This is Elvis Sinatra

from Douglas Pratt's DVD-Laserdisc Newsletter

The spirit of Greenwich Village is alive and well with George Leonard’s nightclub routine, Elvis Sinatra: (Mostly) Live!, a Harbor Electronic Publishing (212-777-5463, ex.303) release (HEP1002, $30; please note–Harbor also published our Doug Pratt’s DVD-Video Guide). Although Leonard’s act is totally high tech, singing and interacting with a prerecorded video backup band, his humor is reminiscent of the Beat comics or even a half-generation earlier, of what Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Judy Holliday used to concoct in subterranean Village clubs before they took off for Hollywood. With songs such as I Think I’ll Kick Your Dog and I Love Myself When I’m with You, Leonard delivers a direct satire of the nightclub style, as he does with his finale, a smooth, Perry Como-like rendition of Born to Be Wild. Other songs, however, have a more complex and subtle humor, such as Vegetarian, about feeling like a murderer when you are eating meat, or Superhero, "I had a dream you fell off a cliff," he sings cheerfully, "And there were jagged rocks below…" Still others are relatively straight, such as Ballerina Borealis, which blends together poetically lyrical images of a dancer and the night sky. Throughout his oeuvre, however, his melodies are extremely catchy (Leonard probably should be working in advertising, if not writing a Broadway show) and you need only hear his tune, Handsome Guys (about how irresistible normal-looking men are), once, and you’ll be humming it to yourself forever.

The program, shot at a club called Detour in the East Village in New York City, has no time encoding but runs about 58 minutes and is offered with a number of different playback options. It can be played in full or separated into the two sets that would supposedly match the two parts of Leonard’s nightclub performance. Each number can also be called up individually, though there is no way to access a specific chapter while the full playback is running without returning to the menu. During the show, there are three alternate angles, one delivering only what is on the video screen behind Leonard, one steady on Leonard with the video screen behind him, and the primary angle, a regularly edited mix of Leonard and the video screen. While the video screen usually depicts his back up band, there are stabs at music video-style conceptions, and during a few numbers, he even has some backup singers on video.

Anticipating that the viewer may wish that he himself could be like Leonard, there is also what is identified as a karaoke option, in which the footage on Leonard’s video screen is presented with optional English or French subtitles ("Fait tourner les moteurs/Va sur l’autoroute…"). It is not true karaoke, however, since the words only flash by in phrases and are not marked individually in coordination with the music. Also, the subtitles are in a light yellow that is difficult to make out when the backgrounds, such as piano keys, are white.

The picture quality looks okay. Some of the video is momentarily smeary and some of the colors are a little soft, but that appears to be a shortcoming in the source and not in the transfer. For the most part, the image is sharp and fleshtones are adequate, when not washed out by the stage lighting. The 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound is smooth and there is a nice dimensionality to the backup band. The program is accompanied by a well made 15 minute profile of Leonard entitled This Is Elvis Sinatra, as well as extensive text profiles of everybody who appears in the show. There is also an audio-only program option, which is in 5.1-channel Dolby, too.

Douglas Pratt 27 November 2000