Robert Wyatt

The Soft Machine/Robert Wyatt [DVD]

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Bootleg DVD releases on the Anonymous Film Archive label often spell trouble as far as visual and audio standards, but refreshingly this compilation of rare Soft Machine/Robert Wyatt footage -- running nearly two hours -- isn't bad at all. True, the quality would no doubt be better if it had the transferred-from-the-best-source standards adhered to by most official releases. But while this material obviously wasn't transferred from the best sources, it's quite watchable, and more importantly, very interesting (and rarely seen). Five of the six segments are of the Soft Machine, with particularly exciting clips of the band in their early psychedelic phase performing "I Should've Known" and "We Know What You Mean" live in September 1967 on Dutch TV, with accompanying psychedelic graphics and grooved-out dancers. (Not that you'll necessarily know the source from viewing this; unfortunately, there's no documentation for when and where the material on the DVD was filmed and broadcast.) A briefer scene of the band, circa 1967 (with Daevid Allen in the lineup), apparently rehearsing in a house with some girlfriends in tow, seems to come from an Italian television program. There's a color clip, probably from the very early '70s, of the post-Kevin Ayers lineup playing instrumental prog rock-jazz fusion, with Wyatt still on drums. The dullest segment is probably the single Soft Machine performance by a post-Wyatt aggregation of the band in the early- to mid- '70s, playing long instrumental fusion pieces (in color). The Dutch TV clips are unnecessarily repeated in a mildly varying form before the single Wyatt segment. But that segment -- an hour-long, black-and-white documentary from the late 1990s, Little Red Robin Hood -- takes about half the running time, and it's a quite worthwhile one, including as it does interviews with Wyatt and numerous high-profile associates and collaborators, such as Brian Eno, Paul Weller, Elvis Costello, Phil Manzanera, Lol Coxhill, Carla Bley, Hugh Hopper, and Noel Redding. It does jump around chronologically quite a bit, as well as inserting many arty gray shots of England, and some might wish there were more scenes of talking heads or music (and few vintage clips are employed). Of course if all the footage on this disc could be released legitimately and in better quality; it would be far preferable to this minimally packaged DVD. But as Wyatt's uncommercial cult status makes such an endeavor far from a sure thing, this may be the best such item fans can expect.