Donovan

Sunshine Superman: The Journey of Donovan

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It's unlikely there will ever be a more comprehensive audiovisual document of Donovan than this two-DVD set. The documentary that occupies disc one of this two-DVD set is alone almost as content-rich as any such commercially available retrospective for a major figure in rock history, skillfully combining interviews done specifically for this project with a wealth of vintage footage and photos. The main interview subject is Donovan himself, who talks onscreen so often that he almost functions as the film's narrator, as well as its focus. Fortunately, Donovan's a good storyteller who's at ease in such situations, and he covers most of the main bases of his colorful career, from his modest boyhood upbringing and teenage beatnik adventures through international stardom as first a folk singer, then a folk-rock-psychedelic pioneer. As is the case with numerous similar documentaries, perhaps it might have been better to have some more space for other interviewees, although a few other key figures are heard from, including his wife Linda, his famed sidekick Gypsy Dave, and arranger John Cameron. As other fairly minor criticisms, certainly some notable details of his musical life (such as the business disputes that threatened his recording career in the mid-'60s) are sketchily laid out; the chronology of how events are sequenced is not always impeccable; a few film clips don't use soundtracks from the actual ones heard on their original broadcast; and the use of webbed borders for some archive segments is both puzzlingly unnecessary and mildly distracting. But not many viewers other than Donovan fanatics will notice or be bothered by any of this, instead getting entertained by the wealth of performance clips and personal reminiscing. As is proper, his mid- to late-'60s heyday gets the most attention, with almost all of the hits discussed and performed. But subsequent decades are not avoided, if lightly covered in comparison, it at one point being revealed that he can't recall much about his most fallow '80s period; though his mid-'90s comeback record Sutras gets some time, 2004's Beat Cafe is oddly absent from discussion. Donovan also takes care to relate his music to other issues such as his concern for peace, justice, romance, freedom, and spirituality, not to mention talking about his experiences while studying meditation with the Beatles in India.

Disc two isn't as lengthy, but while it has plenty of material, it's really for the Donovan devotee, and not so much for general rock fans, most of whom will enjoy the first disc but have trouble sitting through everything on its companion. In addition to extended interview segments done for the principal feature, there are past and present music videos dating back to the '60s; performances, done not long before the 2008 release of this DVD, of some unreleased songs; a couple mid-'60s TV appearances (a great Swedish live one of "Sunny Goodge Street" in 1966 but a disappointingly short one of "Catch the Wind" done the previous year); a couple songs from a BBC concert around the early '70s; and quite a few live clips done not long before this DVD was made, among them a whopping 14-minute 2008 jam on "Season of the Witch." The final section, labeled "The Private Donovan," might get too arcane even for some dedicated viewers, including scenes of Donovan rummaging among his archives, a clip of his father reading poetry, and scenes from his family album and acceptance speeches of honors. While it's still good to have this material available, it's unfortunate that precise details (and often, even years) aren't given regarding the origination of the TV clips and music videos, which are the kind of things fans serious enough to investigate such stuff want to know.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Title/Composer Performer Time
1
blue highlight denotes track pick