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Lewis Black: Stark Raving Black DVD Review

Stark Raving Black (2009) movie poster Stark Raving Black

Theatrical Release: October 8, 2009 / Running Time: 80 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: Adam Dubin / Writer/Star: Lewis Black / TV Premiere: December 6, 2009

Tagline: An Evening of Elegance, Sophistication and Class

Buy on DVD from Amazon.com Buy the concert album CD from Amazon.com


By Aaron Wallace

In the neighborhood of stand-up comedy, Lewis Black is the grumpy old man living at the end of the street. The absurdity of modern life fuels his ire and politicians are the kids on his lawn. Targeting a world that's nearly driven him mad, Black points a defiant finger in the air
and delivers a tour de force of cranky, profanity-laced, scream-filled ranting that has made his act one of stand-up's most popular in recent years.

After decades in the comedy world, Black finally found his way into the mainstream in the late 1990s, thanks to his first Comedy Central special and a recurring segment on Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show". Since then, he's released more than a dozen books, albums and DVDs, snagging an American Comedy Award and a Grammy along the way.

Black's mainstream momentum culminated in last fall's Stark Raving Black, a concert film that differs from other comedy specials in length and the fact that it received a very limited theatrical release. In his latest act, Black is as surly and misanthropic as ever. In an hour and twenty minutes, the fuming cynic touches on many topics and lambasts them all, from old age to alternative energy, and even his own upbringing by colorful parents whose stories will make anyone but Black blush.

Lewis Black puts his famously defiant finger in the air while charging through another uproarious rant.

In his typical style, the ever-agitated comic puts religion and politics in his crosshairs. He targets both sides, but as a left-leaning and God-doubting Jew, there's no question that Christians and Republicans get the brunt of his fury. Undoubtedly, Black alienates a good chunk of his audience from the very get-go, but such is his inherent style. Ideological differences aren't necessarily a bar to enjoyment, though; the ribbing comes off as predominantly good-natured and with President Bush out of office, Obama takes his turn as the whipping boy-in-chief too.

Joining current affairs and day-to-day inanity in Black's stable of subject matter is his own rise to the top of the comedy heap, which he derides at length in Stark Raving Black. That the general public has embraced his foul-mouthed misery only further disappoints him in the human condition. He also finds amusement in the place his act takes in pop culture.

In one extensive and especially hilarious segment, Black reflects on a recent benefit at which he was scheduled to take the stage immediately following a concert by Vince Gill and Amy Grant. Backstage panic about how his R-rated act would go over on a crowd that had just wept for the passing of Gill's father before swaying along to the crooning of "the greatest Christian singer in all of Christendom" leads Black to ponder his own Judaism while debating the propriety of his most family unfriendly routine.

Lewis Black's concert film, "Stark Raving Black", opens with a few fleeting shots of the famed comedian walking the streets of Detroit. Lewis Black performs his latest stand-up routine, "Stark Raving Black", at the aesthetically pleasing Fillmore Detroit theatre.

While Stark Raving Black doesn't represent the 61-year-old comedian's best work, it nevertheless finds him exploring new territory and finding laugh-out-loud frustration there. If neither abundant (and often misplaced) profanity nor political jabs will push your limits,
you might want to consider Stark Raving Black, which is now available on both CD and DVD. The latter is accompanied by a bonus documentary on Black's career.

The film and its DVD present this as a concert and, accordingly, each segment is listed like a song on a setlist. Those segments are:

1. Expectations
2. Democrats & Republicans
3. Mainstream Comedian
4. Vince Gill, Amy Grant & Me
5. Hitting 60
6. Birth & Death
7. Parents
8. The Economy
9. Greed
10. Alternative Energy
11. Hope

Buy Stark Raving Black on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English),
DTS 5.1 Surround (English), Dolby 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: June 15, 2010
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $16.99
Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available: Concert Album CD

VIDEO and AUDIO

The concert film is presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, enhanced for 16x9 displays. A slight and non-distracting grain is consistently present in the transfer, lending it a filmic quality. Otherwise, there's nothing especially cinematic and while it was filmed in high definition, the concert doesn't have any extra pop to make this stand out from a cable television special. Fortunately, this kind of stand-up movie doesn't really call for much more than that, so while a dazzling HD presentation would have impressed, there's nothing to complain about here. Comedy Central/Paramount chose not to release this on Blu-ray, probably because DVD suits the production and its customer base just fine.

There are a number of audio options, common for a music concert but a little less so for stand-up. Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, and Dolby Stereo 2.0 are each available and having sampled them all, I doubt you'll have too strong a preference for any over the others. No matter which route you take, almost all of the sound is coming from the front. Given that this is one guy talking from the center of a stage in the front of an auditorium, that makes sense. If you've got a home theater system, go for either of the 5.1 tracks and enjoy some light laughter and applause in your rear speakers. Volume and clarity are flawless across the board. English subtitles are available (there are no foreign language audio or subtitle tracks).

Lewis Black (right) chats with his father, Sam Black, in "Basic Black", a rather good documentary included on the DVD. In this not-as-old-as-it-looks clip of Lewis Black performing in the 1980s, the acerbic comedian looks a bit like Jerry Lewis.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

There's only one bonus feature on the DVD, but it's a substantial one: a feature-length documentary on Lewis Black's career, entitled Basic Black (1:09:10). This look at Black's long and hard-fought journey is thoroughly interesting, revealing just a bit of the inner-workings of the stand-up trade and quite a bit more of what makes the sarcastic funnyman tick.
A heavy focus on the comic's Stark Raving Black material (including numerous clips) weakens the documentary's potential to stand on its own as a film, but then its commercial nature is tempered by some truly intriguing discussion of behind-the-scenes experiences that led to specific jokes appearing in the final routine.

Included here are interviews with Black's colleagues from college, grad school, and his early comedy days, as well as the team that tours and co-writes with him today. Vince Gill also appears to discuss his and Amy Grant's experience at the benefit given so much attention in Stark Raving Black. We even get a few archival clips of a very young Black on stage. As a fellow alumnus, I especially appreciate the walk through Black's alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and footage from his performances there.

Basic Black is worth at least as much as the stand-up itself. Making up nearly one half of the DVD's content, this lone supplement fully doubles the value of this moderately-priced DVD.

The 16x9 menu scheme, which helpfully includes a scene selection screen, is made up of still photos and some jazzy, zingy music that plays in the background. The DVD is housed inside a black eco-friendly keepcase with a cardboard slipcover (replicating the cover art) on the outside. Included inside is a double-sided, fold-out poster. On the front is a reprint of the film's theatrical poster. The opposite side is a collage of Black's facial expressions and mannerisms, including a raised middle finger.

In the universe of Lewis Black's comedy, the world has gone mad and he's quickly going with it.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Stark Raving Black is so aptly titled that it's surprising an earlier Lewis Black special didn't already claim it. In three words, the title sums up the comic stylings of the world's crankiest comic, a man whose musings are so unique to his personality that no other comedian could deliver them with the same effect. Though it doesn't stand out in content or production from his past TV specials, this film marks the theatrical debut for a Lewis Black stand-up act. Biting, left-leaning, and profane, buyers should beware of the concert's content but should also know that its divisive and sometimes offensive content is outweighed by abundant entertainment. With a highly worthwhile documentary standing by its side, Stark Raving Black will suit the fancy of anyone looking for a good laugh and a little insight to boot.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com / Buy the concert album on CD

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Reviewed June 16, 2010.



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