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[whitespace] The Beastie Boys Fight for Your Right to Freeze-Frame: The new Beastie Boys DVD comes with interactive features that turn listeners into video editors.

Beastie Masters

A new DVD shows off the creative and humorous urges that keep the Beastie Boys fresh

By Jim Aquino

The Beastie Boys' tongue-in-cheek video for "Hey Ladies" first hit the airwaves in the summer of 1989--for hip-hop heads, that feels like eons ago--but I can remember the first time I saw the video as if it were yesterday. Directed by Adam Bernstein, the "Hey Ladies" clip was the band's cinematic-looking homage to Saturday Night Fever, Dolemite and Shampoo, set to a tasty blaxploitation groove provided by the then-unknown duo of SoCal college radio DJs-turned-rap-producers known as the Dust Brothers.

"Hey Ladies" was nostalgic for the '70s at a time when the nation viewed that decade with no affection at all, years before Dazed and Confused, the Brady Bunch movies and Boogie Nights made '70s nostalgia fashionable. It was the band's first high-profile video since its Licensed to Ill period, and the fact that MTV didn't give the clip as much airplay as "Fight for Your Right (to Party)" meant Licensed to Ill's head-banging frat-boy fans didn't know what to make of this oddball ode to '70s kitsch.

Meanwhile, I dug every minute of "Hey Ladies" because there was nothing else like it on MTV. It was funny, but in an understated way, not in the cheesy, hackneyed and Monkees-inspired manner that was popular with '80s rappers (like the Fat Boys and even the Beasties themselves) whenever they wanted to resort to a comedic tone.

Also, I wasn't aware of this at the time (I was just a junior-high kid), but I guess I appreciated "Hey Ladies" because it was an example of the possibilities of the music video medium, that it could transcend its reputation as a drab, empty marketing tool into more inventive directions.

Since "Hey Ladies," the Beasties have helped to move videos beyond that reputation, with clever efforts like the clip that made director Spike Jonze a household name, 1994's "Sabotage," a terrific, playful spoof of the frantic opening credits sequences of '70s cop shows like Hawaii Five-O and Starsky & Hutch.

THAT'S WHY the double-disc DVD release of The Beastie Boys Video Anthology is a keeper. It's a collection of the best in '90s music video-making, from classics like "Sabotage" to lesser-known gems like 1989's "Shadrach," in which Beasties concert footage is rotoscoped into LeRoy Nieman-style painted cels by the Simpsons and Rugrats animation studio Klasky-Csupo. (Only the videos from the Beasties' Def Jam years are omitted because the band is reportedly ashamed of them--no big loss.)

Because this compilation was packaged by the great DVD company Criterion, it means viewers are also treated to alternate edits and filming angles, goofy short films inspired by the videos, behind-the-scenes photos, commentary tracks by the band and the directors, and alternative audio tracks of more than 40 remixes by the likes of Moby, Fatboy Slim and Prince Paul.

Some of these remixes will make Beasties completists salivate because they've never been released before, including a Paul Nice remix of "Hey Ladies" that's even funkier than the original.

Supervised by Beasties member and DVD nut Adam "MCA" Yauch, the anthology represents the future of music-video compilations, which are usually disposable visual wallpaper packaged without much of the inventiveness or wit that Yauch and the Criterion producers infused into this retrospective. (For instance, the music that accompanies the menu screen for the supplementary features of the "So What'cha Want" video is the song in Japanese).

Yauch and Criterion have taken advantage of such DVD player features as the multiple-angle button, allowing viewers to act as editors by creating hundreds of new videos from the multiple angles of clips like "Shadrach," 1999's Japanese giant-robot sci-fi homage "Intergalactic" and the spirited live performance piece "Three MCs and One DJ" (also from '99).

During "Three MCs and One DJ," which was shot on videotape in the band's old Dungeon basement studio by director Nathanial Hörnblowér (a.k.a. Yauch), viewers can transform their remote control into the DVD viewing equivalent of Beasties DJ Mixmaster Mike's turntable and shift back and forth between the four different cameras that Yauch set up around the studio. This release defines "interactive."

The anthology also allows viewers to notice the absurd edits enforced by MTV's jittery censors. Saved from the cutting-room floor are intentionally cheesy, Monty Python-esque shots of dummies falling off a bridge and getting run over by a speeding car in "Sabotage." These shots, for some odd reason, were too strong for the same channel that airs the ultraviolent clay-toon Celebrity Deathmatch.

The goofy cartoon violence in "Sabotage" is an example of why the band's videos are so enjoyable: while most other artists make videos as overly glossy love letters to themselves, the Beasties don't take themselves too seriously.

Yet at the same time, they refuse to shoot the same old by-the-numbers videos. And now, they refuse to release yet another shabbily packaged video compilation. Just as "Sabotage" helped make MTV worth watching again (although for a brief time), The Beastie Boys Video Anthology will convince fans who don't own a DVD player to go out and buy one.

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From the January 4-10, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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