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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 10/22/99

Roy Orbison: Black & White Night
1987 (1999) - Orbison Records/Image Entertainment (Image)

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Encoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

Roy Orbison: Black & White Night Program Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): A+/C+

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): A-/A+

Specs and Features

64 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1), B&W, single-sided, dual-layered (layer switch ??), Snapper case packaging, concert scrapbook, musician bios, key note from Roy Kelton Orbison, Jr., program-themed menu screens with animation, song access (17 chapters - see song listing below), language: English (DD 5.1, 2.0 & DTS 5.1), subtitles: none

Few rockers have been more musically gifted than the late Roy Orbison. The talented singer/songwriter came into his own in the early 60's, when both Elvis Presley and the Everly Brothers rejected a song he had written, Only the Lonely. Orbison decided to record it himself, and the result was a single that raced up the charts (on both sides of the Atlantic) to become a classic - only the first of many from the artist. Orbison's lilting voice and haunting melodies have influenced a great many of today's most talented musicians, and you'll find many of them performing on this disc, in honor of him.

Roy Orbison: Black & White Night was produced as a live music special for cable TV (I believe it originally aired on either Showtime or Cinemax). Recorded live on September 30, 1987, at the now-defunct Coconut Grove in downtown Los Angeles, Black & White Night remains the only commercially available live recording of Orbison, who died just over a year later. The event featured T-Bone Burnett as musical director, and Orbison backed by the fabulous "Billion Dollar Band", which included the likes of Burnett, Jackson Browne, Elvis Costello, k.d. lang, Bonnie Raitt, J.D. Souther, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, and Jennifer Warnes, along with much of the rhythm section from Elvis Presley's 60s and 70s touring band. And this isn't a case of powerhouse musicians taking turns at center stage - all of these artists let the master take the lead. The result is an amazing musical experience, with 17 songs that run the gambit of Orbison's greatest hits (see the set list below). The special was eventually released on VHS, and the soundtrack (which had been digitally recorded) was also released on CD. And now, the program is being released as an exceptionally high-quality DVD from Image Entertainment.

To start with, the disc features some of the best-looking B&W video you'll ever see. Shot on film, the transfer is exceptional, with only very occasional print artifacts (dust, scratches, etc...), and virtually no digital artifacting. It's a little on the soft side, but that's more a factor of the way it was shot, with glowing stage lights and soft filters. Thankfully, very little edge enhancement was employed. Contrast and shadow delineation are at all times excellent. It's also interesting to note that the directors made the stylistic choice to shoot all of the crowd footage using high-grain stock (with 16mm cameras I'd guess), so you get a different feel from the footage onstage.

But it's the audio that stars here. Roy Orbison: Black & White Night features no less than 3 separate soundtracks on DVD: 5.1 and 2.0 stereo Dolby Digital, and 5.1 DTS. And the disc lets you switch back and forth between them on-the-fly, using your remote's "audio" button. One word of advice on doing this: the DTS track is recorded at a significantly higher level, so if you're listening to Dolby Digital at a fairly decent volume, and you switch to DTS, you can expect to be knocked out of your seat (and risk damage to your speakers). I recommend turning the volume down first, before switching to DTS.

So how does the audio sound? In a word, exceptional. Both the Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 mixes recreate the live music experience nicely on DVD, with excellent ambience and tonal clarity, and rich bass. Both feature VERY active rear channels, which generally include ambient fill, as well as audience noise. Some may find this a bit distracting (you may wish to adjust the rear channel output down accordingly), but it does work well to reproduce a true live concert experience. These issues aside, there are also significant differences between the two 5.1 mixes - each has distinctly unique audio characteristics. Aside from the aforementioned fact that the DTS track is significantly louder, the DTS also has a richer, smoother sound, if you will. The mix is very transparent between channels and hemispheres, creating an exceptionally natural, 360-degree soundfield. The Dolby Digital 5.1 tends to be much more directional, with a more distinct front and rear hemispheric bias. Because of this, occasional panning effects tend to come across as a little more gimmicky (non-natural) in DD 5.1. These differences become somewhat less apparent when you increase the volume appropriately to match the DTS level, but I would still give the DTS track the edge in quality.

Note that this disc also includes a "concert scrapbook" of behind-the-scenes photos (rehearsals, and so forth), biographies of all the major musicians, a key note from Roy Kelton Orbison, Jr., very stylish animated menu screens, and the ability to access each of the songs in the program individually.

Whatever audio format you may choose to listen to this DVD in, this is a must-have disc for any music fan. If you enjoy live performances, this one's a whopper - the sheer amount of talent gathered on one stage alone makes this disc worth a spin. And as a document (and testament) to the career of one of Rock and Roll's greatest musicians, Roy Orbison: Black & White Night can't be beat.

Song Listing

Only the Lonely
Dream Baby (How long Must I Dream)
Blue Bayou
The Comedians
Ooby Dooby
Running Scared
In Dreams
Go, Go, Go (Down the Line)
Mean Woman Blues
(All I Can Do Is) Dream You
It's Over
Oh, Pretty Woman

Bill Hunt
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