Roy Orbison: Black & White Night, Blu-ray (Originally released 1999)
Starring: Roy Orbison, Bruce Springsteen, T Bone Burnett, Elvis Costello, Jackson Browne, K.D. Lang, Bonnie Raitt, J.D. Souther, Tom Waits, Jennifer Warnes
Producer: T Bone Burnett
Studio: Image Entertainment ID49540BBD
Video: 1.78:1 widescreen 16:9 B&W, 1080p HD
Audio: DTS HD Master Audio 5.1, English DD 5.1, PCM Stereo
Feature Length: 64 minutes
Roy Orbison died in December 1988 of a massive heart attack at only age 52, and the rock and roll world was deprived of one of its most endearing musical talents. Just a year earlier, T Bone Burnett had assembled the all-star cast for the extravaganza that this disc documents, all at a time when Orbison was actually experiencing a resurgence of popularity, was working on a new album and had effectively revived his career. The disc features an incredible lineup of musical talent, featuring the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, K.D. Lang, Tom Waits, Jackson Browne and countless others. I have to admit that, not having seen this concert previously, I was really impressed with how well most of these aging rock stars looked, and Roy Orbison himself looked particularly great, as well. Further inspection revealed that (and this is mostly due to my relative inattention and failure to process the necessary information), yes, they all looked great, because the event took place twenty years ago! I guess I’d just forgotten exactly when Roy Orbison had passed, and my having missed this event for whatever reason, I just didn’t have a really good frame of reference for the time period. Anyway, regardless of the massive assemblage of talent here, Roy Orbison is definitely the star — and the total focus of the goings on here — but it’s also a real treat to see the star-powered back-up band in action.
The highlights here are numerous, and Orbison and company dish out spectacular renditions of all his big hits. I especially enjoyed such classics as “Only The Lonely,” “Dream Baby” and “Ooby Dooby;” I was particularly impressed with the really entertaining version of “Mean Woman Blues” that the group cranked out. T Bone Burnett gets much of the credit here; his orchestration of the event and its musical direction and his efforts to assemble the truly stellar cast was a remarkable accomplishment, and it’s really obvious that everyone involved is having a total blast!
From a technical standpoint, I had a few problems with the Blu-ray disc, although many of my complaints can’t be directed at any technical deficiencies of the actual disc, they’re more of an artistic problem I have with the film’s visual direction. The overall appearance of the onscreen image is superb; the show was shot in black and white, and offers a really noirish, fifties aesthetic that contributes a really cool mood to the proceedings. Most of the shots are really crisp and clear with excellent contrast. However, the cinematography includes an extensive use of slow motion effects, combined with a lot of really intentionally grainy shots that give the image an almost mezzotint quality. While I can’t complain about the director’s intentions, I found the frequent slow motion shots to be really distracting, and I really think that the show would have been much more enjoyable with a more straight-ahead visual style. My other real complaint came with the DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, which was unusually heavy in the rear channels; so much so, that I had to reduce the overall level of the rears by more than 10 db to achieve a sense of normality. I also felt that the front sound was way too focused on the center channel; overall, the sound just didn’t offer the immersive kind of surround sound that so many of these live concert discs just seem to excel in.
While I did have some complaints about the artistic direction of the film’s look, I nonetheless immensely enjoyed the performances, and it was really gratifying to see Roy Orbison and his all star backup band in action. With some improvements on the surround soundtrack, I could easily have given this disc four stars. Regardless, it’s highly recommended.
— Tom Gibbs