Sunday, November 12, 2006

Sombrero Grande here, introducing the second half of Muchacha Motorista's two-part review of Sarah Brightman's "DIVA" releases: the DVD. Click here to read part one about the CD.

Sarah Brightman - DIVA: The Video Collection
DVD review by special guest reviewer Muchacha Motorista

It’s obvious from listening to her music that Sarah Brightman is a talented singer with a powerful soprano voice. From her album covers and booklet inserts it’s clear that she is also stunning and creative, with a dramatic visual flair. Usually a musician’s visual side becomes apparent only in a music video, if at all, but Sarah Brightman’s artistry extends from the words she sings to the physical interpretation of the song. This is why DIVA: The Video Collection is enthralling--it is a way to experience every facet of Brightman’s work and thus appreciate her brilliance more thoroughly.

DIVA: The Video Collection is arranged with perfect sense. If you just watch it from start to finish (or “Pie Jesu” to “Music of the Night”), each song will be precluded by a short introduction from Brightman herself, sitting in a bare studio recalling certain points about the upcoming video. She may mention how the song was written, or how she came to work on it, or why she chose certain aspects of the video to represent the song, or recall something funny that happened on the set of the video. In the earlier part of the DVD, these narrations go on for a while, but the idea is still fresh and the length isn’t bothersome. By the end, she has a minute or two worth of intro for each song before it gets rolling...perfect to keep the momentum of the DVD going.

Overall, Brightman’s intros are interesting and fun. She appears to be genuine and down-to-earth. But then there’re those cameras. In annoying MTV fashion, they can’t hold still on Brightman for even a second; they’re constantly floating right and left and up and down. There are times that she’s speaking and the camera is weaving around a shot of only her breasts. Yes, some guys would be looking there anyway, but really, how many guys are going to be watching this DVD, and the cameras should give the women viewers the option to look elsewhere. The style may work if you’re on VH-1 interviewing someone for 30 seconds, but not 5 straight minutes. Who thought this dizzying effect would be a good idea? Luckily, one forgets about the weaving after a few intros and can focus on Brightman’s fascinating stories.

Of course, if you don’t want the intros (though I highly recommend at least one full run-through--it is worth it for the insight she provides), there is a menu selection where you can just choose videos to watch. This is great, because I found that when I finished the full set of narrations and videos, I was anxious to go back and watch my favorites again.

The DVD showcases 20 songs, plus one Encore, making for a diverse sampling of Brightman’s music career. It was hard to narrow it down to a few highlights to discuss here, since her videos are all unique, powerful, and visually fascinating. Each one is worth watching.

“Phantom of the Opera” and “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” are both acted very dramatically as though for the stage. At first it comes across awkwardly until the viewer settles into it (for example, the exaggerated movements in a live musical that may look perfect from the back of the theatre, but in the front row they just seem over-the-top). Once you can get over that, and the very-'80s video style (overlaying photos with smoky edges, for example), you can really appreciate the Pre-Raphaelite design and jeweled colors of the videos.

In contrast to these classic designs are the videos for “Captain Nemo” and “Just Show Me How to Love You.” The first, with its footage of whales, seaweed-like costumes and freeform dance; comes off as very artsy, watery. It is a video not acted in but moved within. The latter, a duet with Jose Cura, was filmed on the streets of Paris, and gives an abstract consideration of people within spaces, both physical and social. Couples sit, lay, crouch, or stand in cardboard boxes throughout the streets, intertwined in one another’s limbs. They all begin motionless, staring out of the boxes, away from one another. Toward the middle, they caress each other, and then they begin kissing gently. At the end of the video, a couple walks down the street, dragging a cardboard box behind them.

“Pie Jesu,” was by far the most difficult to watch, filmed in the aftermath of a bombing in Northern Ireland. Brightman and the boy singing with her, Paul Miles-Kingston, are secondary in this video, the focus being on the destruction and horror of the bombing. The only other video that was as disturbing was “How Can Heaven Love Me,” in which a sort of twisted rage is at the center. Brightman notes in her intro that the video was very inspired by the Russian propaganda, and to me it looks like an '80s indie punk video. The abundant sexual symbolism in the video is never really sexy, but instead darkly uncomfortable.

The video for “Eden” was not disturbing per se, but filmed in the basement corridors of the Roadhouse in London, watery shadows give the video a disquieting effect. Originally based on a “trip-hop” song, the video succeeds in capturing the mood of the music in contrast to the lyrics.

Then there are my favorite types of her videos: those set in exotic locations or within intriguing architecture, with eclectic dance, costumes and décor. “Deliver Me” is one of these, filmed while on tour in South Africa at a concert with a local choir behind her. The choir is in local customary dress and moves to the beats in an organic way. Add to that clips featuring local imagery, especially local animals (elephants, zebra, lion cubs, snakes, etc), and you have a gorgeous video that really feels alive.

The location of “Anytime, Anywhere,” an old building in Seville, is at the heart of its video. The curving staircases, the old tiling on extravagant mosaics, intricate patterns in the carvings...these are not just a backdrop for the video, but part of the video, and Brightman (clad in a mesh costume draped with gold coins) shimmies through the building like blood flowing through a heart and arteries. Location is just as important for the video of “Free,” which was filmed at a Koran school in Marrakech. The rich colors of the tiles, lapis and gold, and of the outside desert sand dunes, and the way she utilizes the space, make this video breathtaking.

For “Kama Sutra,” they rented a Moroccan villa estate, and used one tiny room for the entire video. Like the videos mentioned above, the location for “Kama Sutra” set the entire ambiance for this video. On a bed the size of the room, a very beautiful man and a very beautiful woman embrace, touch, caress, and move through positions clothed but in ecstasy. The golden light and sensual guitar give the whole video a very heated effect...and it should leave you hot too. Woah.

There are very few cheesy or mediocre videos on DIVA: The Video Collection. The DVD is just video after video of rich, artistic, dramatic film...and essential viewing for a fan of Sarah Brightman or unique music videos.


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