REVIEW

VIVIAN STANSHALL
The Canyons Of His Mind [no label 1DVD PAL]
BBC4 documentary on the late majestic Vivian Stanshall of Bonzo Dog Band directed by Paul Kerr, 2003. Video Ex; Audio Ex SBD stereo. 60 mins.

You can say what you like about the quality of British TV these days, but you still cannot beat them for making rock documentaries, a point that this hour long appreciation hammers home from start to finish. Purposefully avoiding the somewhat cruel angle that so scarred Chris Welch’s Ginger Geezer biography of the great man, The Canyons Of His Mind focuses instead upon what Stanshall meant to the musicians with whom he worked, the comedians he influenced, and the audiences that flocked to whichever banner he’d most recently raised.

Of course there are gaps in the chronology - the Bonzos, the Rawlinson End saga and the Stinkfoot opera receive by far the lion’s share of the action. But clips dating back to 1967 (and from thence, onto the early 1990s) capture him in full flight regardless, and for all his faults, it is evident that even as a college student, Stanshall’s genius for both visual and spoken comedy was several leagues beyond almost anything else on the scene back then. Of all his contemporaries, only Peter Cook and Ivor Cutler can truly be considered in the same breath as Stanshall, and then only because their own brands of humor was equally out on a limb of their own design.

Watching the show, one can bemoan the fact that the musical clips are just that, minute-or-so length clips… all the more so since several of them have otherwise evaded the attentions of both the underground and mainstream video circuit. But that is a small price to pay for the sheer joy of sitting through the entire program, and besides - what could have been cut out to make way for more? - Dave Thompson

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