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DVD Review: Red Hot + Blue – A Tribute to Cole Porter

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Greeting, all you fine and wonderful folks who’ve decided to stop looking at porn for five minutes and tune in to my little review. Today’s topic of conversation is a 2-disc special edition of Red Hot + Blue, which if you remember, was originally issued in 1990 as a Tribute To Cole Porter that created massive media attention for AIDS relief and became the first release in a 15-album series.

It featured such world-class artists as U2, Annie Lennox, Tom Waits, and Sinead O’Connor, and such acclaimed directors as Wim Wenders, Alex Cox, and Jonathan Demme, and is now finally being released with the care that it deserves. An eclectic musical homage to the legendary songwriter Cole Porter, it went platinum, spent 24 weeks on the Billboard charts, and generated $3 million dollars for AIDS charities worldwide, but its companion piece, a VHS collection of music videos, (you remember VHS, don’t ya?) was somewhat relegated to the background.

That changes with the 2-disc Special Edition package of Red Hot + Blue, which contains all the music videos on a DVD and the remastered album on a CD together.

The assemblage is in the form of a television special that promotes AIDS education and support, which is rather appropriate being that this is the reason the Red Hot project was kicked off in the first place (and all of the proceeds of the DVD still go to that cause). The program does get a bit preachy, along the line though, with lectures from such personages as Richard Gere and John Malkovich, who looked as uncomfortable as your father, persistently advising use of a condom. I had to fast forward through him (sorry, John).

Several of the videos (most notably the rap versions of songs, such as Neneh Cherry’s “I’ve Got U Under My Skin”) bring the message into the lyrics of the songs themselves. One of the videos, directed by John Pellington is The Jungle Brothers’ rendition of “I Get a Kick Out of You” that cleverly incorporates latex into many of its visuals, underlining the theme without being overtly obvious.

The AIDS theme is carried on in several other videos, such as the most political contribution, Erasure’s “Too Darn Hot”, incorporating then-current protest movements such as ACT-UP, (No, I don’t remember them,) while running AIDS factoids across the bottom of the screen.

Several of these caught me by surprise, such as the facts that the U.S. and South Africa are the only two industrialized countries to deny healthcare to people without money and that the U.S. spends more money on defense in one hour than we spend on health care in one year. I haven’t looked these up myself, so don’t write me any pissy e-mails if either of those turn out to be wrong.

One of the more touching videos is k.d. lang’s “So in Love”, directed by Percy Adlon, which takes a look at the everyday struggles of dealing with the disease in a loved one through the simple expression of lang doing her laundry.

Although most of the videos dodge expressions of male homosexuality, Jimmy Somerville’s “From This Moment On” directed by Steve McLean, embraces it wholeheartedly; there’s men rolling around and groping all over the place, so I had to fast forward through this too (sorry, Jimmy), but at least this is certainly a highlight of honesty in the program.

Several notable directors are along for the ride: Jim Jarmusch gives “It’s All Right with Me” by Tom Waits a strange hyper activity despite using slow motion, heightening the already disturbing vibe of Waits’ rendition. It’s like watching Tom run around drunk for four minutes, highly entertaining. Neil Jordan presents Kirsty MacColl and The Pogues as a nightclub show for “Miss Otis Regrets/Just One of Those Things”.

On the whole, however, the videos are somewhat lacking in originality or in adding extra dimension to the music. Wenders directs U2’s version of “Night and Day” and both the song and the video do absolutely nothing interesting, it’s like both the director and the band decided to phone it in.

The rest of the videos all too often are rather literal or bland, though the presentation of Sinead O’Connor as an ersatz Veronica Lake on “You Do Something to Me” is undeniably inspired (and may I say, she looks pretty hot with hair).

That said, however, the music still holds up very well, with only a few slow moments: the dull and synthy “Do I Love You?” by Aztec Camera being the biggest pain to sit through. (fast-forwarded through that too; sorry, Aztec) Most of the songs have an undeniable energy, with some great favorites being Salif Keita’s tribalized version of “Begin the Beguine,” the unlikely duo of Iggy Pop and Debbie Harry showing these young kids how it’s done by rocking out to an energetic version of “Well, Did You Evah?”

Plus, there’s no going wrong with Porter’s “In The Still of The Night”, and The Neville Brothers do a nice, if rather uninspired, rendition of it. The finale is the touching rendition of “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” by Annie Lennox, seen tearfully watching old home movies. It’s quite emotional, doubling the effect of the music to give a palpable sense of loss that drives the entire project. Even with the shortcomings of some of the videos, still a very worthwhile disc with messages that still need to be spread.

Written by Ladron de Tebeos

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS
  • http://www.alistreview.com Diane Ensey

    I bought the cassette tape of this way back when and listened to it until it wore out. I’m not sure the special edition DVD set is worth it, but now I’m inspired to order the CD.