Hands up who can name the band who came up with the track that named this TV series? No, I couldn’t either, even though I must have come across it in multiple games of Trivial Pursuit. Turns out it’s Buggles, and the bloke with the glasses takes his place along side a lengthy list of iconic music stars from the 1980s who’ve dropped in to have a chat about their crazy videos.
The set covers three directors: Russell Mulcahy, David Mallet and Wayne Isham. You might not know their names either, but you’ll know their work. If it contains psychedelic graphics, bizarre costumes, moody staring or long hair, one of them probably made it.
Video Killed The Radio Star was hidden away as a six-part series on Sky Arts 1 and the parts are very short, twenty-three minutes with the adverts stripped out. There is no voice-over or commentary, the programmes being made up of clips from the videos themselves and soundbites from those involved.
Given the amount of time there was to play with, they’re reasonably thorough and cover a wide range of bands and genres. You won’t get facts and figures, but if you enjoy hearing reminiscence, there’s plenty of it, and from some pretty big names: Bob Geldof, Mick Fleetwood, Richie Sambora, Gary Kemp and most of AC/DC head a relatively surprising cast. There are a couple dozen videos referenced, all of which are included in their entirety, should you wish to pretend that you are watching ‘Guess The Year’ on VH1 Classic.
There is, however, a huge problem with this set, which becomes immediately apparent if you choose to play the whole of the first disc with its ‘DVD Extras’ category. The documentary is less than half an hour. The extras are two hours. But the extras are simply far more interview material without the actual music. The videos themselves don’t feature at all.
As a result, it’s possible to listen for the entire 120 minutes without ever looking up at the TV, which seems to defeat the object of making a boxset about the production of videos. It’s as if they filmed ten times what was needed for the documentaries themselves and then elected to shove the rest of it onto the DVD, not considering that this could be, frankly, a bit dull. No offence to Russell Mulcahy, but there is only so long you can sit through someone just sitting there talking.
The second disc has 47 minutes of ‘extras’ which are considerably better edited and actually feature the music videos themselves, which was a far brighter idea and in keeping with the main show. The third is another two-hour talking epic, although Isham is naturally easier and more entertaining to listen to than his counterparts. Eventually, it all becomes a bit too much, especially when you consider that, out of a 512-minute running time, only about half has actual music in it.
I can’t help but feel that all of this would have been done better in the hands of Channel 4, who seem to churn out consistently good music documentaries. For a start, the main features would have been far longer, which is exactly what should have happened here. I genuinely don’t understand the rationale behind producing 90 minutes of actual programme and then including the vast amount of stuff that got left on the cutting room floor. Why not just edit together a considerably longer programme?
I suspect it would also have been more interesting. The stories here are not that great. Wayne Isham is clearly enjoying himself and is far more on the side of excess, but Mulcahy starts to sound like he wouldn’t mind going home and David Mallet is outdone by AC/DC and the sight of Queen running around in drag.
The overall effect is baffling, hard going and not terribly enjoyable. While it’s all refreshingly free from Z-list ‘celebrities’ giving their scripted and idiotic opinions every two seconds, there are no eye-opening revelations about either the people or the techniques. In the case of the latter, there’s very little at all. Sky clearly felt that gathering together a bunch of big names and getting them to talk about themselves would do the job, which it very blatantly doesn’t.
Unless I’m missing something myself, this is a gigantic missed opportunity and not worth anything like the money being demanded. What really bothers me is that there were another three episodes made, which opens the door for another one of these. Why not put the whole series on, throw in the videos and charge half the price?
Video Killed The Radio Star is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.