Though theatrical movies certainly dominate the videocassette market, a growing number of alternative videos are released every month. From exercise tapes to bad TV shows to offbeat relaxation programs, they cater to a more narrow market and, unless Jane Fonda graces the cover, often get lost amid the hoopla over big movies as they hit the video stands.
But many deserve more attention than they get.
- "THE MIND'S EYE" (Miramar, $19.95) is one such recent release, a fascinating 40-minute collection of brief computer-generated animation pieces, some composed of snippets from longer pieces, all tied to original music by James Reynolds.
"The Mind's Eye" comes from the same people who gave us "Natural States" and "Desert Vision," which are made up of gorgeously photographed shots of scenery set to entrancing music by David Lanz and Paul Speer. They're sort of nature-loving music videos designed to soothe. ("Desert Vision" is a local favorite, since it was shot largely in southern Utah.)
"The Mind's Eye" uses a similar format, Reynolds' technopop music perfectly matching the action on the screen in eight distinctive, mesmerizing music videos. In this case, however, what we see is wild imagery that could only be created by the unique technology of computer animation.
Some are more abstract than others, with spinning spheres and flashing strobes flying helter-skelter through the atmosphere of some strange netherworld, barely avoiding each other as they travel on their respective journeys. Or perhaps they are microscopic particles flitting about in search of formation, attempting to make sense of their surroundings.
Others play on more familiar imagery, yet are slightly askew, ranging from shiny, gleaming metal dinosaurs that race across the barren Earth to fish that seem oddly mechanical as they glide through the water. There is an almost Disneyesque "Fantasia"-type story of a fish being romanced by a bird, which seems to be a cyborg pterodactyl. There are dancing mannequins in what seems to be a Greek temple. There are bobbing toy birds that could have come out of a child's bedroom. And all the while the camera is spinning around these objects as if our view is from a too-smooth, wildly rotating helicopter.
As to the meanings of the individual pieces, they are certainly open to interpretation. And the most enjoyable are those that stay away from cliches. When we see flying birds evolve into planes and eventually space ships, it's a bit banal.
Still, even those are fun if you simply sit back and marvel at the wondrous pictures and music created by the boundless human imaginations that went into the creation of this one-of-a-kind showcase.
- "COUNTRY MUSIC VIDEO MAGAZINE" (BMG Video, $12.98) is another concept that may have been inevitable: a magazine for the VCR. Set up in magazine format - with personality profiles, feature stories and interviews - the video embodies all the pluses - and minuses - of both magazines and country music itself.
Country videos of singers never packed much punch. Unlike rock videos, the country versions lacked the energy, risk and spectacle of their "city cousins." A magazine format, however, lets the strengths of country music come through. Performers can be heartfelt and honest, and the easy, conversational style showcases the naturalness that's made country music popular.
In "Country Music Video Magazine, Vol. 3," for example, we get members of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band talking about their lives while eating tacos and fish. We get scenes of Dan Seals fishing - maybe for the fish being eaten by the Dirt Band. And we get a wonderful interview with Kathy Mattea full of talk about personal relationships and goals.
The weakness of the project is the weakness of all "insider" magazines. The video is basically a promotional piece for the industry. Everyone comes across as lovable and talented. No stark opinions are expressed, nobody's taken to task. Oh, once in awhile an inadvertent slap happens. Right after the Dirt Band finishes telling us their appeal comes from the fact that they play traditional, acoustical instruments, the "magazine" cuts to a scene of the Dirt Band on stage, playing electric guitars and working a sythesizer. I'm sure such implied criticism would horrify the editors.
But such negatives are accidents. The truth is you'll find fewer discouraging words here than in "Home on the Range."
Yet despite the lack of distance and perspective, it's amazing how many insights do come creeping through. Mattea, for instance, is shown to be a singer with a soul two miles wide, while Garth Brooks proves himself to be a lightweight; a singer/songwriter out of his depth who really has no handle on the music, the tradition or even his own audience. In short, he comes on like the Dan Quayle of country music.
The Kentucky Headhunters come out ahead, however. The rowdy band wins points in a tender little segment where they mention their parents. And I was taken by the boyishness of Rodney Crowell, despite his high-powered position in the industry.
In the end, reviews like this aren't about to hurt "Country Music Magazine." Vols. 1 and 2 have already gone gold.
Just realize what you get is a lot of cheerleading and boosterism, country music seen through John Conley's famous "Rose Colored Glasses."