In 1983, in the wake of the release of Wild Things Run Fast, Joni Mitchell did a national tour that resulted in the full-length conceptual/concert video seen here. Derived from live performances but also built visually on inserted archival and symbolic footage, Refuge of the Roads is a compelling hybrid, capturing Mitchell and her band at their best on-stage, intercut on some songs with material intended to highlight some aspect of the meaning behind the song. Whether Mitchell -- who also directed this film and edited it with Norm Levy -- is performing "straight" or trying to convey some meaning to viewers, she is a compelling presence on the screen; unlike most singer/songwriters of her generation, she has a sense of visual style and the dramatic, which colors not only her choice of footage but also the way she carries herself on-stage before the cameras -- on "Woodstock," she's practically slow-dancing with her guitar on top playing it well and aggressively, and it is a compellingly sexy vision of an artist who hasn't usually evoked that kind of response. She has a good sense of rhythm in her editing as well, and irony too, and a clear vision that allows her to range across subjects -- clips of Dream of the Wild Horses (on "Wild Things Run Fast"), the Charles Mingus bio Mingus (on "God Must Be a Boogie Man"), clips from Woodstock and Mitchell performing "Both Sides Now" on television, and the feature films Koyaanisqatsi and Luis Buñuel's Viridiana, as well as home movies shot on the road. The classic footage makes one hope for a Joni Mitchell video encompassing material like that along with more recent performances, but for the moment, Refuge of the Roads provides the broadest look at her work over time. On a technical level, the DVD is just fine, with loud crisp volume and a chapter marker for each song, and 5.1 Surround Sound available for those who can use it. The programming is slightly annoying, as it opens with a somewhat irritating promo clip for Mitchell's Shadows and Light concert DVD that can't be skipped, but there's also an array of behind-the-scenes photos from the film and the tour that can be accessed manually or viewed at a preset speed set to music. The image is mastered full-frame (1.33 to 1).
AllMusic Review by Bruce Eder