Richard Pryor, lite rock, a porn doc, and Brian K. Vaughan

Richard Pryor, lite rock, a porn doc, and Brian K. Vaughan

NOT OPTIONAL takes a quick weekly look at some essential releases, some recent, some not.

Richard Pryor, No Pryor Restraint: Life In Concert 
This massive CD/DVD box set (out June 11) doesn’t have the cool miniature reproductions of Pryor’s Warner Bros. LPs that were included in Rhino’s out-of-print …And It’s Deep Too!, but it does have other special virtues, such as a few alternate versions of routines from the classic albums, including a version of “Our Gang” that goes into considerably more detail on the mechanics of having sex with a dog. This is the kind of treatment that’s usually reserved for great jazz musicians, and in Pryor’s case, it makes perfect sense. So does the decision to package these well-chosen audio selections with DVDs of his concert movies, including the titanic career summation that is Richard Pryor Live In Concert. Pryor wasn’t a just Icomedian, he was a one-man guerrilla theater troupe, and to listen to him without seeing him move and shift from character to character, embodying winos and children and animals and his own darkest urges, is to get only a partial taste of his art. But even a partial taste is better than a full swig of almost anything else. [Phil Dyess-Nugent]

Drink A Toast To Innocence: A Tribute To Lite Rock
Growing up in the ’70s, with my taste in music directly formed by what my parents listened to and what came through my clock radio, I’ve always had a soft spot for soft rock, and I’ve also had an ongoing love affair with tribute albums. So there was never any doubt that I’d be instantly smitten when those two things eventually collided. Drink A Toast To Innocence: A Tribute To Lite Rock turned out to be even more of a slam dunk than I’d imagined, thanks to a track listing featuring some of my favorite artists—including Kyle Vincent, Mike Viola, Linus Of Hollywood, Willie Wisely, and Seth Swirsky—tackling some of the smoothest, silkiest songs of the ’70s, plus a few token tracks from the ’80s. Mind you, most of the contributors aren’t household names unless you’re a power-pop aficionado, but once you’ve heard Bleu do “Baby Come Back” or Michael Carpenter rip through Cliff Richard’s “We Don’t Talk Anymore,” you might find yourself wanting to check out their original material as well. [Will Harris]


After Porn Ends
Netflix is an incredible resource for documentary enthusiasts—I’m way more likely to fall down the rabbit hole of obscure real-life stories than to trip into an entire season of 30 Rock. I recently watched Meet The Fokkens, a doc about a pair of Amsterdam sisters in their late 60s who spent their entire adult lives as prostitutes. It was fascinating in a slice-of-life way, though pretty unsatisfying. The same could be said for After Porn Ends, which Netflix recommended presumably because we watched Fokkens. It was far from perfect (you guys know the whole “not optional” thing is a bit of fun hyperbole, right?), and I wish more of the 90-minute running time had actually been spent “after”—it was more like 60 minutes of catch-up with some well-known porn stars of the past, followed by the stories of how and why they got out of “the business.” As you can probably guess, these aren’t particularly happy stories, but it’s interesting to see the range of regret—from Mary Carey, who ran for governor of California back when everybody did, and who’s basically clueless, to Asia Carrera, who points out repeatedly that she’s a card-carrying member of MENSA. The stories from the male stars are a bit more complex (and previously untold): Richard Pacheco (a.k.a. Howie Gordon) ends up with a pretty normal life (though he likes to sculpt fake penises on to toys), with a loving family. The same can’t be said for the other “stars” here, but their cautionary stories are fascinating nonetheless. [Josh Modell]

Saga, Volume One
Ever wonder how the Imperial Stormtroopers feel about the various star wars they've been drafted into? Or what Greedo’s love life was like before Han fired first on him? What’s truly ingenious about Saga, the newish comic-book series from Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man, TV’s Lost), is the way it turns an intergalactic conflict straight out of George Lucas’ wheelhouse into a mere backdrop, focusing not on the movers and shakers of the war, but the bit players. Narrated by the daughter of two star-crossed, on-the-lam lovers—a horned pacifist and his winged paramour, just trying to find a quiet corner of the cosmos to raise their infant offspring—the book devotes as much space to shooting-the-shit downtime as it does to shooting-the-villains skirmishes. The dialogue sings, the artwork (by Fiona Staples) is stunning, and scarcely a page goes by in which Vaughan doesn’t introduce some inspired new concept or wrinkle. (A personal favorite: a feline sidekick who hisses “lying” whenever someone is being dishonest.)  Equal parts soap opera and space opera, Saga fills readers with a constant sense of discovery, hinting at a whole universe just beyond the edges of its panels. Catch up with the inaugural six-issue trade now; a second volume hits stores next month. [A.A. Dowd]

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