In his audio commentary track, co-writer/executive producer/star/musician Michael Nesmith describes being recognized in Australia during the eighties - not for being one of "The Monkees," but rather as the guy from the "Rio" music video. More than twenty years after crafting this lively mix of music and comedy, "Elephant Parts" can certainly stand as a pioneering example of the music video; a term that many stations weren't familiar with during the late seventies/early eighties.
Made for little money and shot largely around Monterey, California, "Elephant Parts" combined Nesmith's satirical songs with skits devised by Nesmith, actor Bill Martin (who largely improvised his segments), and commercial director William Dear (who later made "Harry and the Hendersons," also written by Bill/William F. Martin).
Skits like “Elvis Drugs,” “Bitty Soda,” “Pirate Alphabet,” “Bee Gees Disease” and “Name That Drug” stick together five music videos, and while Nesmith spends a lot of time discussing the locations and making do with a near-nonexistent budget, his best section concerns the creation of the album's videos.
With "Rio," Nesmith explains how disparate film footage - shot in pieces by Dear, as was the norm for TV commercials - was fed through then-cutting edge video switchers, and stylized with feedback and hallucinatory effects. Much of "Rio" comes from accidental discovery, and Nesmith and his resourceful editor figured out pretty quickly that plot, continuity, and a traditional narrative structure weren't necessary when edits were made on the beat, or through stylized transitions; images, in conjunction with music and lyrics, could function as impressions instead of literal illustrations.
When Nesmith brought his video for "Rio" to Europe's state-controlled TV stations, he ended up with entire countries for audiences, thereby building momentum for a visual music format - last seen in film/music juke boxes, known as "Soundies," during the 50s and 60s - that led to MTV, and the first set of grammar for music videos.
Given "Elephant Parts" was made in 1981, the video album looks pretty good, with clear video effects and credits over a sometimes rougher film stock. Moreover, the basic 2.0 Surround mix has some nice ambient effects, and a well-balanced mix.
Previously released in 1998 by DVD International (as a 17th and a half anniversary edition), Anchor Bay has ported over the same extended cut of "Elephant Parts" with a new stereo mix, and included the identical commentary track. (Unique to the older release, however, are Press Clippings, a Discography, Biography, and Still Gallery, featuring different production photos.)
© 2003 Mark R. Hasan