LUKE AND THE 2 LIVE CREW: BANNED IN THE U.S.A.
Unrated, 1990, A*Vision, 45 minutes, $14.98.
Penelope Spheeris, director of a landmark punk documentary, "The Decline of Western Civilization," looks to underscore that theme with this perverse meld of video clips, snips of TV news and talk shows and interviews about censorship and free speech, racism, misogyny and pornography with citizens pro and conned. Of course, the videos are (relatively) clean versions of "Me So Horny," "Do Wah Diddy" and "Move Something" (which reduce the Crew's act to Beastie Boys petulance), as well as the self-serving "Banned in the U.S.A." It's the assorted but consistently lewd live performances (raw footage, as it were) in which the group's true off colors emerge. The Crew's sub-sophomoric stage patter, demeaning lyrics and lame performances are fully exposed (as is much of their dance troupe, which could easily find work on 14th Street). Even uglier: chanting audiences (including women) who are apparently convinced this is either great fun or low art, when it is neither. Censors and civil libertarians alike are given a word here and there, but the most damning footage-in-the-mouth comes from Luther "Luke" Campbell and his cohorts. Fortuitously, Spheeris and her crew were with Campbell and his Crew when the group was scheduled to play in Dallas. When the promoters couldn't come up with the cash (the show drew 500 to a 2,500-seat club), the group refused to go on. When the club refused to refund ticket holders' money, a melee broke out in which chairs, tables and bar mirrors were smashed to the tune of $100,000 damage. After evincing no concern for either the fans' treatment or behavior, Campbell proudly notes that "you saw white people, black people and Mexicans" throwing the chairs. "They were together ... This is going to make Martin Luther King's dream come true." Now that's gross. -- Richard Harrington
R, 1986, 132 minutes, Warner Home Video, $19.98.
"Round Midnight" sounds an eloquent tribute to be-bop's greats, a generation of mostly black Americans who took their experimental sounds to an appreciative Parisian audience in the late 1950s. Then jazz seemed to be dying everywhere but at the dive called the Blue Note. Directed by Bertrand Tavernier, this French import stars the late Dexter Gordon as exiled saxophonist Dale Turner, a broken genius and self-destructive boozer befriended by a fan who helps him back on the straight and narrow. Partly based on the real-life bond between amateur pianist Francis Paudras and jazz great Bud Powell, the movie also uses incidents from the lives of Lester Young and Gordon, who improvised his dialogue in a hepcat's rasp. Gordon, his sax cradled like a prize, brass-plated baby, made sweet, clear music as the cameras rolled. Leading lady Lonette McKee crooned; Billy Higgins drummed and Herbie Hancock smiled his handsome smile as if the ivories tickled him. Tavernier achieves a scruffy underground realism, with the smoke so thick and the sound so true, you might as well be there suffering the music too. -- Rita Kempley
1956, 128 minutes, CBS/Fox, $19.95.
Although it has one of the least convincing stories ever told in a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, "Carousel" also boasts the team's richest score. The film version, making its home video debut, unfortunately plays just as sluggishly as it did in movie theaters -- director Henry King planted his actors in the ground like road signs -- but there's one improvement. In the days before home video killed the repertory cinema biz, "Carousel" used to show up in jerky prints whose "Color by Deluxe" had turned a sallow purple. The CBS/Fox tape transfer restores it to palatable hues. Only the Fox logo is letter-boxed, however, so the few well-staged numbers in the film -- like "June Is Bustin' Out All Over," and a 10-minute seaside ballet with Jacques d'Amboise -- are crudely cropped, with several dancers exiled out of the frame. The picture was shot in CinemaScope 55, "more than your eyes have ever seen," but here, "more" is lost. Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones try hard as star-crossed lovers in a Maine fishing village, but it's hard to sympathize with a hollow lout given to boasting and bullying, and a doting wife who smilingly suffers his abuse; the creepy streak of masochism has hardly improved with age. Despite all these problems, the score does soar, and when MacRae sings the "My boy Bill" soliloquy (the word "virgin" changed to "lady" in the translation from stage to screen), or when the chorus kicks in for the "You'll Never Walk Alone" finale, darned if it isn't goose pimple time, try as one might to resist. -- Tom Shales
R, 1990, 132 minutes, HBO Video.
Sidney Lumet's "Q&A" is a burly, epically profane cop story about New York tribalism. The picture, which stars Nick Nolte and Timothy Hutton, is about a city made up of fiercely self-protective clans, of blacks and Puerto Ricans and Irish and Italians, all jockeying for supremacy, all militantly loyal to their kind -- a dirty, brutal city at perpetual war with itself. Along with "Serpico" and "Prince of the City," "Q&A" completes Lumet's unofficial trilogy of New York police stories. In scope and ambition it is more like the latter work -- not an urban snapshot but a sprawling, textured mural. Its vision is big and societal; the director wants to tell us what our cities are all about, where we are as a culture. And where we are, he informs us, is in the stink. Unfortunately, Lumet isn't the brawny social commentator he would like to be -- he's a Jimmy Breslin manque'. His script chronicles a complex, gargantuan evil, but his insights into urban life haven't progressed beyond those of his earlier films, and his storytelling style isn't compelling or tightly focused enough to keep our attention from flagging. The picture does have two great performances, though. Nolte's belly pours over his belt like a beefy waterfall, but underneath the blobby heft there's a layer of concrete. As a character, his Brennan is almost pure hate -- it pours off him, so much so that it seems to emanate from his flesh. And as Bobby Texador, a suave Puerto Rican underworld boss, Armand Assante has a panthery sleekness -- his body seems coiled, lethal, and there's a tensile muscularity under his expensive silks. Watching him, you think of the young De Niro. -- Hal Hinson