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Tuesday, September 17

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Airbags

4 of 5 stars
Twenty-four short films with music by Radiohead.

Radiohead's diverse music has resulted in an enormous fanbase of varying degrees of intensity. It includes mainstream kids who like "Creep" and The Bends a lot and have since moved on to Coldplay; slightly esoteric (pretentious) electronic music fans who love their more recent trajectory, with all the electronic noises; middle-of-the-road fans who like OK Computer and not much else; and obsessive geeks who love all of it, hunt down every rare track they can afford and trade concerts like Deadheads. I'm the last of these.

I'm also a huge fan of concert movies like Portishead's phenomenal Roseland Ballroom concert and, yes, Woodstock, so I have been waiting patiently for an official Radiohead concert to be released on video for about ten years now, and each video release that continues to ignore my need has been a slight disappointment. Radiohead's first video production, Seven Television Commercials, simply compiled seven of Radiohead's music videos, including the stand-out animated video for "Paranoid Android" by Magnus Carlsson. Radiohead had first seen Magnus Carlsson's Robin cartoon while at a club in London, and later contacted him to commission the video for "Paranoid Android."

Their next video release was Grant Gee's wonderful, but almost completely uninformative "documentary," Meeting People is Easy. Too light on complete songs to function as a proper tour/concert movie, Meeting People was something of a disappointment to fans (okay, me). But the film is immensely enjoyable when viewed as a story about a band that's just become famous and whose lead singer finds it all terribly annoying. It just happens that band looks and sounds like Radiohead, the latter of which is a very good thing.

Radiohead's newest video production, its fourth by the official count, is now out on DVD, just in time for Christmas. Originally meant to be the first episodes for Radiohead's very own TV station, the four episodes of The Most Gigantic Lying Mouth of All Time ended up at the now-defunct www.radiohead.tv. When it debuted, it received a few scratches on the head from fans (me, again) disappointed by the relative lack of new material. With the full 110 minutes now collected on DVD, and viewable at a respectable size, the point of it all is now much more apparent.

See, like Meeting People Is Easy, Mouth is not really about Radiohead at all. Since the dawn of MTV, music videos have been a medium for musicians to subsidize independent filmmakers, often serving as springboards for talents such as Spike Jonze, of the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" and Being John Malkovich; Michel Gondry, of Björk's "Human Behavior" and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; and Mike Mills, who contributes an unsettling, claustrophobic film for "National Anthem" to Mouth and directs the upcoming Thumbsucker. The Most Gigantic Lying Mouth of All Time was, more than anything else, a forum for Radiohead to showcase some bits of film they liked without having to make every one of them a music video -- which is to say the film has been synchronized to the music, not the other way around.

Each episode of Mouth features one or two songs from concert or studio footage of Radiohead, one music video, a couple of shorts scored by Radiohead, and a short or two where they just used a Radiohead song as an underscore just to kill the silence, which sometimes results in abrupt fade-outs of a song when the film isn't the same length as the song. There are also interstitial bits and a few shorts Radiohead had nothing at all to do with, such as the so-stupid-it's-hilarious "Freak Juice Commercial" by Rick Hind & Ajit N. Rao.

The films comprising Mouth make for an impressively solid assortment of visual treats, and they will no doubt shortly grace TV screens in dance clubs across the world for some time to come. There are some terribly beautiful shorts, as well as some inevitable clunkers, but the winners more than make it worth viewing, particularly Paul Rains' breathtaking "and murders of crows," Hannah Wise's "Running," and Gary Carpenter's "HYTTE," which simply features a rapid stream of shots of wooden boards, creating an impression of motion. Verney Yeung's gorgeously simple "Skyscape" and Ed Holdsworth's throbbing, hypnotic video for "Sit down. Stand up" form a one-two punch near the end of Episode One, which also features bitmapped footage blown up from a December 8, 2002 webcast of Thom Yorke playing a rare non-album track, "Morning m'lord." Episode Two features a version of "Fog" whose audio track was on of the Go to Sleep singles, but most of the remaining, previously unreleased music from the band seems more like the soundtrack-like bits that the band has been releasing as B-sides recently. (But don't just take my word for it.) They are enjoyable musical filler but not as satisfying as a proper song. And the same die-hard fans who already own Jonny Greenwood's Bodysong soundtrack will eat up the end credits music, "Chernobyl 2" and "Momentum," an epic battle between Jonny Greenwood and some electronic equipment, which is featured in Episode Four.

As an Official Radiohead Product™, Mouth leaves me hungry for more, though. As with their other DVDs, this fan gets the feeling that the band has been entirely too shy about releasing its work. After ten years of touring and being widely considered one of the best live bands in the world, Radiohead's only live CD has been the I Might Be Wrong EP, which cherry-picked songs from different shows rather than documenting a full concert. It's about time Radiohead released a proper concert album or film, even if they are the poster boys for anti-capitalism. (They could donate the proceeds to Adbusters or something, right?) Why not release last year's MTV2 concert? Where is their awe-inspiring Hammerstein Ballroom concert for MTV's Live at the 10 Spot (broadcast through Windows Media Player here or MP3 format here)? For that matter, where is a DVD release of the Astoria Ballroom concert (a good show, but one that showcases their weaker, Pablo Honey/early Bends material)?

Sigh.

Thanks for the present, Radiohead. I do love it, really. But it's not quite what I wanted.

The Most Gigantic Lying Mouth of All Time is only available from W.A.S.T.E. and, at 12 pounds plus shipping, sounds heavier than it actually is.

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About the Author(s)

Gordon McAlpin writes his movie reviews with a red light-up Spy Kids pen, which he thinks is the coolest thing ever, even though he didn't like the movie that much.

If you feel the need to get in touch with him directly, do so at .

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