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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 12/7/01



Sting: All This Time
2001 (2001) - A&M Records

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Sting: All This Time

Program Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/A-/B

Specs and Features

74 mins (concert), NR, letterboxed widescreen (1.78:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, dual-layered (no layer switch), keep case packaging, Sting: All This Time documentary (71 mins, 22 chapters), 3 bonus tracks (Every Little Thing She Does is Magic, Fill Her Up and Englishman in New York), "hyperlinks" from documentary to concert footage, animated program-themed menus with music, song access (17 songs - see set list below), audio: English (DD 5.1), subtitles: none

"For all those born beneath an angry star, lest we forget how fragile we are…"

It's so rare, when you see as many DVDs as we do here at The Bits, that you're surprised by a disc. It's even more rare when that surprise is a pleasant one, and the disc is a title you've been looking forward to. As a fan of Sting since his earliest days of playing hole-in-the-wall bars with Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers as the front man of The Police, I've always followed his career with interest. Lately though, I was starting to feel a little more ambivalent about the ex-Mr. Gordon Matthew Sumner. It's not that his music wasn't still very good - Desert Rose alone was proof of that. But I was starting to feel a little… distance as a fan. Who was this guy who was riding around in a Jaguar on TV? This wasn't the arrogant-yet-absolutely-as-good-as-his-press former Police man I knew. This was Mr. LITE 105 FM Artist of the Day (call now to win a free dinner for two at TGI Fridays!). This was an aging rock star who lived in a moldy, thousand-year-old castle somewhere, plotting his next commercial endorsement. What you say? He IS an aging rock star who lives in a moldy, thousand-year-old castle? Well, yeah… but he never FELT like one before. So imagine my surprise when I popped this DVD into my player.

The program on this disc is fascinating. To start with, you get a 70-minute documentary on the recording of Sting's new album, All This Time. The piece starts with the various, hand-picked musicians arriving at his gorgeous villa in Tuscany, Italy. We get to know each player in this rogue's gallery, and learn of their connection to Sting and his music - how they met, why they were chosen to participate. We watch them collaboratively re-interpreting Sting's music over the course of a week, and then recording several of the songs for his new album. We see the filming of the new video for Fragile, and then get to see the complete final product. Then we watch as the group begins rehearsing for the intimate live performance that Sting and his band planned to end the week with, to celebrate the album in front of a small group of their family and friends. The piece is laced with insights into the music and the process, as well as plenty of the sort of hijinks that transpire whenever creative individuals come together under pressure. And all the while, we see a relaxed and introspective Sting, in his own element, talking about his life and his music. As this week plays out, Sting talks about what it's like to be approaching his 50th birthday. This is a musician who is very much evaluating his life and his direction in it - where he's been, what he's proud of and even what he's failed at. It's all there for us to see.

The documentary also features a number of complete and partial live performances from the dress rehearsal for the final show. But if all this wasn't absorbing enough, things get more interesting still. You see… everything you see in this documentary took place just a couple of months ago, in September of this year. And that live performance that Sting and his band were planning was scheduled for a now infamous date - September 11th. That's the kind of thing that you would expect to see glossed over or even excised completely from a documentary like this. But here, the cameras keep rolling… and you actually see Sting and company struggling with their emotions as word of the tragic events comes in. What was to have been a joyous occasion has suddenly become painful and difficult, and you see everyone trying to decide what to do - questioning themselves and each other. Do we play or call it off? Are we emotionally even able play? Is it even appropriate to do so? That's where the documentary ends. And it's where the concert portion of the DVD begins.

As you can reasonably assume, Sting and his band ultimately did decide to play, although they altered the set list considerably. The concert was also to have been webcast live to fans on the Internet. Those who were watching saw a heart-felt rendition of Fragile, the lyrics for which have become shockingly poignant given the tragedy, and then the webcast was shut down. But the concert continued in Italy, for the solace of those who had gathered for the show and to give the musicians something to hang on to. The concert that plays out is a visceral experience for everyone. As you watch, Sting and his band struggle with their emotions, trying to muster the courage to play at first… and then to strike the right balance between the joy of playing and the appropriate, respectful tone the evening should take. You can see the pain on Sting's face in particular, and it's absolutely honest and genuine. At one point, as the band begins Don't Stand So Close to Me, he signals that the audience should refrain from clapping. Later, the performers give a soulful rendition of Dienda, a song written by the late Kenny Kirkland (a longtime Sting collaborator and friend) and dedicated to him, and then the band segues into Roxanne. Suddenly, you can feel the energy changing, becoming more electric. Sting and his company just can't help but get caught up in the music, and you can almost hear him thinking (of the terrorists): "Fuck them. We can't let them win." He absolutely nails Roxanne in a way I haven't heard him nail it in a long time. After the song, he says to the crowd, "Everyone deserves to be happy. We can't let them take our joy." And then the rest of the concert plays out with great exuberance and energy. This is not the perfect Sting concert, but it remains an amazing experience nonetheless.

Oh, but the surprises aren't over yet. Given how good this content is, imagine how surprised and pleased I was to discover that the video on this disc - every single second of it - is in full anamorphic widescreen. It wasn't advertised that way, and it certainly isn't mentioned on the disc's packaging, but there it is anyway. Very cool. The quality, particularly during the concert itself, is quite good overall. Parts of the documentary (and a few audience shots during the concert) were shot with lesser-grade video cameras. So the better the camera, the better the image. But it's all 16x9. There's also occasional artifacting during the documentary, that can be attributed to the conversion of the footage from PAL to NTSC (look at the controls on the mixing board in Sting's studio - ringing abounds). But it's all really minor stuff. Given that the video is anamorphic, I can forgive almost anything else. And the color and contrast are almost always excellent, particularly during the all important concert footage.

The audio provides one last surprise. The packaging claims only Dolby Surround, but the entire disc (both the documentary and the concert) has been mixed in full Dolby Digital 5.1. And the quality is quite impressive. Even during the documentary, there's plenty of ambiance. It all depends on the footage, of course - some of this sounds like stereo audio as recorded over a handheld DV cam's condenser mike, and that isn't going to blow surround sound freaks away. But when we see the band rehearsing or recording the music, it sounds as warm and wonderful as the Tuscany landscape surrounding Sting's villa. Check out the Fragile video in chapter 5 of the documentary - very nice indeed, with good low frequency and a rich soundscape. And the concert is even better, with a wide front stage and excellent ambiance. The music is surprisingly smooth and natural sounding. Fans should find it very satisfying.

At first it may seem that there are few extras on the disc, but I consider the documentary itself to be an extra and a good one at that. Don't forget that it also contains the complete Fragile video, as well as complete live performances (taken from the dress rehearsal) of Desert Rose and Englishman in New York. Desert Rose is particularly nice to have, not just because Cheb Mami joins the band onstage, but because it was omitted from the final concert. Lest you think that this is because of its Arabic influence, know that the song was rehearsed with a sexy belly dancer performing with the band onstage. The sexy/sultry tone of the song was no doubt determined to be inappropriate given the tragedy. The documentary also features a Matrix-like "Follow the White Rabbit" option, in which a symbol will occasionally appear on the bottom left corner of the screen. This usually appears when you're watching Sting and the band talking about or recording a new version of one of the songs on the album. By pressing "enter" on your remote, you can skip right over to the live version of that song in the concert, then you'll be taken back to where you left off in the documentary. The disc also includes a trio of "bonus" songs that aren't edited into the concert proper, but were recorded during the performance that night. These include Every Little Thing She Does is Magic, Fill Her Up and another rendition of Englishman in New York.

The Sting you'll see on this DVD isn't Sting the rock star. This is Sting the man. Sting the human being. And if this concert isn't the polished, showy performance you'd expect, it IS absolutely fascinating - a wide open window on the inner workings of a musician I've admired for years and had lost touch with recently. I learned more about the person Sting is, and is becoming, by watching this DVD than I have in more than a decade of seeing him in concert. And I'm glad to say that I reconnected with his music in the process. All This Time may not appeal to everyone, but for fans of Sting, this is a rare and rewarding experience indeed.

Now if we could just get The Synchronicity Concert released on DVD, I'd be a really happy camper. And there's always the dream that Sting will reunite The Police for one last album or concert someday. Hell, I'd put on the red light to make that happen...

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com

Set List

Fragile
A Thousand Years
Perfect Love... Gone Wrong
All This Time
Seven Days
The Hounds of Winter
Don't Stand So Close to Me
When We Dance
Dienda
Roxanne
If You Love Somebody Set Them Free
Brand New Day
Fields of Gold
Moon Over Bourbon Street
Shape of My Heart
If I Ever Lose My Faith in You
Every Breath You Take


Bonus Tracks

Every Little Thing She Does is Magic
Fill Her Up
Englishman in New York




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