DVD Movie Review: Power to the People: British Music Videos 1966 – 2016

By Lex Firth 26.01.2018

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Power to the People: British Music Videos 1966 - 2016 (UK Rating: 18)

America may arguably be the centre of modern pop music - the pressure on artists from all manner of countries to "crack the US" has been pervasive for decades - but it's impossible to ignore the contributions to the wider industry of other countries' music scenes, the United Kingdom in particular. Music videos themselves actually owe a lot to British music; although they weren't the first, the concept was certainly spearheaded by The Beatles, followed later by artists such as The Rolling Stones and David Bowie. It's been over fifty years since The Beatles' first clip, and within those are contained a long and rich history, all contained in the British Film Institute's new collection. There's a lot of ground covered here, but is Power To The People: British Music Videos 1966 - 2016 - released via Thunderbird Releasing as part of a six-disc DVD box set back in December - worth delving into?

Power to the People is a historical research project put together by a panel of various music video filmmakers in collaboration Professor Emily Caston, with the British Film Institute, funded by the Arts & Humanities Film Council. Containing 200 videos in total, over six discs, and boasting a run time of over 15 hours, it's certainly an ambitious one. It's made more easily digestible by being split into six different categories: vocal performance, high concept, dance, short film, political commentary, and gender, each containing a number of solo and group performances.

The first - vocal performance - is music at its most distilled, mostly containing videos of the songs being sung with relatively few bells and whistles. These range from simple performances, accompanied by gorgeous direction - see Moloko's The Time Is Now - to more conceptual pieces, such as the legendary clip for Sinead O'Connor's Nothing Compares 2 U. It's simplistic, but is a great starting point as the videos on offer start to diversify.

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The second category focuses more on high concept videos, and is the best showcase of the way that the music video industry has changed over time. The clips here that hail from the early 1980s represent the heyday of high budget, exuberant concepts; the subsequent ones represent a more minimalistic approach that was necessary following the industry making performers liable for half of the video costs later in the decade.

The third disc focuses on dance, which - although it may sound like the most simple category - covers a satisfyingly broad range of genres, from Kate Bush's interpretive ballet stylings in Running Up That Hill, to So Solid Crew's early-noughties street dance, via Kylie Minogue's legendary still-futuristic Can't Get You Out of My Head.

The final three discs are perhaps the most engaging, covering short film of various categories, as well as two discs full of political commentary and gender criticism. This is where Power to the People shines best as a conversation point - the enclosed booklet is almost purposefully vague about the conflicts and meanings in the depths of most of these videos, but the breadth of the selections opens up a wealth of opportunity as a starting point for essays and discussions. No clip feels like it's here by accident, and the contextualisation of some surrounded by other, perhaps more revered, videos gives them a fresh meaning; seeing Girls Aloud's Sexy! No No No… framed as a portrait of femininity rather than just a late-noughties girl band video is just one example of how the collection breathes new life into certain long-forgotten releases.

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There are a couple of minor annoyances here, however, and they are mostly down to the way the collection is presented. It's disappointing that it's relegated to DVD and not Blu-ray, for instance - the included booklet does attempt to explain this away as being due to the number of older videos within, but it's no excuse for the more modern clips - of which there are plenty - that would benefit from a higher-definition presentation.

The fact that a number of artists are reused throughout the compilation is also a boon and an annoyance. On the one hand, it does mean restricting the number of artists on display to a much more limited selection but, on the other, it springboards a few more discussion points in allowing for fresh comparisons.

Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10
As a collection, Power to the People: British Music Videos 1966 - 2016 may initially feel thin, but closer analysis reveals an intelligently constructed, deeply thought-provoking compilation. It's clear that a lot of care and attention has gone into selecting the videos on offer and, despite some slight technical shortcomings, those with a key interest in pop music through the ages will certainly want to keep an eye on it.

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