Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Treme DVD review
I really should be doing a video rant ala Crayton but...I ADORE this series. Brilliant writing, it's flaunting conventional wisdom of narrative flow and pacing makes for a uniquely immersive viewing experience. And its richness of obscure, yet accurate details of the history and experience of living in New Orleans invites a level of active participation that proves highly addictive. BUT...
The DVDs screen DISTINCTLY DARK - appreciably darker than the original broadcasts. So are simply technologically flawed -- and there's no reason for this other than HBO's lack of quality control.
As per the extras:
"The Music of Treme" in-episode viewing mode - perfunctory and ultimately pathetic. The pop up boxes list song title and the person performing it on screen, no mention of the writer or the performer that the song is most closely associated with or any of their history.
For instance, in the scene where Annie is accompanying pianist Tom McDermott at a private party and they're playing "New Orleans Bump" (could be titled, "New Orleans Blues" - I'm writing this in a rush early Saturday morning) - the pop up window says: "New Orleans Bump" Tom McDermott. There's no mention that it was written, originally performed and recorded by Jelly Roll Morton and as Morton is one of the originators of Jazz and inarguably one of the seminal figures in New Orleans music history that information might have also been useful.
Moreover, a lot of music is not thus notated at all -- the Mardi Gras Indian chants, songs playing on the radio or jukeboxes, etc.
The audio Music Commentaries are also shockingly lame. In the scene noted above the commentators say "That's Jelly Roll Morton." No explanation whatsoever of who he was, no mention of his musical achievements and place in New Orleans music history.
What really makes all this especially irritating is that a number of folks have pointedly offered up highly detailed and fairly engrossing commentary on the series that does all the things you'd hope you were getting in purchasing this DVD set for instance, the Times Picayune's "Treme Explained" column:
NPR also provided a useful line of commentary.
So - the "Treme" series itself is one of my favorite television viewing experiences in DECADES. Engrossing, revelatory and educational (my music collection devoted to NOLA based music went from a couple Meters' albums, Lee Dorsey and Fats Domino to -- well a HEALTHY selection going from Jelly Roll to Mystikal and many points in between. But this DVD set is technologically inadequate and the extras I mention -- seem like a grudging after thought. In all fairness, we're still digesting all the extras and thus can't say anything about the documentaries included as of yet. Hopefully they'll be meatier.
Notwithstanding, I am eagerly looking forward to season 2. During a visit to NOLA December 2010, as we were leaving our hotel in the financial district, heading for the airport we happened upon the "Treme" crew filming a scene in the hotel restaurant, which was being used to portray chef Jeanette in NYC -- "cooking her way back to New Orleans" as a PA told us. YAY.
PS for folks who do get involved in deeper study on the people/culture/music of New Orleans there's an amazing free archive of video footage shot in 1982 by famed folklorist Alan Lomax here: [...]