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Magic Bands

EW compares new films about The Velvet Underground and Captain Beefheart -- Ken Tucker examines the two new music docs

EW compares new films about The Velvet Underground and Captain Beefheart

Just in from England: The Velvet Underground: Under Review and Captain Beefheart: Under Review, documentaries about, respectively, the influential New York band and the surpassingly strange Don Van Vliet, a.k.a. Beefheart. One sure way to enjoy both DVDs is to mute the sound any time you hear a British accent other than the narrator's; the ''experts'' here range from the triflingly earnest to the sniffily pompous. Nonetheless, the Velvets doc is thrilling: rare performance footage, solid reportage about how the band crafted its chillingly lovely music, incisive interviews with drummer Moe Tucker and Village Voice critic Robert Christgau, and, thankfully, no Lou Reed, always the worst explicator of his own work.

The Beefheart DVD is terrible except for the music. Many interviews are with Beefheart's Magic Band members, who can't see the forest for the trees (in fact, drummer John French talks into a phone that hangs from a tree). Where's the full context, about Van Vliet as the man who wedded the blues to dadaist poetry, an expressionistic painter as well as musician? Where, specifically, are Beefheart experts like critics Langdon Winner and Kristine McKenna? But get it anyway, for the music, the concert performances, and the hard-to-find promo clips (it stuns to think that a major label like Warner Bros. once had the guts to push an inaccessible act like this). Beefheart's works are harsh, beautiful mysteries, never to be solved.

Originally posted Apr 14, 2006 Published in issue #873 Apr 21, 2006 Order article reprints