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Music DVD Review: Petula Clark – Portrait Of Petula Clark (US release only)

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Petula Clark CBE is one of the worlds most successful and respected female entertainers. Her remarkable career has spanned six decades, and started during the Second World War when, as a child, she performed more than two hundred concerts for the troops.

The peak of her popularity, however, came in the sixties when she was a major television, film, radio, stage, and recording artiste. Petula is now in her mid seventies and still performs to her many lifelong fans around the world.

Her amazing career is revisited on a new DVD release, Portrait Of Petula Clark (released in the US only, Infinity Entertainment, 2009). It captures her at the very pinnacle of her career performing in one of her own television shows originally transmitted in 1969. The very fact that the show was filmed in London, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, and Geneva highlights the scale of her popularity at the time.

It opens with scenes of a very swinging London of the late sixties, and includes guest appearances by her great friend Andy Williams; French star Sacha Distel, who died in 2004; and actor Ron Moody who had recently leapt to fame following his portrayal as Fagin in the film Oliver.

Scenes of the Eiffel Tower, the Brooklyn Bridge, Times Square, French ski slopes, Central Park, the Tower of London, and Buckingham Palace add to the truly international flavour of the programme.

Opening with a solo performance of “This Girl’s In Love With You” it is immediately apparent that she possessed a delightful voice and an endearing stage personality. She is soon adding the ever popular “My Funny Valentine”, “When I Was A Child”, “Mademoiselle de Paris”, and the lovely “You And I” from her film Goodbye, Mr. Chips.

These songs are shown with background footage, shot around the world and even includes an intimate section of Petula and her, then young, family. Joined by crooner Andy Williams she performs renditions of “Visions Of Sugar Plums”, and the Roger Miller penned country romp “You Can’t Rollerskate In A Buffalo Herd”. They then sing their joint hit single “Happy Heart” which is set amid a romantic picnic scene.

Also appearing is the popular French singer Sacha Distel who joins Petula singing “Love Is Blue”. In a scene that brings Renoir’s Montmartre in Paris vibrantly back to life they are both then joined by Andy Williams, to sing “The Poor People Of Paris”. It is unashamed homage to all good things French.

It was her French husband Claude Wolff who originally encouraged Petula to record in French. Needless to say she became a huge star in his homeland even challenging the legendary Edith Piaf in popularity. Petula’s European credentials were established when she also recorded in German and Italian. Her songs became hits across Europe.

It was songwriter Tony Hatch who persuaded Petula to record again in English and handed her the song “Downtown”. It was a huge number one hit. She has, in fact, charted a massive 159 top 40 hits across the world. By the seventies she was a major Vegas star and appeared regularly on US television.

British performer Ron Moody makes his bow with a comedy Jekyll and Hyde routine, and later as an early Captain Jack Sparrow character which looks strangely like a cross between Johnny Depp and Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson.

Chelsea’s Kings Road provides the backdrop for a good old London knees up, in a scene oddly reminiscent of an Austin Powers film. Petula can then be seen performing one of her major hits with “I Know A Place”.

The bonus material includes up to date interviews with both Petula, and Andy Williams, who expresses his fondness and admiration for her. It is clear from his comments that he thoroughly enjoyed working with Petula either as guest on her show or inviting her to be a guest on his.

Petula tells of how working with Dean Martin taught her to adopt some of his laid back rehearsal techniques. Both Perry Como and Bob Hope are also briefly shown. This was a hugely popular television series. It is, of course, very much of its time and can be considered somewhat cheesy by today’s standards and yet, therein, arguably, also lies some of its charm.

The show is from a time when you had to be an established celebrity to earn your own prime time television show. Today, with instant ‘stardom’ TV talent shows ten a penny, her authority as a worldwide star at that time is more than obvious.

Petula Clark had a somewhat squeaky clean image which helped make her a hugely popular star, ideal for prime time television. When seen in retrospect her show has an air of innocence and is a charming ‘moment in time’ reminder of a period in entertainment that has gone forever.

Her international status is clearly acknowledged, her voice is excellent, her personality warm, and the guest list impressive for the time. Her loyal fan-base remains and they will no doubt be delighted for the chance to experience this 1969 television spectacular once again.

The DVD is presented in full screen with an aspect ratio of 4:3. Additional special bonus material includes Petula singing “Without A Song”, and “Walk Through The World With Me”. Running time is approximately 65 minutes (plus special features). Release date March 17, 2009.

There are several websites dedicated to Petula Clark.

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