Saturday, March 7, 2009

Music DVD Review: Portrait of Petula Clark (1969)

On DVD 3/17/09

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Originally broadcast in the year of Woodstock-- 1969-- "in living color" on NBC-- Portrait of Petula Clark was one of her three beloved television specials and one that captured the singer's unique international appeal as it pays tribute primarily to her three "homes" of England (where she was born), America (where she did a considerable amount of work), and France (where she lived with her French husband and children).

A former child star who was dubbed the "British 'Shirley Temple'"-- while Clark is typically known for her distinctly British voice and sweet demeanor, upon further research I was stunned to learn that long before the term international superstar was thrown around she had become one initially when she was "reinvented as a French Chanteuse" in the early '60s and one that would rival the incredible Edith Piaf as a contemporary act when Piaf was still recording. Furthermore, her biography states that she is still classified as a French singer in certain parts of the world.

Yet as her biography also reveals, Clark recorded songs in German and Italian as well as French and English-- becoming the first and only singer in music history to obtain "Number One tunes sung in different languages in different countries all across the Continent," and furthermore "each of her early European hits were with entirely different songs--a feat not duplicated by any other singer since."

Yet, upon first glance at Infinity Entertainment's gorgeous release of 1969's original special Portrait of Petula Clark onto DVD on Tuesday, March 17-- we're presented with the Clark must of us have known and loved as the ever-charming British lass who, along with special guests including a gamely Andy Williams, dishy French singer Sacha Distel, and the hilarious Ron Moody (Oliver!) perform roughly forty-five minutes worth of great numbers.

Although it begins subtly with Clark in an evening dress singing on center stage, soon it moves into the first of numerous set pieces that evolve from the simplistic and idyllic quintessential American picnic where Williams duets with her in a pretty love song after a hilarious Smothers Brothers-like rendition of writer Roger Miller's comical country western tune "You Can't Rollerskate in a Buffalo Herd" into a wonderfully imaginative French sequence.

It opens with "Mademoiselle de Paris," that is overlapped with a pre-music video era fashion show of Clark in a series of stunning costumes in pre-recorded footage used throughout her rendition before Distel performs "Love is Blue." Soon, she and Distel make their way into a lavish production number that uses the artwork of Renoir as an initial backdrop for a medley that included Piaf's "La Vie En Rose" and the theme from A Man and a Woman.

Ultimately Williams joins the pair for a rousing Moulin Rouge can-can like homage in the disc's standout sequence that offers Clark and company a chance to catch their breath when she sings the lovely "When I Was a Child" that works in candid and intimate home movies of her young daughters and husband Claude Wolff. A beautiful segment that gives viewers a chance to see a true portrait of Clark away from the limelight-- the variety special then picks up the pace with a hilarious and rousing turn by Ron Moody who performs first as his Oscar nominated character Fagin from Oliver! before he morphs into other costumes for his celebration that the world loves a villain.

Joining his fellow Brit whom he endears "Pet"-- the two begin on a "walk in London" that leads them into yet another terrific set piece with movable walls in a swinging London saloon that keeps them high-kicking with their "knees up," in exhaustively intricate choreography. Afterward, she slows things down with her Goodbye, Mr. Chips ballad "You and I," that is included between two of her best-loved songs "I Know a Place" and "My Love" which continues during the final credits.

Also boasting a brief interview with both Petula Clark and Andy Williams as each artist recalls the specials and Clark shares some fond tales of working with stars such as Dean Martin (who never rehearsed and was a simply fast learner), the laid back Perry Como, her fellow giggle-fit partner Andy Williams and Carol Burnett whmo she not only calls "an amazing performer" but graciously shared her belief that when you went on Burnett's "extremely disciplined" and "perfectly timed" show, she really went out of her way to bring out the best in her guests.

Additionally containing some bonus performances like the amazing "Without a Song" which appears to have been added from another special with Victor Borge and another Goodbye, Mr. Chips tune "Walk Through the World With Me," in a different special with an exotic locale (most likely her Hawaiian scene) wherein the scenery and her great costume steals the focus away from the music-- the disc is further proof of Clark's great range.

It's sure to make one-- much like the City Lights Entertainment Mitzi Gaynor DVD released recently-- highly nostalgic for the era of the Variety special that gave everyone a much needed break from their worries by delivering first class Broadway or Vegas level entertainment straight into global family rooms. Infinity Entertainment Group's Dolby Digital enhanced release is a wonderful escape from the world of the type of reality television networks try to pass off as genuine entertainment. For in her captivating Portrait-- Clark, Williams, Moody, and Distel show 'em all how it's really done.

Best Buy Co, Inc.