Film: Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

**** NB – Contains SPOILERS (as if you do not know this story by now!) ****

It was a long time from concept to completion but this film, depicting the rise of British rock band Queen to major success has proven to be a runaway hit in the cinema since its release in October 2018. The production was far from smooth; the makers had initially wanted Sacha Baron Cohen (best known for his comic character Ali G) to play singer Freddie Mercury, but that did not happen owing to Baron Cohen’s desire for a more ‘gritty’ portrayal of the Queen frontman than that intended by the band’s surviving members. Things didn’t get moving properly until late 2015 when the screenplay was approved; it wasn’t until another year had passed before the cast and director were installed. Even then, production was troubled; director Bryan Singer was removed from the project with about two weeks of principal photography still to shoot, amid reports of his repeated absences from the set. Even when Singer was actually on set, there were further allegations of clashes with lead actor Rami Malek (portraying the central role of Freddie Mercury). The studio appointed Dexter Fletcher to complete the filming, although on the finished film Singer has retained the director’s credit. (Fletcher is given an ‘executive producer’ credit)

Bohemian Rhapsody DVD cover

Bohemian Rhapsody DVD cover

With all this hanging over it, on its cinematic release not many predicted that the film would prove to be the box-office smash it has become. Still playing in UK cinemas at the time of writing, the film has just been issued digitally (on Amazon Prime) and is about to be released on DVD and Blu-Ray.  It’s taken me until now to get around to seeing this picture, so better late than never here’s my take on it all.

Beginning with a lengthy opening sequence showing Mercury preparing for his performance at Live Aid, the film starts things off by cutting back to 1970 where the young Farrokh Bulsara is shown working as an airport baggage handler. From here events rattle along at a rapid pace; he attends a college gig by the band Smile; attempting to introduce himself to the band he encounters a pretty blonde (Mary Austin, played by Lucy Boynton) who tells him where to find the guys in the band. He does so just as Smile’s singer Tim Staffell (Jack Roth) quits, introducing himself to guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy).  Securing the gig of lead singer and renaming the band Queen, the new band (complete with bassist John Deacon, played by Joseph Mazzello) are unveiled, with their new singer taking command immediately. Right there, Queen fans of a certain age will know that it wasn’t quite so simple as that (for instance, Deacon was not their first bassist and only joined in 1971) but , for reasons of trying to cram in a 20-year story into about two hours, the film does take numerous liberties. It jumps forward a year to show the band selling their van in order to raise enough money to make an album, and meeting up with Farrokh’s family where he announces to all present that he is now known as ‘Freddie Mercury’.

The pace at which things develop in the film gives it the feel of a montage, as the band are shown being signed by a record label, making their album, touring and becoming ever more popular. Once again fans will be shouting at the screen, as it shows the group in their 1975 finery, looking exactly like the real band did in the video for ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (the song) – while they are shown performing ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ – a song which didn’t come along until 1978! How well you can overlook the lack of chronology like this probably depends on whether or not you were there when this band were active. It goes on to depict Mercury, by now in a relationship with Austin, keeping in contact with her by telephone but becoming increasingly distracted on the road with an attraction to other men.

An amusing sequence follows when the band are actually putting down ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ on tape, showing Taylor becoming agitated at the amount of times Mercury wants him to overdub ‘Galileo’ vocals, before there’s a heated discussion with a record company executive (played by Mike Myers) over their insistence on releasing this song as a single. Mercury is shown next in a radio studio, daring the disc jockey (the maverick Kenny Everett, played by Dickie Beau) to play the whole thing. He does so, and the record hits the top of the charts. A rather cheesy sequence follows where scathing reviews of the single taken from the time are shown on screen; a deliberate thumbing of the nose at the critics.

The film goes out of its way in places to show that the band wasn’t just about the singer; showing May in the studio with the band and entourage with his idea which became ‘We Will Rock You’, and in another sequence showing Deacon playing the bass line for his ‘Another One Bites The Dust’. In the film’s timeline, Mercury is shown to become more difficult the more successful they get, almost getting into a fight with Taylor. He’s then shown to become increasingly detached from both the band and Austin, being offered a solo recording deal and being led by his personal manager (Paul Prenter, played by Allen Leech) further into the murky world of the New York gay clubbing scene. Once again, the chronology is questionable, after a scene showing Mercury becoming agitated at a press conference by repeated questioning of his personal life by journalists, he quits the band after another altercation with Taylor over his secret signing of a solo deal. In reality, Taylor had put out not one, but two solo albums before Mercury even made one, so the sight of the drummer reacting angrily on screen is more for dramatic effect. It also skates over the 1984 period when the band released the album ‘The Works’ and toured, though they are shown making the ‘I Want To Break Free’ video which, as the film depicts, went down badly in the United States.  This is one thing which jarred with me particularly, since I saw Queen live for the first time during this period and their world tour was actually a success, culminating in their performance at the inaugural Rock in Rio festival in early 1985. Many will also note that their collaboration with David Bowie (which yielded the song ‘Under Pressure’), is ignored, even more glaring since that single was their only other number one hit besides ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ itself.

Prenter is shown to be indulging Mercury’s excesses, and when the management attempt to reach the singer they are repeatedly fobbed off by Prenter. Mercury finds out that they are trying to contact him to take part in a huge charity concert, and angrily fires Prenter. He is shown watching a television interview with Prenter, who is shown to betray the singer’s confidence with revelations about his personal life (in actual fact, Prenter did this by selling his story to a tabloid newspaper). A contrite Mercury meets up and reconciles with his bandmates, and they sign up for the concert (which as everyone knows, was the Live Aid concert).  It is here that the biggest and most jarring chronology discrepancy comes up; in the events of the film it is during rehearsals for this show that Mercury is diagnosed with the AIDS virus which eventually claims him. In reality, he was not diagnosed until 1987 after the band had completed their final world tour, but as this movie has been building up to that climactic pay off of the Live Aid performance, the script has this brought forward. Again, whether you can accept that or not probably depends on whether you were around to see this band at the time. As someone who was lucky enough to see Queen on three occasions including their final live show ever at Knebworth in 1986, I found this extremely difficult to accept.

The Live Aid sequence is the part which not only makes this film worth seeing but arguably saves the whole thing – they went to a lot of trouble to get this one right. The clothes, the stage setting, the details right down to the Pepsi-Cola branded paper cups are absolutely bang-on. Malek as Mercury owns this sequence, he replicates every single move Mercury made on the 13th July 1985 and his performance is so accurate (indeed that of all four actors as the whole band) that every Queen tribute band currently playing live will be thinking that they had better up their game. In actual fact, the vocals for the musical sequences are either taken from Mercury himself or are replicated by singer Marc Matel, whose voice is uncannily similar. That sequence was shot first, and as such credit must be given where due to Singer’s direction, he has recaptured the magic of the original 22 minute set beautifully. The film ends at this point, having depicted the band start from a college band into a huge success, then with excess taking its toll before redemption is found via their career-defining Live Aid performance. The band’s later career is not covered at all, though some songs are used as background in the film itself.

Given the runaway box office success of the movie, it’s pointless giving a verdict since the audience has already spoken – however, despite the film’s many imperfections if you are a fan of this band or indeed have any interest whatsoever in them, you should get the DVD if you haven’t already seen the movie. The fact a film about a band which had its heyday decades ago still can pull in an audience the way it has speaks volumes about Queen’s enduring appeal, truly one of the great rock bands. Whether this is the film which does justice to such a giant of rock however, is for you to decide. For me, it was a pleasant if cliched biopic, which would get three inflatable guitars, but the performance of the actors portraying the band (uncannily accurate in all cases), plus the Live Aid sequence earns it a fourth. If you do buy the DVD or Blu-ray, the whole performance as recreated for the movie will be presented in full as an extra. The original 1985  performance by the actual band is of course worthy of as many inflatable guitars as you can blow up, and that’s always available to view on youtube.

Bohemian Rhapsody The Movie website

Bohemian Rhapsody (cert 12A)
Director: Bryan Singer
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Screenplay: Anthony McCarten
Cinematography: Newton Thomas Sigel

Full cast and crew listing on IMDB

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving

 

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CD/DVD: Whitesnake ‘The Purple Tour – Live’ (Rhino Entertainment)


Sourced from a performance at the Genting Arena, Birmingham in December 2015 (a show which your correspondent attended), this live album and video captures the current incarnation of Whitesnake during their tour supporting ‘The Purple Album’, vocalist David Coverdale’s celebration of his time fronting Deep Purple.

The release is available in several formats, as is so often the case these days. Most will plump for either the CD/DVD or CD/Blu-Ray package (yours truly opted for the former), but for those who just want an audio memento of this concert it is available either as a standalone CD or on double vinyl LP.

Utilising a similar artwork theme as used on ‘The Purple Album’, the presentation here is beautiful. The familiar Whitesnake ‘amulet’ surrounded by that distinctive lettering is present and correct, only with the band members now depicted around that amulet. The purple marble effect on the cover is seductive, and will make a nice companion for the 2015 album, the tour programme (if you have it) or even the recent coffee-table book, if you had pockets deep enough to stretch to either edition!

David Coverdale acts as much as master of ceremonies as lead vocalist on this DVD, the video presentation makes sure it is as much about the players currently surrounding him as it is about himself; every member is given a good amount of screen time with individual camera shots for each. The cuts are rapid, similar to how it was done for the earlier ‘Live In The Still Of The Night’ DVD, and there are black and white shots frequently interspersed like in that production. That’s something I am not a massive fan of, but these are a little less jarring with the shots being not quite so ‘grainy’ this time. The director for this footage is Canadian Tyler Bourns, who also worked on the bonus promo video for ‘Burn’, released to YouTube at Christmas and included on this disc. The DVD picture is mostly crisp, but the sharp-eyed will notice some ‘artifacts’ in the picture which may or may not be down to visual effects used in post-production. For fans of a certain age, who remember watching bootleg VHS tapes of this band back in the 80s, it’s not a show-stopper compared to the tape dropouts we had to put up with in those days!

I was at this concert and reviewed it at the time for this blog, so I shan’t go into detail once again about the actual show. The band (guitarists Joel Hoekstra and Reb Beach, bassist Michael Devin, keyboardist Michele Luppi and veteran drummer Tommy Aldridge) gave a splendid performance, allowing Coverdale to ham it up in front of this huge crowd as only he can. He sounds in good voice on this presentation, although even his most ardent fans will now concede he isn’t what he once was. He has chosen these players for their vocal as well as instrumental abilities; you see all of them providing strong vocal backing for the main man throughout, in particular Reb Beach and Michele Luppi.

Overall, it is a good value package, including a complete concert performance plus extras, in the form of the ‘Burn’ promo video, a short interview segment where Michael Devin quizzes Joel Hoekstra and Reb Beach (with generous portions of humour), and some bonus audio, presented on the DVD or Blu-ray in stereo or 5.1.  When this tour came to the UK the band had limited time, as it was a co-headline tour with Def Leppard and so some of the songs performed in other countries were left out of the UK shows. That was a little disappointing I thought, as this was a unique tour in which Purple classics from Coverdale’s old days were revived, possibly for the only time. He has rectified that, at least in part with three songs not done on the UK tour included here (‘You Keep On Moving’, Lay Down Stay Down’, and ‘Stormbringer’ with the other track ‘Lotsanotes’ being a guitar duel between the two axemen). It isn’t made clear when these tracks were recorded, but I’d guess it came early on in the tour as ‘Lay Down Stay Down’ was only in the set for a few shows.  This is a carefully produced and lavishly presented set, and will no doubt prove popular with Coverdale’s loyal fans.

wstheprupletour

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving

 

Whitesnake release video for ‘Burn’ from ‘The Purple Tour – Live’

Whitesnake gave their fans a little Christmas gift this week with the release of a specially-shot promo video for ‘Burn’, one of several Deep Purple songs revisited by singer David Coverdale for 2015’s ‘The Purple Album’ and the subsequent tour. This video is set to a live performance of the song, taken from the upcoming ‘The Purple Tour – Live’ CD and DVD package. The release of this set has been delayed but is now slated to come out on January 19th. There will be a choice of either a CD/DVD or CD/Blu-Ray set, as well as audio-only versions available on LP, CD or digitally.

The video (directed by Tyler Bourns; described by Coverdale as a ‘young, hip gunslinger’) features all of the current band members (guitarists Reb Beach and Joel Hoekstra, bassist Michael Devin, keyboardist Michele Luppi and drummer Tommy Aldridge) intercut with numerous special effects and introduces Tiffany Atkinson (Coverdale’s ‘Executive Personal Assistant’) as the ‘fire’ woman depicted in the song lyric.

The track listing for the CD/DVD, CD/Blu-Ray and audio CD is as follows:

  1. Burn
  2. Bad Boys
  3. Love Ain’t No Stranger
  4. The Gypsy
  5. Give Me All Your Love
  6. Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City
  7. Mistreated
  8. You Fool No One
  9. Soldier Of Fortune
  10. Is This Love
  11. Fool For Your Loving
  12. Here I Go Again
  13. Still Of The Night

The CD/DVD or CD/Blu-Ray sets will also feature the music video as shown above plus interviews with the band members, as well as bonus live audio in high-resolution 5.1 of the following tracks:

  • You Keep On Moving
  • Lay Down Stay Down
  • Lotsanotes
  • Stormbringer

The vinyl version of the album will include all of the main set plus ‘You Keep On Moving’.

Whitesnake recently released their first book (‘The Purple Tour – A Photographic Journey’) in strictly limited quantities, and have been working on an album of new material for a 2018 release. They also recently announced that they are to tour the US as special guests to Foreigner in summer 2018; at the time of writing they are yet to announce any dates for UK or Europe.

The band have also released an audio taster of the upcoming album, a live rendition of ‘Fool For Your Loving’:

A review of this CD/DVD will appear on the blog once I get my copy!

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DVD: Delain ‘A Decade of Delain – Live At Paradiso’ (Napalm)

It’s taken me a while to get around to this – Delain’s first long-form live video. I’ve described it as a ‘DVD’ in the title, in actual fact this package includes the concert, filmed at Paradiso in Amsterdam on 10th December 2016 (a show I attended) issued on both DVD *and* Blu-Ray discs, as well as audio of the complete set on two separate CDs. They have also featured a short documentary showing the workings of the group behind-the-scenes on their ‘Moonbathers’ tour of 2016, and vox pop interviews with selected fans.  That’s the regular edition; if you look on Delain’s own site there is a limited edition ‘deluxe’ set including all of the above, plus a ‘cover flag’, a laminated ‘pass’ with lanyard and six photo cards. That’d be for the diehard collectors; speaking as someone with plenty of ‘stuff’ already, the standard edition was fine by me. After all you are getting quite a bit for your money anyway.

delainparadiso.jpg

All that aside, what’s this filmed concert like? I saw it in full on the big screen in October when Delain arranged a special screening at a small cinema in Utrecht on the day of their concert at TivoliVredenburg. However I wanted to get my own copy before posting a blog on it, so after giving the DVD a spin (I still haven’t joined the Blu-Ray revolution, nineties kid that I am!) here are my thoughts:

The first thing you’ll notice is that they used a lot of camera angles – I do remember a camera on a boom arm flying over my spot on the night, and they used a lot more than just that camera to film this show. There are frequent cuts, sometimes showing singer Charlotte Wessels from one angle for a moment, then a different one two seconds later. They also cut frequently to the other band members, it isn’t the ‘Charlotte show’ by any means. The effect is to give the production a sense of ‘urgency’, if not quite like being there on the front row they’ve aimed to give the home viewer the next best thing. It reminds me a little of how the Whitesnake live DVD (produced over a decade ago, now) was cut, that had similar direction in terms of the amount of camera angles used and how often they cut to a different viewpoint. Anyone who has that DVD will hopefully be pleased to find that Delain did not cut to the occasional grainy black & white shot the way Whitesnake did, though (a trend I found irritating in video production and thankfully one that seems to be out of style nowadays).

The band went to a lot of trouble to make this show a special one, it being a celebration of their tenth anniversary, and so you’ll see tickertape, fake snow, visual projections and a whole host of special guest appearances in this concert. The snow effect looks spectacular on video, viewed from the back of this hall (a former church converted into a concert venue), cascading down on the audience amongst an array of lighting effects. You also see just what a mess all of that made of the stage even at an early point in the show! The guest appearances commenced right from the first song, as Arch Enemy’s Alissa White-Gluz joined the band for opening song ‘Hands Of Gold’. She returned later in the set to duet on ‘The Tragedy Of The Commons’, another track in which she appeared on record. Also making appearances in person were Burton C. Bell (who’d flown in especially for this show) of Fear Factory, on ‘Where Is The Blood’, regular contributors George Oosthoek (growl vocals on ‘Pristine’) and former Leaves’ Eyes singer Liv Kristine who came on stage to duet with Charlotte Wessels on ‘See Me In Shadow’; she was also accompanied by cellist Elianne Anemaat for that song. The other guest performer didn’t appear in person that night (we had to wait another year for that) – Marco Hietala appeared in projected form on the backdrop, for his vocal parts on ‘Your Body Is A Battleground’ and ‘Sing To Me’.  However, the real treat for fans came about midway through this show; a brief interlude allowed the singer to make a quick costume change off stage, while the rest of the band (save for keyboardist Martijn Westerholt) made way for former members Sander Zoer (drums), Rob Van der Loo (bass) and songwriter/studio contributor Guus Eikens (guitar). It was this line-up who played ‘Sleepwalkers Dream’ from their first album, after which they handed back to regular players Timo Somers and Merel Bechtold (guitars), Otto Schimmelpenninck van der Oije (bass) and Ruben Israel (drums).

Much of the set was based on the then-current ‘Moonbathers’ tour, save for the special treats described, with six played from that album, six more from previous album ‘The Human Contradiction’ and four from their breakthrough ‘We Are The Others’ album. Only two from ‘April Rain’ made the cut; that is still my favourite album of theirs and I have high hopes they’ll celebrate that one in 2019! Four from debut ‘Lucidity’ were played, and they perhaps could have done one or two more, such as ‘A Day For Ghosts’ seeing as they had Liv Kristine (who actually performed it on album) with them, but that’s a minor quibble.

If you’re a fan of this band then the DVD/Blu-ray/2CD package included here is a must-buy, just for the concert footage. It’s beautifully presented, and slickly-produced. It almost made me feel like being back there in that crowd, and you clearly see from the live footage how much they enjoy audience participation, with arms waving, clapping about (‘Keep those hands in the air!’ commanded the singer before introducing ‘Get The Devil Out of Me’) and plenty of bouncing both on the stage and on the floor. The additional documentary is a nice extra (that was also shown at the special screening the band arranged in Utrecht recently) in which you see the band rehearsing, meeting fans at pre-show greets and preparing to perform at festivals such as Graspop. You might even recognise one or two faces from the front row, if you’re a long-time fan; luckily for you all though, not your humble correspondent! The video content is completed with the promo for ‘Suckerpunch’ and a live clip of ‘We Are The Others’ shot at Masters of Rock 2015.

I’d advise fans to shop around for this DVD/Blu-Ray however, it is available online via the band’s webshop priced at €30 for the standard digipak (currently around £27) however I’ve seen it retailing for as little as £17 at a well-known UK High street Major record and Video retailer.

To coincide with the first anniversary of the concert taking place, Delain have put one track from the show up on YouTube as a taster for fans who haven’t yet got this DVD.
You can watch ‘Fire With Fire’ from the Paradiso show below:

Finally, if your pockets are deep enough you can also buy this recording as a standalone live album on vinyl (on golden coloured vinyl too, if you wish) from Napalm Records’ webshop. As you get the live album on CD with this package anyway, that is really only recommended for the devoted completist.

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving

DVD: The Sex Pissed Dolls Live At Warrington Parr Hall (GlobeGig Media)

Filmed, edited, and released within a month. That has to be some sort of record, as this live DVD by all-girl cover band The Sex Pissed Dolls was in my hands just four weeks after I’d attended the show where it was filmed.  2015 has been the year of the Dolls; formed in early 2014 after an idea kicked about by a North West-based singer and her manager, the line-up of singer Nancy Doll, guitarists Connie Rotter and Kitty Vacant, bassist Jilly Idol and drummer Anna Key have gigged heavily on a tour dubbed the ‘Never Needed Bollocks Tour’, taking in venues up and down the country including a prestigious run of o2 Academy halls.

The band, despite the (magnificent) name, play punk and new wave covers from not just the Sex Pistols, but from a variety of acts mainly covering the 1976-1980 era. One or two from more recent times have made their set, but their extensive live gigging has earned them a devoted following calling itself the ‘Dolls Barmy Army’. I’ve caught the girls live myself on a staggering eleven occasions to date, and that is nothing compared to some who think nothing of traversing the country to see the Dolls live wherever they may pitch up. But who are the Dolls? Coming from a variety of backgrounds, singer Nancy Doll was previously well-known for her Amy Winehouse tribute act, while bassist Jilly Idol has extensive gigging experience in covers bands alongside her guitarist husband. Blonde lead guitarist Connie Rotter is only in her early 20s yet has several years’ live work under her belt, while Kitty Vacant has only just turned 20 but is a multi-talented musician and artist. When not being a Doll she paints, plays piano and guitar, and writes her own songs. When she IS being a Doll, it’s hard-hitting heavy rhythm guitar providing the metaphorical ‘bollocks’ to the band’s sound – as opposed to the unnecessary real ones (!)

The background of Anna Key is a little more difficult to explain; you see the ‘Anna Key’ who appears on this DVD had only just joined the band (this was only her second gig as a Doll, unbelievably) replacing previous drummer, also called Anna Key! The original Anna hailed from Belgium, was based in London and was a highly-regarded drummer, but after some months gigging with the Dolls she was offered the opportunity to relocate to Hollywood, where she currently resides and is now going under the name ‘Anna Mylee’. Meanwhile the brand new Key (sorry!) was recruited just before this landmark show and in a baptism of fire, played one show with the Dolls before the big one at Warrington. Anna Mk II proved to be a revelation to the punters who came to the Parr Hall, sounding like she’d been there all along, so well did she fit in.

This show was long in the planning, with Warrington being chosen presumably because of ease of access to the motorway network. Many Dolls Barmy Army devotees had come from all over the country to attend, whereas for yours truly it was a short trip along the A57. I’d actually chosen this gig over a previously-booked gig in Birmingham by Delain (one of my current favourite bands), and this date clashed with at least two other gigs I’d liked to have attended as well. The fact it was going to be filmed for DVD was what made me plump for this show, and that it was the culmination of several months’ hard work by the band, and their manager Paul Smith.

The DVD came in a bright yellow case, a single disc and with no frills whatsoever. Well, it was the ‘Never Needed Bollocks Tour’ after all! Pop the disc in, press ‘play’ and the first thing you see are vox pop interviews with some punters outside the Parr Hall. Many of these punters are veterans of the Dolls pit themselves, then you see the Dolls themselves backstage before they walk out onto the Warrington stage. The camera is trained on the steps as each band member walks out one at a time (the slinky walk from Jilly Idol is worth the watch in itself!) led by Connie Rotter, who opens the set with ‘Pretty Vacant’.

The production of this DVD focuses on getting the basics right; no clever effects, no jazzy angles, no grainy black and white inserts, again no ‘bollocks’ – just straightforward live footage from several viewpoints, focusing on Nancy where required, concentrating on Connie when it’s a lead solo, occasional shots from the crowd or of the crowd, cutting to different viewpoints and to shots of different members at a sensible (not TOO pacy) rate. As a result, the producers have pulled off the difficult trick of recreating on video the atmosphere and energy of a live Dolls performance. What becomes clear watching this show in the comfort of the sofa, is how good a live performer Nancy Doll is. She adopts the styles of the various vocalists she covers with ease while putting her own stamp on the whole thing. She is  very energetic on stage, this DVD also shows what a good singer she is. Following the live footage there are a few shots of the girls posing with their fans post-gig, a few more fan soundbites, then the credits.

For any member of the Dolls Barmy Army this is an essential buy, for those still wavering about them or for those yet to catch them live, this DVD should convince even the most sceptical. 2016 looks set to be even bigger for the Dolls with festival dates (including an opening slot at the Isle of Wight festival!) already coming in. Get in now, before they go really huge!

To order the DVD it is £12 plus £3 P&P (UK residents) via PayPal to spdmerchandise@hotmail.com.

The Sex Pissed DoLLs from Sex Pissed Dolls Official on Vimeo.