Roy Orbison has one of the three or four truly great voices of rock'n'roll. In 1988, just a year or so before he died of a heart attack at 52 (December 6, 1988) he recorded a tribute concert to himself called "Black&whitenight".
You may wonder, what on earth do I mean by "to himself". I mean that the project was financed, managed, and controlled by Orbison's production company. It was "directed" by Tony Mitchell, a gentleman from my home town, Kitchener, Ontario. But Orbison had final cut and control of the film.
This is not the same kind of film as the one we got when Marty Scorcese directed the greatest rock'n'roll film of all time "The Last Waltz" with The Band (some would argue "Stop Making Sense" with the Talking Heads).
There is no rational artistic reason why it's in black and white, and this video is a poster child for why some people believe in the principle of artistic economy, which is, if you don't have any ideas at all about what you are doing with the camera (or mic, or paintbrush, or keyboard), replace artistry with volume or quantity. Go up to 11. Or, In this case, have the camera swoop back and forth and up and down and left and right and in and out, for no reason whatsoever other than to make it appear that you are doing something with the camera to make this production visually interesting.
There are moments when the musicians appear to be out of sync. There are even moments where they appear to be hamming it up. Could be that an editor dumped in a few shots taken out of sequence just for effect. Or there were dubs.
"Black&WhiteNight" is well recorded. Too well-recorded. I am convinced it was dubbed, though every effort appears to have been made to make it appear to be a live recording. You would think that nowadays it would be easy to find out the truth: it's not. I've been searching the internet and all I can find it indirect references to it and drippy, adoring reviews by worshippers of Roy Orbison.
Let's keep that straight: I am an admirer of Orbison but here it is: Orbison is a truly great but one-dimensional romanticist whose work has limited importance. He was the master of the paranoid, masochistic, break-up song, in which the pain of the loss is elevated to a near hysterical embrace of spiritual and emotional suffering.
You might be surprised that this mode can only go so far.
Only the lonely
Know the way I feel tonight
Yes, those opening lines, the black suit, the sunglasses-- truly magnificent.
But a lot of his early success may well have been due to arranger Fred Foster at Monument Records (where Orbison recorded from 1959 to 1965). After he left, he rarely charted, until his return during the nostalgia craze in the 1980's.
But, like Elvis and Michael Jackson, he was a pop star, and never more than that, and he doesn't belong in the category of the truly visionary, brilliant minds that made rock music worth paying attention to, and made it more relevant and interesting than any other musical style in the past fifty years.