There have been quite a few movies about up and coming bands. From the alternate world of BackBeat to the one hit wonder magic of That Thing You Do!. But not even This is Spinal Tap can claim the oddity of a white Irish band playing their hearts out with Soul Music. That, however, is exactly what The Commitments gives you.
The story of The Commitments is not a rare one. Put aside the soul music, and it’s the story of any band. A band is formed, made up of some friends and some newly recruited faces. The musicians struggle to get a gig. Once a few gigs happen and their music is heard the band either starts to succeed or starts to fall on their face. Such is the story of The Commitments, the hardest working band in the world.
The Commitments are as widely varied a crowd as you could expect. The only common thread among the band seems to be a love of music and a desire to use music to escape from the dismal world that surrounds them. Made up of a guitarist and bassist who starts the movie playing weddings, a lead singer who is discovered through his asinine behavior at that same wedding, a pianist who is studying to be a doctor, a smart mouthed drummer, and a trumpet player who claims to have a lifetime of experience with soul musicians, all are managed by a young man with dreams and ambition who interviews himself aloud whenever he is alone. Add some attractive background singers, a basher bouncer, and apparently that’s the recipe for Irish Soul.
In all seriousness, the movie pulls off the soul angle incredibly well. Using a mix of mainstream Motown and less popular soulful tunes, the bluesy music paints the atmosphere of Dublin streets. The imagery of the film matches the music’s mood. Dublin’s streets are torn up, with shambles of buildings and dirty people walking them. We are told in the movie “The Irish are the blacks of Europe, Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland, and North Side Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin.” This is made just as clear in what we see on screen as it is in that line of dialogue.
Director Alan Parker is also the creative force behind Fame and Pink Floyd’s The Wall, so it’s no surprise he is able to build a strong, character driven, musical film such as The Commitments. The real shame is that most of the cast are unknowns who have pretty much faded into obscurity since The Commitments. This is understandable once it’s learned that Parker cast the movie from real musicians in Ireland, making a serious attempt to truly find characters in his actors. The only stand out known cast member is Colm Meany who plays an Elvis Presley worshipping father to the band’s manager.
The release of The Commitments continues to show that Fox knows how to do DVDs. This is a movie that many people have been waiting for, and Fox doesn’t try to take advantage of that by releasing a bare bones version. We are treated to quite a few extras, some of which are quite amazing.
Two short behind the scenes/making of featurettes are included, both produced at the time the film was originally released. They tend to use the same footage, so they are a bit redundant. For a more nostalgic look back (as well as a “who got fat, who got bald” look at the cast today) there is “The Commitments: Looking Back”, a 45 minute retrospective, remembering the making of the movie, the experiences of a cast of non-actors, and where that cast is now. Also included to show where the cast is today are two musical selections from members Andrew Strong and Robert Arkins.
The film has a commentary track recorded by director Alan Parker. Parker has a lot to say about his movie and doesn’t leave much dead time in the commentary, although at times it repeats information already learned in the featurettes from the film’s original release. Personally I think this is one time a cast commentary track would have been interesting, hearing the cast remember what filming a movie for the first time was like.
Rounding out the last of the extras is a documentary on Dublin itself entitled “Dublin Soul” which gives a more cultural look at North and South Dublin and the mentality of the citizens within. A music video for “Treat Her Right”, the only song Robert Arkins was able to perform in includes a funny story told separately by Arkins and Parker about a bet they each remember differently. Finally the theatrical trailer you would expect, along with television and radio commercials as well as publicity stills can also be found. With all of these extras included, along with an excellent transfer of the film The Commitments is an excellent addition to any DVD library.