Chris Hicks: Star-studded ‘Human Rights Concerts’ debut on DVD this week

Published: Monday, Nov. 11 2013 6:15 p.m. MST

Sting, Bruce Springsteen, U2 and many other music giants perform their hits for a collection of four “Human Rights Concerts,” debuting on DVD this week, along with an array of complete TV-series sets.

“Released! The Human Rights Concerts: 1986-1998” (Amnesty International/Shout!, 1986-98, six discs, $59.98, four concerts, additional performances, new documentary about the concert series, new interviews). Only one of the four concerts included here has been previously available, and the collective talent is quite astonishing.

One could dismiss this as a sort of live greatest-hits collection of the various artists on display since most sing familiar hits, but there’s a feverish sincerity and electricity that signals the passion these artists have for the cause of Amnesty International. (All proceeds from DVD sales, and the sales of a two-disc audio CD, benefit Amnesty International.)

The first concert, “A Conspiracy of Hope” (1986), is gleaned from a U.S. tour, and performers include U2, The Police, Peter Gabriel, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez and Aaron Neville, and Lou Reed, who died just last week, among others. The second, “Human Rights Now!” (1988), is from a world tour led by Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Tracy Chapman, etc. (The latter is the one that was released on home video 14 years ago, though it’s long been out of print.)

The third is “An Embrace of Hope” (1990), recorded in Chile at a celebration of the nation’s liberation from dictatorship, with Sting, Sinead O’Connor, Jackson Browne, Peter Gabriel, Wynton Marsalis, etc. The fourth is “The Struggle Continues” (1998), staged in Paris on the 50th anniversary of the city’s signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, featuring Bruce Springsteen, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, Alanis Morisette, etc.

Other performers in the set include Pete Paul & Mary, New Kids on the Block, Shania Twain, Carols Santana, Pete Seeger, David Byrne, Bono, and many more.

“The House of Eliott: Complete Collection” (Acorn, 1991-94, nine discs, $99.99, 34 episodes, featurette, text production notes, photo gallery, four-page booklet). This soap opera set in 1920s London is quite addictive as it unfolds the story of the Elliot sisters (Louise Lombard, Stella Gonet), born into privilege but suddenly left penniless when their father dies. Uneducated but determined, they put their passion for fashion to good use, gaining a reputation for haute couture and eventually opening the title store, dedicated to their unique vision. The stars are wonderful and the writing is first-rate, though both occasionally take a back seat to the stunning costumes and set design.

“Keeping Up Appearances: The Collector’s Edition” (BBC, 1990-95, 10 discs, $158.72, 40 episodes, four Christmas specials, new interviews, featurettes, bloopers; gardener-vest packaging, with seeds and plant tags). Hilarious spoof of British class distinctions focuses on Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced “Bouquet,” thank you), a snooty, albeit deluded, middle-class woman who imagines herself above her peers, especially her blue-collar family and neighbors, all played perfectly by familiar actors. Hyacinth was a breakout role for veteran character player Patricia Routledge, who went on to star in the equally popular “Hetty Wainthropp Investigates.”

“Absolutely Fabulous: Absolutely All of It” (BBC, 1992-2003, 10 discs, $158.72, 31 episodes, eight specials, “Comic Relief” and “Sport Relief” appearances, “Mirrorball” pilot, audio commentaries, new and vintage featurettes, introductions, bloopers). One of the more popular politically incorrect across-the-pond sitcoms is this buddy comedy with co-writer/creator Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley as middle-aged, equal-opportunity enablers trying to be hip and young, and failing miserably as they drown their sorrows in booze and drugs (only the British could get away with this). The word “outrageous” could have been coined specifically for this show, which is also very funny if you’re in the right frame of mind.

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