101 [Video]

by: Depeche Mode

While the band later felt the end results were something of a mixed effort, at its best, 101 is a quietly revelatory study (in typical D.A. Pennebaker style) of a group that ended up becoming genuine American superstars without following a conventional route to stardom. It also benefits from none of the outrageous self-importance of U2's near contemporaneous Rattle and Hum. 101 combines footage from Depeche Mode's 1988 stateside tour and the tracking of a number of New York fans who won a contest to be in the film and follow their idols via bus. The fans themselves actually are more or less the stars of the film, a fun cross-section of late-'80s folks who are basically just themselves -- changing dates on driver's licenses to buy beer, arguing about art versus fashion -- nothing earth-shattering, just the humor of life. As for the bandmembers, they're seen doing everything from prepping up publicity shots, killing time with pinball machines, gearing up for performances, being interviewed, and telling odd stories -- again, it's not the end of the world, it's just what is done. Alan Wilder goes into both a bit of history and a demonstration of his setup, while Andy Fletcher admits he's in the band more or less just "to keep everyone together!" Interspersed throughout it all are live cuts, most from the record-shattering concert at the Rose Bowl that provided the full soundtrack to the film, including the famous throw-your-arms-back-and-forth sequence during "Never Let Me Down Again" that transforms the audience into a sea of limbs. Far from being the lifeless zombie of synth music stereotype, David Gahan throws himself into his performance like a young Freddie Mercury, though it's true that Fletcher does prove why he's known for doing little more than clapping his hands and singing along. Add to that a ream of employees who look like they came out of This Is Spinal Tap, most notoriously PR person and future wife of Gahan, Theresa Conroy (there's also a knowing backstage reference à la David St. Hubbins to "rock & roll" at one point), and more long-gone fashions and haircuts than can be counted, and 101 is a surprising treat. ~ Ned Raggett

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