DVD: Healey’s Hideaway (2014)

July 14, 2016 | By

HealeysHideawayFilm: Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Good

Label:  MVD Visual

Region: 0 (NTSC)

Released:  June 14, 2016

Genre:  Documentary / Music

Synopsis: Compact, anecdotal chronicle of brilliant blues guitarist Jeff Healey and the influential music club he founded in Toronto, Canada.

Special Features:  2 Bonus Audio Tracks (8:34) / Slideshow (3:16)




Jeff Healey was Canada’s gift to the blues, and his passing at 41 from lung cancer was a huge loss to the Canadian music scene, especially since the child prodigy would’ve matured into an even greater musician, and no doubt explored other varieties of the blues, rock, and jazz in his own inimitable way.

By the time he was in his teens, Healey had drawn attention of peers for being the kid who could play like a seasoned pro, and it didn’t take long before his apparent disability – blindness – evaporated and audiences saw only a skilled musician.

Healey gained a slightly different type of immortality when he appeared in the cult film Road House (1989) with Patrick Swayze, being cast more for background colour in the raucous bawdy bar scenes, but often eclipsing the so-called drama by his musical genius. Whenever director Rowdy Harrington cut away from a music set, you inevitably got mad because you wanted more of Healey, if not hear the end of the song.

That’s one of the peculiar dilemmas in Eve Kinizo’s fairly short documentary that’s partly a tribute to Healey as well as the two clubs that bore his name – venues he co-owned and ran under his own rules, curating the talent, and using his connections to grab stars or good ears to spot a newcomer and give them a chance to play in a more intimate venue than a large concert centre.

Kinizo managed to gather a mass of interviews from colleagues, band mates, his second wife, peers (including Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman) and stitch together a narrative propelled by memories, impressions, and anecdotes that inevitably steer towards a short concluding requiem, but what almost torpedoes the doc is the lack of even semi-complete performances by Healey himself. Most of the clips stem from archival VHS recordings when Healey was a teen and after he set up the new clubs, which is fine, but 95% of the time we cut away after an intro and opening bars, or cut in during the final bars of a song before audience applause.

The real culprit is probably music rights – besides “Angel Eyes” and “Stardust,” almost all other extracts are solos that can’t be tied to a specific song – and Healey’s Hideaway is a stark example of what happens when rights costs trump narrative needs, and a director-editor is forced to work around talking heads and archival materials of which only small sections of audio can be retained.

It is possible to craft a film without archival goodies, but when the subject is a musical genius who’s repeatedly venerated by the interviewed, you have to deliver some musical meat, or the film becomes a major letdown; teasing, but never delivering. The doc’s final structure feels like sometimes oddly edited sequences that were meant to flow in and out of performances videos that were ultimately dropped because of steep licensing fees.

Healey’s Hideaway is saved by the variety and warmth of friends and colleagues, but it’s still a problematic film, even at 72 mins. A shorter edit would’ve pruned some topical repetition and made the lack of substantive performance extracts less severe, but it’s still a frustrating experience.

A few of Kinizo’s editorial choices don’t quite gel, and the finale is the best example: Healey’s last performed song was “Stardust,” and we hear the first few bars with Healey’s smoother voice. Kinizo quickly interweaves performances of the song by former band mates, and it’s designed as a collective celebration of the man by sharing through performances a song that was indicative of his love of classic 1920s and 1930s jazz, but why not allow Healey himself to close the story of his life as a musician, composer, entrepreneur, and feisty spirit who refused to allow anything to stand in the way of making music?  We’ve heard nothing but the voices of the people who loved the man; what’s needed to complete the story is Healey himself, without fades, overlaps, cutaways, or tight edits.

As a portrait of two dynamic and much-cherished music clubs (now closed) and a tribute to their illustrious owner, Healey’s Hideaway generally works, but the aforementioned issues really hamper what could’ve been a more rewarding endeavor.

MVD Visual’s DVD sports an excellent transfer, and the brief bonus galleries feature a stills montage with music by Healey’s jazz band, and two performance videos of colleagues shot full frame, but stretched improperly to 1.85:1.

In spite of his heavy touring and performances during most of his life, there’s very little professionally filmed concert footage from his North American sets. Most of what exists – The Jeff Healey Band – See the Light: Live from London (1989), The Jeff HealeyJeff Healey Band: Live in Belgium (1993),  Band: Live at Montreau 1997 & 1999, Jeff Healey – As the Years Go Passing By: Live in Germany (1989, 1995, 2000), Jeff Healey and the Jazz Wizards: Beautiful Noise (2006)  – stems from European tours and one Canadian TV gig.



© 2016 Mark R. Hasan



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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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