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Peter Gabriel - Secret World Live

Gabriel’s cult show remastered in High Definition on Blu-ray

It has been nearly ten years since the concert film for Peter Gabriel’s most ambitious tour to that date, the Secret World tour, first came out on DVD. It was a new medium then, and the release could not live up to the technical standards of a DVD in all respects (compare our review of the 2003 DVD). Now the update that has been demanded for so long has finally become available. Secret World live comes out fully restored in High Definition on Blu-ray and also in much improved shape on standard DVD. The original material has been carefully sequenced and newly defined so that there is really a high-definition image now.


The new release is not that different from the 2003 version on the outside. “WIDESCREEN – digitally remixed and remastered” has been removed from the cover, which is a good idea. After all, the DVD was, according to today’s standards, a technological joke and an assortment of not very good compromises. More about that later. The Blu-ray comes in the typical jewel case with a different set of colours on the cover: The backing colour for the words “Secret World Live” is dark red, while it is backed with the usual blue on the DVD (and, curiously enough, in the DVD and the Blu-ray booklet). The booklet is the same that was part of the VHS video cassette and still contains some useful information about the tour.

The film

Much has been written about it – even 19 years later the Secret World tour has lost nothing of its appeal. To this day it is one of the most popular tours with the fans. Gabriel’s idea of using two stages and a show concept that contrasts hard/soft, male/female and technology/nature is still an innovation. What’s more, the whole course of the show was not left up to coincidence, but almost every movement was carefully matched to the music. Gabriel and his band move between the stages which puts special emphasis on the catwalk. The conveyor belt on the catwalk is used several times for impressive effects; other props include a phone booth, a tree and a suitcase into which the band disappear before the encores. There is also a screen that is put to impressive use in songs as San Jacinto and Secret World.  Smaller effects such as the waterplay in Kiss That Frog or the bizarre and threatening head-cam shots in Digging In The Dirt do not fail to impress either. With Secret World Live, Gabriel set up much more than a rock show. He created a piece of art. The core set in which the stage has its big moments, is documented in the concert film. Depending on your region, a rating logo might be on the cover or backcover. The image shows the German version.
coverCome Talk To Me
Across The River
Slow Marimbas
Shaking The Tree
Blood Of Eden
San Jacinto
Kiss That Frog
Washing Of The Water
Solsbury Hill
Digging In The Dirt
Secret World
Don’t Give Up
In Your Eyes

The set included other songs as well. At the Modena shows they also played Games Without Frontiers, Family Snapshot, Shock The Monkey, Red Rain, Biko and Here Comes The Flood. Some songs were repeated after the regular set for the film shooting. Curiously, one of these was Shock The Monkey which was released neither on the live 2CD set (see the review) nor the VHS nor the current DVD /Blu-ray. Red Rain is peculiar for the opposite reason: It was not part of the regular set at the time, but nevertheless made it to the live 2CD set.
None of the extra songs mentioned above were added to the concert film. Only Red Rain was included in the bonus material. This seems to have been handled this way because there were no director’s notes; the footage of the bonus track has been cut with a lot of freedom – its style is slightly different from the other songs. Still, it is regrettable that they did not work on the whole show and release it en bloc.

How York Tillyer started from scratch with the new version

The name York Tillyer has been heard before in relation to Peter Gabriel. He played an important role in documenting the visuals, e.g. for the New Blood tour, and also illustrated the book for the special edition. Now Tillyer has posted a message on his website on how he felt about restoring the footage and sketches a slightly bizarre image of the re-re-release of the cult film.
  He first reminds the reader that when the film was first released on DVD in 2002 Facebook did not exist, and neither did YouTube. The iPhone, too, would not come out for another five years. But we will give him the floor and summarize his words as good as possible. You can read up on his original statement in full on his own website.
"In retrospect it’s possible to look at the DVD and question some of the decisions. (…) we reframed the film for 16:9 widescreen televisions, but there was something fundamentally odd about chopping the top and bottom from and image to make it fit the new aspect of screens, although it was considered a commercial imperative in the vibrant home cinema market. We did the job very carefully, so the framing is better than it would have been if we had left peoples TVs to zoom the action, but fundamentally you’re taking information away and then blowing up the result. (…) The audio on the other hand was remastered from the original analogue source, so whether in 5.1or stereo, it was a genuine step up from previous versions.
Ten years later with the arrival of HD, (…) the oportunity arose to look once again at Secret World Live. I sent a few of the reels away to be scanned so that we could get an idea of the quality of the film - had it survived nearly 20 years in storage? The results were so exciting that we began to formulate a plan to rebuild the film from the ground up. There were just a few shots we couldn’t find, but with all rushes available we were able to source alternative shots and build an edit for the whole film. The relevant sections were than scanned on JCA’s amazing Arri scanner at Super 2K - the machine locks the sprockets for each frame then scans it to a file 2000 pixels across. It’s generally accepted that this machine pulls the most information possible from 16mm film, so our digital files are now match the quality of the original source.
With the edit now built from the best scans available I worked with Colourist Ray King and Supervising Restoration Artist Anthony Badger to bring the film to life. They added polish to the files,  removing any dirt and scratches and balancing the colour and exposure across all the cameras. During the scanning process we had discovered that many of the cameras wre shooting a wide Super 16 image, but with the original edit targeting the 4:3 televisions of the 90’s much of the drama these wide shots provide had been cropped from the frame. Now we could take adavntage of the film format, so that much more of the action is visible - as in the image featured here, we were able to pull people back into shot where previously they had been outside the frame.
Whether or not you will now be amazed at the results is open to question, but it’s certainly true that the film has never looked this good."


San Jacinto

The comparison: Secret World on Secret World Live

What is most interesting now is the question whether it is a marked improvement or not? York Tillyer has outlined the process: The raw footage has been rebuilt from scratch, each sequence has been newly scanned using the best technology available and the whole film has been reassembled. They could not always find the same image and the same perspective, but those bits are few and not really obvious when you watch the film. Of course, you must not expect HD footage that is up to the Blu-ray standard. Recording technology had not reached that standard then. The concert film was (probably) filmed using highly responsive material (the equivalent of a high ISO value in a photo), which means that the footage is a bit grainy. It is hardly bad, particularly considering the abysmal quality of the 2003 DVD, but you cannot do a freeze-frame test with the new version either. At least not and expect a crisp picture.
The image looks softer at face value, with less contrast, but the new image is actually more natural than the 2003 DVD could ever have had – too much contrast had been added to that. Secret World Live 2012 brings back the natural look of things and seems much more authentic throughout most of the show. At some points, however, one might wish for a clearer visual distinction between light and dark – with less grey, if you will.
Another effect is much more interesting, though. Since the footage for the original VHS cassette was 16:9 format that was cut from 4:3 that had been created from the original 16:9 footage (go figure!), Tillyer now had the unique opportunity to get much more visual information from the original footage. He doubtlessly made good use of that. For the first time we get to see wide angle shots of the whole stage or the musicians without their heads or arms cut off. At times the film seems to have been cut as if it had been freed from a tiny box. You will not always see wider angles; that effect occurs mainly with shots that were already wide-angle in the first place. These changes are certainly the biggest improvement in the new version. This is video footage that is not embarrassing to release. It is crisp most of the time and with natural colours. There has been no excessive treatment of the footage and there is no pixelation either. It is a very clear improvement. For technical reasons, the improvement is better visible on the Blu-ray than on the DVD, of course.
There was not much to do with the sound. It might actually require very careful scrutiny to see whether anything has been done with it. Options include stereo, 5.1 surround sound and dts; the Blu-ray offers only stereo and dts HD. It is a very strong sound, though one may feel that, as on the 2CD set, the drums should have been a bit louder. Though one may have the impression at times that the sound is ever so slightly “behind” the image, closer inspection reveals that to be wrong.

San Jacinto


Bonus material

The new version, like the 2003 DVD, contains a number of interesting bonus features. One of these is the Making Of, in which Gabriel talks about the concept phase. He reveals he had been planning something similar to U2’s ZooTV tour before he came up with something different, though he was very keen to retain the visual stimuli. The feature is quite instructive and complements the film nicely. There do not seem to be any visual improvements in the Making Of.
Another thing that is included is the time lapse film of the Berlin show, where everything from setting up the stage to breaking it down again is shown at high speed. This is good fun even after ten years and a nice little addition
The photo gallery with a background music of Quiet Steam is also part of the new release.
Besides the “old” bonus material and the Red Rain recording there is a teaser for the New Blood Live In London DVD and Blu-ray, The Rhythm Of The Heat. With the exception of The Rhythm Of The Heat, all the bonus material is not available in 5.1.

All in all…

Secret World Live is definitely a concert film every Gabriel fan ought to have. Up to now it was a real nuisance that the film was available in an abysmal quality. This flaw has now been mended, the 20-year-old footage has been worked over carefully to rebuild a film that is as authentic as possible. Eagle Rock has also put out a short promo film with details on the restoration that gives the viewer an idea how much effort and diligence have gone into Secret World Live 2012.
What we get is an update, an upgrade that has been long overdue. How much you will like the new version depends, of course, on your personal taste. Purists hardly have a chance, for best use has been made of the available footage. For the first time everything that was filmed can be seen (at least as far the width of the image is concerned). This version of the Secret World Live is a must that every fan needs to have.
Formats: High definition Blu-ray, DVD
Release date: June 29, July 13, 2012
Concert film:
1) Come Talk To Me
2) Steam
3) Across The River
4) Slow Marimbas
5) Shaking The Tree
6) Blood Of Eden
7) San Jacinto
8) Kiss That Frog
9) Washing Of The Water
10) Solsbury Hill
11) Digging In The Dirt
12) Sledgehammer
13) Secret World
14) Don’t Give Up
15) In Your Eyes
Bonus features:
Red Rain (not included in previous releases)
Time Lapse / Stage Setup
Making Of Secret World Live incl. Interviews
New photomontage slide show (Quiet Steam)
The Rhythm Of The Heat (from New Blood Live in London)
Band line-up:
Peter Gabriel (vocals, keyboards)
Manu Katche (drums)
Tony Levin (bass, vocals)
David Rhodes (guitar, vocals)
Jean Claude Naimro (keyboards, vocals)
Paula Cole (vocals)
Shankar (violin, vocals)
Levon Minassian (doudouk)
Papa Wemba und Molokai (guests)

More information can be found on the website of York Tillyer here.

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