The Smashing Pumpkins 1991-2000 Greatest Hits Video Collection appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Actually, a few of the videos used differing ratios. “Zero” went for approximately 1.66:1, while “Ava Adore” and “Perfect” appeared to feature 1.78:1. “Thirty-Three” was actually windowboxed to maintain the dimensions of the still photography featured in the video. Nonetheless, 1.33:1 was easily the most common ratio found in this package.
Maybe someday I won’t gripe about how tough it is to cumulatively evaluate a set of music videos from a fairly wide span of time, but that won’t occur today. If anything, Pumpkins was one of the hardest DVDs to rate objectively. Many music videos use a variety of stylized tones; they may look odd, but they were supposed to look odd. That tendency appeared strongly in the Pumpkins’ videos, as they often showed various defects that clearly were intentional.
The earliest videos were the worst offenders in this regard. “Siva”, “Rhinoceros”, “Cherub Rock” and “Today” were all shot on low quality equipment; heck, a couple of them used Super 8, and “Cherub” was further mucked with to give it a rough look. Later videos used superior cameras, but some of them still went with degraded images to make the clips seem grittier and more stylized.
As such, 1991-2000 ran the gamut. “Siva” seemed exceedingly grainy and rough, with heavy colors. “Rhinoceros” came across as much less grainy - though that factor remained in evidence - and the hues looked tighter and more accurate as well for the most part. However, it still showed a mix of grit and specks, and the sloppy appearance maintained its hold.
Once we moved to Siamese Dream, I figured the videos would improve in quality. Alas, that would have to wait for Mellon Collie, as “Cherub Rock” kicked off the album with the ugliest video on the DVD. This isn’t a criticism per se, since the defects were clearly intentional; we learn more about them in the disc’s supplements. Nonetheless, print flaws reached an extreme with lots of grain and many marks, specks, and tears. Colors were very heavy and runny as well.
”Today” seemed awfully soft and fuzzy, and colors remained problematic; the hues appeared rather washed out and bland. In addition, lots of nicks, specks and grain marred the presentation. I understood the stylistic flaws in the preceding clips, but this one’s defects made less sense; they seemed to be nothing more than an artifact of the low budget. Frankly, the clip looked like it came from a fourth generation video master.
Happily, the situation improved considerably with “Disarm”. It still showed some grain, and it displayed moderate examples of jagged edges and moiré effects. However, the black and white photography demonstrated nice depth and contrast; for once, a video actually looked like it was created by a professional and not a pack of monkeys with cameras.
While “Rocket” didn’t match up to the level set by “Disarm”, it still surpassed the first four videos. It came across as somewhat soft and fuzzy, and its colors appeared moderately thick and runny at times. Still, it lacked the excessive flaws found on the early clips, so it seemed acceptable within that spectrum.
Mellon Collie was the band’s biggest album, and the videos marked an unsurprising escalation in budget. The record’s leadoff single, “Bullet With Butterfly Wings”, offered a dark and stylized production. Colors became very pale and desaturated, and much of the clip was intentionally unfocused. Significant flaws seemed absent, however, as it appeared to match the director’s intentions.
After that big budget spectacular, the band retrenched to a degree with the more modest “1979”. It went with a cheaper videotaped look that offered unintentionally flat colors as well as some examples of jagged edges, moiré effects, and artifacting. It still worked okay based on the source, but it marked a step back in quality.
As noted in the supplements, “Zero” was a pretty cheap affair because the studio didn’t want a video for it. Corgan asked for a small budget and this decent piece was the result. At times it appeared somewhat soft, and the palette tended toward the brown side. A few artifacts manifested themselves, but overall, the presentation seemed decent.
Another very stylized clip, “Tonight, Tonight” successfully replicated the look of century-old films. As such, it featured a flat palette as well as some moiré effects and jagged edges. However, it remained consistently clear and accurate and generally looked quite good.
More desaturated colors appeared during “Thirty-Three”, but they fit nicely with the style of the clip. The picture stayed fairly crisp and detailed throughout the video. Overall, it was one of the better looking pieces on the DVD.
”Ava Adore” went with a very yellowish palette at its start, but it offered varying tones across its running time. Otherwise, the video offered some light intentional flaws and somewhat soft focus at times, but it generally seemed acceptable and reasonably clear.
Shockingly, “Perfect” provided still more stylized colors. It also seemed a little soft at times, and some light edge enhancement appeared evident in shots of Corgan. This “sequel” to “1979” looked better than its predecessor, though, and it offered a fairly satisfying visual experience.
For the most part, “The Everlasting Gaze” went with a monochrome palette, though the backgrounds provided heavy green tones. It showed some of the standard light artifacts and fuzziness, but as a whole, it seemed very acceptable.
”Stand Inside Your Love” gave us a black and white clip that showed nicely deep and rich tones. It used some of the usual artistic softness that appeared on so many of these videos. However, it came across as quite clean and distinctive and seemed well executed.
The final true video, “Try, Try, Try”, seemed a little flat and drab. However, those tones made sense within its setting. The clip came across as slightly soft and fuzzy at times, and it displayed a fairly drab palette, but the overall effect seemed acceptably clear.
Surprisingly, of the two live clips, the older one looked much better. 1993’s “Geek USA” was a professional production that showed clean and accurate delineation at all times. Colors seemed crisp and fairly vivid, and the piece displayed none of the murkiness that often mars live videos.
On the other hand, December 2000’s “An Ode to No One” seemed soft and hazy. Colors came across as bland and muddy, and the whole thing appeared surprisingly rough and fuzzy. Various video artifacts popped up on occasion as well. It remained watchable, but I expected more from the band’s swan song.
Happily, audio quality on 1991-2000 was much more consistent, though some exceptions occurred within the Dolby Stereo soundtrack. When I first fired up the platter, I noticed that “Siva” seemed like glorified monaural; the audio seemed surprisingly centered. Actually, that’s a bit of an overstatement, but the DVD’s sound didn’t display the solid stereo spread to the guitars evident on the original album.
However, the situation improved with “Rhinoceros”, which showed much better stereo presence, and most of the remaining tracks followed suit. Most, but not all, however, as “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” displayed some weird issues. Different parts of the mix skipped from location to location. For example, at one point, Corgan’s vocals came from the right, but then they moved to the center and then skipped to the left. The prominence of his singing also varies. Other instrumentation jumped around as well, and on a couple of occasions, the bass response briefly collapsed completely!
I’d heard the song about a million times over the years, so I was pretty sure it wasn’t supposed to sound like this. Just to confirm, I popped out the CD, and it clearly showed that something was wrong with the video mix. There seemed to be no creative reason for the change - the altered audio doesn’t make sense within the context of the video - so I have no idea why “Bullet” displayed such a poor mix. However, it was the only real oddity in the bunch; despite the restricted stereo heard during “Siva”, the rest of the tracks offered fairly solid and clear stereo imaging.
Audio quality varied a bit but generally seemed strong. Some hiss appeared on a few occasions, particularly at the start of both “Today” and “Zero”. However, the music largely came across as clean and without any noticeable defects. The songs seemed to stick fairly closely to the original material. Dynamic range seemed quite good. Highs came across as clean and accurate, while bass response appeared nicely deep and rich. At times low-end could be a little boomy, but the Pumpkins’ albums often sound that way; Corgan seems enamored of midrange, as a lot of album tracks lack great bass. However, some exceptions exist, such as “Thirty-Three” and its extremely deep low-end response. Overall, the audio of 1991-2000 wasn’t as good as it could have been - especially in the case of the flawed “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” - but it seemed very acceptable for the most part.
Note that for the most part, I regarded the Dolby Stereo audio as a simple two-channel mix. That’s because the vast majority of the audio emanated from the front speakers. The soundfield featured proper usage of the center speaker, and it also offered light reinforcement of the music from the surrounds. On a couple of occasions - primarily during “Try, Try, Try” - some effects actually emanated from the rear speakers. However, for all intents and purposes, the vast majority of the track sounded like standard stereo, which was appropriate for this material.
So far I felt pleased with 1991-2000, but I really became enamored of the package when I started to go through the supplements. This is a truly terrific set that I thoroughly enjoyed. First of all, we get audio commentaries for all the studio songs as well as the live version of “Geek USA”; there’s no material offered for the live “An Ode to No One”. Band members Corgan and Iha appear on each of the commentaries, while Chamberlin shows up for all of the songs except “Disarm”, “Tonight, Tonight”, “Thirty-Three”, “Ava Adore”, and “Perfect”. His absence on the last three is logical since he wasn’t in the band when they were filmed, but he appears in the first two, so I don’t know why he fails to show up for those commentaries. In addition, the various directors crop up on all of the tracks except for “Today”; that one’s an unusual case that I’ll discuss later.
I found these commentaries to be uniformly excellent. From the directors’ perspectives, we learn lots of little tidbits about what they wanted to do and how they tried to achieve their goals. The band chime in with compelling information about the shoots themselves. Not surprisingly, Corgan offers the most information, especially because he was closely involved in the creative element for many of the videos. The guy seems unable to schmooze over issues, so he comes across as honest and upfront about problems, many of which appeared to revolve around missing band member D’Arcy. Corgan adds some excellent notes and insight, and Iha and Chamberlin also give us useful material as well, though they don’t say nearly as much. I especially liked Chamberlin’s remarks about the weird mindset he adopts on a video shoot that makes the oddest things seem perfectly normal. Ultimately, I really enjoyed these commentaries and highly recommend them.
If you use your remote to flip through the audio options, you’ll note that the DVD includes four tracks for each song. However, most only use two of these: one for the music and one for the commentary. Nonetheless, we do find a few exceptions to this rule.
”1979” stands as the only song to utilize all four tracks. In addition to the standard commentary and the music, we find “Documentary Audio” - which I’ll discuss when I go over that part of the DVD - and “Lost Tapes Commentary”. In the latter, we learn that the original material filmed for the video disappeared due to a stupid accident, and we hear the particulars of what happened after that. It’s a quite interesting and unusual tale.
The only other tune to include a third audio track is “Today”, which provides something obscurely called “Jakeez Betbetba”. This is another commentary from the alleged director of the video. Interviewed on the phone; he tells us he did the clip in 1999 and he basically babbles for the piece’s running time. It’s an odd affair.
Additional extras accompany the various songs. For eight of the tunes, we discover outtakes. These appear for “Siva”, “Rhinoceros”, “Cherub Rock”, “Today”, “Disarm”, “Bullet With Butterfly Wings”, “Zero” and “The Everlasting Gaze”. As one might assume, these consist of unused material from each shoot, and they’re compiled in such a way that they actually create alternate versions of the videos. Probably my favorite is “Gaze”, as the outtakes concentrate on isolated shots of the bandmembers as they destroy their instruments. Overall, these segments are very cool to see.
A few of the other songs include documentaries for the videos in question. We get this kind of material for “1979”, “Tonight, Tonight”, “Thirty-Three”, “Adore”, “Perfect” and “Stand Inside Your Love”. Mostly these clips show behind the scenes footage from the shoots, but a few offer more diverse content. “Adore” provides a quality degeneration progression meant for an unused version of the video, while “Stand” gives us some storyboards. Though it’s a stretch to call these “documentaries”, they’re still fun to watch.
As mentioned earlier, “1979” features audio meant just to accompany the documentary. Basically this means we get the commentary already heard along with some of the natural audio from the shoot. For instance, we can listen to the actual Pumpkins performance sound taken from the set. It’s decent as it is, but the “documentary audio” would work better without any vestiges of the commentary.
”Rocket” provides an alternate performance cut. Basically that means we see just the band’s part of the video; we don’t watch the bits with the kids anymore. Some of the other “outtakes” serve the same purpose; for example, “Siva” shows just the lip-synched material without the trippy interludes. Nonetheless, the isolated version of “Rocket” is interesting and useful.
One note about the outtakes and documentaries and the commentaries: although you’d think the remarks from the latter would best fit the final videos, that’s not the case. All of the commentaries match up most closely with the various unused footage. That’s a surprise, but it’s cool nonetheless, as it adds some depth to the material.
Although we got no documentary or outtakes for “Try, Try, Try”, we do find an extended version of the video. Try - A Short Film lasts for 15 minutes and nine seconds and greatly expands upon the video version. It features narration from the female junkie as well as an alternate non-vocal mix of “Try, Try, Try”. Frankly, I think the piece works best within the shorter setting; the longer one seems too literal, and it tells the tale with excessive clarity, as it leaves little room for interpretation. One interesting note: the short film cut offers a significantly different ending to the tale.
Also in the “Extras” department, I Am One provides a previously unreleased video. The song comes from Gish, and the video itself looks a lot like the other clips from that album. It’s a live performance piece, except the audio emanates from the original studio material. It’s crudely shot and not terribly interesting, but it’s still a nice bonus.
Finally, we get an Easter egg to wrap up the package. To get “Untitled”, highlight “Extras” from the main page and click to the left. That’ll activate this montage of recording studio footage. With accompaniment from the final mix of “Untitled”, we watch Billy, James and Jimmy as they create the song. Since we get no discussion or insight into the process, it’s a pretty dull addition.
But I suppose I can forgive one misstep in this otherwise stellar package. Most collections of music videos are basic affairs, but The Smashing Pumpkins 1991-2000 Greatest Hits Video Collection helps show how well the DVD format can be used. Inevitably, it’ll elicit comparisons to the Beastie Boys Video Anthology, largely regarded as the gold standard by which DVDs from this genre are measured. To be sure, that’s a fine set, but I think the Pumpkins package outdoes it. While the Beasties offer the greatest quantity, the Pumpkins win due to quality. There’s a lot of fairly useless stuff on the Beasties’ set, but 1991-2000 includes very little material that falls into that category.
Granted, I’m not an impartial observer, as I much prefer the Pumpkins to the Beasties, but I still think it’s a superior package in most ways. The Pumpkins’ videos are consistently interesting and compelling and inventive, and the songs are mainly strong. Visual quality is erratic due to the nature of the original videos, whereas sound seems to accurately represent the source recordings except for a few exceptions, the most notable coming from the bizarrely flawed audio for “Bullet With Butterfly Wings”.
1991-2000 packs in a slew of terrific extras as well, and that’s the area that really sets this package above the competition. I struggled to work through all of the Beasties’ stuff; some of it was interesting, but much of it was pedestrian or even boring. Not so for the Pumpkins. When I started to check out the supplements, it was late and I needed to go to bed. I planned to just listen to the first commentary or two to get a taste. However, the pieces were so terrific that I couldn’t shut off the TV; I remained with the disc until I’d gone through the whole thing.
If voluntary sleep deprivation doesn’t offer a strong recommendation, I don’t know what will. I think The Smashing Pumpkins 1991-2000 Greatest Hits Video Collection is the best package of its sort on the market, and it’s one on a short list of the top musical sets period. Already-established Pumpkins fans should run to the store to get it, and other folks should give it a look as well; considering the excellent music, inventive videos and fascinating supplements, this one might win over non- believers, especially with a bargain price of less than $20.