In a hurry? Here are my two main points in this review:
1. I'm a big fan of the Clash
2. This DVD is dissapointing
Have a bit more time?
I was really excited to pick this up from the library (support your local library!) and lacking a DVD player myself, I rushed over to my parents' to watch it. I love the Clash, I admit to their shortcomings yet appreciate the fact that even at their lowest points, they're better than almost any other band. Which I think is truely the mark of a great band.
Anyway, I'd read some reviews in different places that said, "Yes, this DVD IS 'essential'," but that's the point I'd have to argue the most. This is mostly a vehicle for the Clash's music videos (part of a hypocritical stance by the Clash themselves), yet doesn't include my favorite video by them. "This is Radio Clash" is completely abset, I can only assume it's because the "video" is really just a hodge-podge of material from their documentary Westway to the World (which I do recommend). Also included is the 45-ish minute black and white silent film by Joe Strummer called "Hell W10" which is extremely boring. period. I attempted to sit through it, but failed miserably. The extras section also includes an old interview with Joe, Mick, and Paul from 76 or 77, which doesn't do much for me. I'd been reading a lot about the band recently (Riot of our Own and Return of the Last Gang in Town), and the interview did nothing but give another illustration of how overly concerned with image the band was, and how hypocritical they were (in the interview clip Joe and Mick shut up about their relatively plush upbringings and let Paul talk about his lower class existance to illustrate how "street" and "punk" they are). It's also a little dissapointing that the DVD has only a clip of this interview, which lasts maybe 5 minutes or so. There's also a discography section exactly the same as the one on Westway to the World.
The videos themselves are pretty hit-or-miss.
From their early career there's three videos filmed rather obviously and awkwardly in an empty club of the band playing "1977" "London's Burning" and "White Riot" live. They show a lot of energy, but it seems rather contrived and unconvincing. The quality is pretty good though.
The same can't be said for other live videos on the DVD. Taken from the Clash on Broadway documentary, "Clampdown" and "Train in Vain" feel sloppy and flat. The band does show good energy, but while well-filmed it just doesn't have a blistering sound quality that I'm sure the actual live show had. Also humorously, Joe Strummer's guitar is almost completely absent from the mix, and Paul's out of tune bass sounds like it's using 10 year old strings. The large exception to this set of live videos is "I Fought the Law" which is AMAZING. It might be worth the price (what is the price of this?) alone. The sound is fresh and tight. If you've got a fast modem, go download it somewhere.
Filmed during one of their last shows (after Topper was kicked out) during their stint co-headlining with the Who, there are two videos- "Should I Stay or Should I Go" and "Career Opportunities", which both are pretty good if you can get past Joe Strummer's goofy mohawk, sunglasses (at night), and coonskin hat. I think it IS importiant to mention looks for this since it's a DVD, and at this point the band looks completely like another cheesy rock and roll band that they claimed to so dispise in their early days.
Everyone's probably seen the video for "Rock the Casbah" at some point, and it's on here. It's good, I wish there as some audio commentary or something during it. There's also a music video for "The Call Up" (a song selection which surprizes me) which is kind of neat. Black and white featuring the band in various military gear. "London Calling" is another video most have probably seen at least a clip of, and although it's a good video, if you've seen a 20 second clip of it you have the whole idea. The video for "Bankrobber" combines some nice live footage as well as an amusing plot. It's probably my favorite "music video" on the DVD.
Overall, the videos were good, but I wish there was some sort of commentary or something extra to them.
The DVD made me shrug, kind of like a greatest hits package that has absolutely nothing extra to offer. This is definitely not "essential" to any sort of fan of the band's. The only people I might recommend this to are the bored (and check it out from your library, don't bother buying it), or a boy/girlfriend who you're trying to show how great the Clash are (if they're a visual person. Although, I don't even think this DVD would help in that fashion with the band looking pretty dated sometimes). I recommend the Westway to the World DVD over this, because it has a lot of interview footage as well as great live clips.
For a band who has written such timeless and classic music, many of their different "personas" have a pretty short shelf-life. Buy any of their records before this.
Oh yeah, early Clash (as seen in the boring "Tommy Gun" video) does nothing but reinforce the stereotype of awful British teeth.