, lyrical, and wrapped around my mind like a warm blanket.  The voices were soft yet striking, distinctive yet inseparable.  I would go on to watch the concert almost every time it re-aired on HBO, and eventually, I would own it on laser disc.

More significantly, I found myself with a new personal goal that I wasn’t shy about vocalizing, to everyone’s patient bemusement.  I wanted to play the guitar like Paul Simon.  His perfect cord phrasings, eloquent finger picking and graceful, deceptively simply mastering of the fingerboard was a thing of beauty to see and to listen to.  My parents had bought me a guitar three years earlier and it had sat in my room virtually untouched all that time.  Never again.  I picked up the instrument one more time, and I haven’t put it down since.

Back then, I was a newbie in the world of Simon and Garfunkel.  Now, I’m a long time fan.  I can say from both points of view, this concert works.  If you don’t know their work, or much of it, virtually every song on here is either a classic or should have been one.  For the devotees, the body of music here is confirmation of these men’s modest yet undeniable greatness.

From the catchy opening riff of “Mrs. Robinson” through the lilting likes of “Homeward Bound” and “America”, this concert plays like an American songbook.  Whether it’s S&G classics like “Feelin’ Groovy”, “The Boxer”, the chilling “Sound of Silence”, the dreamy “Scarborough Fair”, the contemplative “Old Friends” or the majestic “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, there’s no denying the breadth of the compositions at hand.  Some of Paul Simon’s solo favorites are here, made better than ever with Art Garfunkel’s presence…songs like “Kodachrome”, “Me and Julio”, “Slip Sliding Away” and the showstopping “Late in the Evening”.  For added bonus, there are even a couple of rousing cover tunes:  the Everly Brothers’ “Wake Up Little Susie” (which was actually released as a single that entered the top 40) and Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline”.  One brand new song (at the time) was included:  “The Late Great Johnny Ace” was Simon’s heartfelt tribute to the recently fallen John Lennon.

Everything came together on that one incredible night.  The band was first rate, the atmosphere was electric, the crowd was ravenously responsive, and most important of all, Simon and Garfunkel sounded like they had never been apart at all.

I must confess, I don’t fully know the story of their turbulent relationship.  I’m not sure why they had split up in the first place, or why after such a successful show they split up again, or why they rarely spoke to one another for so many of those years.  All I know is that it was great to see them partnered together again in a time capsule moment, even if it was just for one night.  The friendly smiles to one another and occasional shoulder clasping proved that their music could indeed be the bridge over their troubled waters, at least for a little while.

Video *1/2

I was hoping to lavish better praise on this DVD in this department, but it faced two imposing hurdles right out of the box:  its age, and the fact that it was shot on video.  The show starts off looking pretty good, but as the night wore on and the setting became darker, the problems came out.  Images were slightly soft throughout…in close-ups, they weren’t so bad, but in long shots, there was definite fuzziness…no one in the band looked good.  Some dark shots lend to light, noticeable ‘rolling’ from the video source that your eye can’t help but pick up on.  Color tones are generally decent, but a bit of bleeding is apparent now and then.  As mentioned, most of these are attributable to age or the video source or both.  The DVD is watchable, but it can’t quite iron out those problem areas.

Audio **

I was REALLY hoping for a 5.1 mix, but the original stereo is all that’s here.  It sounds pretty good, but for serious audiophiles who have heard what concerts CAN sound like on DVD, this is a noticeable step backwards.  It just doesn’t have the full, open, punch of many live discs.  It’s clean and clear throughout, with fair dynamic range and nothing muddled or noisy…everything sounds right, just not exemplary.

Features *

Just a handful of trailers for some of Fox’s other available musical DVDs.  The chapter stops are a little frustrating…instead of one stop per song, a few of them are actually grouped together in pairs or in threes, making navigation difficult.  Neither the chapter list on the disc itself nor on the insert even mentions “The Late Great Johnny Ace”, so good luck in finding it (okay, I won’t play mean…it’s after “A Heart in New York”.  Whoever made the decision to present the disc in that fashion, it was a poor one.


As significant as the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show and as memorable as Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, Simon and Garfunkel: The Concert in Central Park is a perfect Kodachrome musical moment captured forever to stand as a testament to how great this duo was.  When one guitar and two voices can capture the hearts of half a million people in the toughest city in America, you know they have something special.  This DVD is the living proof.