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Festival Express - Blu-ray Review

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Festival Express - Blu-ray Review

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5 stars

Grateful Dead.  Janis Joplin.  The Band.  Buddy Guy.  What do they all have in common?  Well, other than being fantastic rock bands, artists, and live performers, they once upon a time in 1970 shared the same train as it traveled through Canada and played a series of festivals – some free – for the northern crowds.  Academy Award-winning cinematographer Peter Biziou (Mississippi Burning, Pink Floyd: The Wall, The Truman Show) recorded the trip with 16mm film cameras – both inside and outside of the train – to preserve the midnight jam sessions and festival performances.  For a long time afterwards, that footage was misplaced, mishandled, and lost.

The “happening” on the Canadian National Railways 14-car train was to be remembered by those on board only.  And then, almost by accident, the footage was found.  No longer was it to be the stuff of legend.  Now, the combination of non-stop jam sessions and partying could be witnessed by all.  Director Bob Smeaton (double Grammy Award-winner for The Beatles Anthology) - with the help of some contemporary interviews from Bob Weir, Buddy Guy, Mickey Hart, and Sylvia Tyson (of Ian & Sylvia) – reassembled the once-thought lost footage and completed the film in 2003.  Festival Express, thanks to Shout! Factory, is now available on blu-ray with remastered sound and picture.

The documentary is one hell of a good and groovy time.  From beginning to end, this is fascinating material.  And the live music, oh, is just this side of nirvana.  The midnight jam sessions are historic and the alcohol-fueled all-nighters are exhilarating and fun.  It is a great document for the time period, too.  There were protestors at some of the stops.  Their target is something we can all relate to; price-gouging promoters hungry for a buck.  The bands – disgusted by the violence – decide to throw free “rehearsal” concerts atop a flatbed truck at local parks and quickly set events up along the way to their next stop.

Financially, the tour was a failure.  So many things went wrong and no one made a buck off of the idea.  But it’s okay because as The Dead’s Mickey Hart says, "The train was for many things, but not for sleeping."  The footage in Festival Express backs him up.  As the Canadian countryside chugs out the window, Garcia gets bluesy with an impromptu Buddy Guy jam, the whiskey gets spiked with acid, and in one of the film's most fascinating scenes, a stoned Rick Danko (of The Band) sings with Janis Joplin while Jerry and Bob pick along.  It's the music that matters anyway and there are plenty of special moments on this train trip.

When the rolling party runs out of booze, the train pulls over in front of a liquor store in Saskatoon.  You won’t have that problem, though.  There was once a time when rock and roll mattered.  Festival Express bears witness to those times.  If you are a fan of music and its history, do not miss this train.

Festival Express - Blu-ray Review

MPAA Rating: R for some language.
Runtime:
147 mins
Director
: David Lynch
Writer:
David Lynch
Cast:
Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Justin Theroux
Genre
: Drama | Mystery
Tagline:
Beware what you dream for...
Memorable Movie Quote: "No hay banda"
Distributor:
Universal Pictures
Official Site:
Release Date:
April 26, 2004
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
February 11, 2014
Synopsis: The filmed account of a large Canadian rock festival train tour.

Festival Express - Blu-ray Review

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - February 11, 2014
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles
: English
Audio:
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
Region Encoding: A

The film has received a stellar 1080p/1.85:1 transfer that does what it can with the grungy source material. The new interview clips look good, but the original material has a very gritty, grainy look (it was shot on 16 mm, so that's to be expected). This is by no means a showcase for your HDTV, but it looks about as good as it's ever likely to. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio mix does what it can with the material, too, but the fuzziness of some of the music is always going to be there given the conditions in which it was recorded. Dialogue tends to be clean and clear.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • None

Special Features:

Supplements are fairly generous: a wide selection of bonus performances include: "13 Questions" by Seatrain, "Child's Song" by Tom Rush, "Thirsty Boots" by Eric Andersen, "As Years Go By" by Mashmakhan, "Hoochie Coochie Man" by Buddy Guy Blues Band, "Tears of Rage" by Ian and Sylvia and The Great Speckled Bird, "Hard to Handle" and "Easy Wind" by The Grateful Dead, and "Kozmic Blues" and "Move Over" by Janis Joplin.  There’s a making-of featurette, a half-hour of additional interviews and a trailer.  The Train Hopping selection allows you to skip to any given performance. Not too shabby, Shout! Factory.

  • Additional Interviews (19 min)
  • The Making of Festival Express (14 min)
  • Train Hopping
  • Bonus Performances (56 min)
  • Theatrical Trailer

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