DVD Review: Standing with Stones

Hi there!

How many stone monuments do you think are in the British Isles? Any guesses? What would you say if you learned that there were nearly 1,000 stone circles in the U.K.? What if I told you that if you added the other monuments, such as stone rows, long barrows, cairns, standing stones, and so on, you’d end up with tens of thousands of monuments?

I was shocked too. The popular media has made us think that Stonehenge is the only big stone monument in the Isles, but there’s obviously much more than that.

With Standing with Stones, writer and presenter Rupert Soskin hopes to share his knowledge and fondness for these mysterious places. A renowned naturalist and writer, Soskin has been exploring the stone monuments most of his life and has a few theories to share. But even with his theories and those he relates from other archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians — we just don’t know enough about these sites to tell how they were used or why they were built.

Some of the monuments have astronomical significance, built to predict the winter and summer solstices or the position of the sun, moon, and stars. Others are remnants of objects used by the Romans to measure distance, like the London Stone which has been used to denote the center of London for measurements. But most of them are complete unknowns.

Throughout the documentary, Soskin takes viewers on a tour of more than 100 monuments scattered across England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and the smaller islands of the U.K. It took Soskin and documentarian Michael Bott more than two years, living in a camper-van for a month at a time, as they traveled thousands of miles recording footage.

Was the journey worth it? Definitely. Whereas nature documentaries such as Planet Earth have stunning high definition video of living creatures inhabiting the planet, Soskin and Bott somehow managed to capture the amazing natural beauty of these stone sites in a way I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. Breathtaking shots of landscapes dotted with these neolithic, bronze, or iron-age monuments left me wanting to hop on a plane and visit them myself.

And Soskin’s presentation weaves humor, humility, and intelligence together as he provides some context for these sites. It’s obvious that he has a passion for them and wants to share it. And he does a wonderful job as our congenial, informative tour guide.

That said, it’s the cinematography that sticks with me. Yes, I listened and learned quite a bit about these many sites I’d never even heard of. But the brilliant shots in daylight, fog, or even the dead of night are simply amazing.

When you add in cool computer-generated graphics of the theories discussed, including how some of the sites may have looked before the stones were removed for other purposes along with the entertaining presentation and beautiful high definition video, you have an amazing experience lasting more than two hours.

My only complaint about the DVD is the gaps between chapters of the documentary itself. I don’t know if it was my DVD player or the way the disc was made, but there were gaps of a few seconds where the picture would go black as it loaded the next chapter.

In addition to the documentary itself, you get quite a large number of extras.

Stonehenge - England
Image by elicrisko via Flickr

The “Interview” included provides a great deal of background from Soskin and Bott on the making of the film. The project has been in the works since 2001 and the duo discuss how it came to be and their goals for the film.

The “Outtakes” feature includes a number of bloopers caught while filming. Soskin, like any other narrator or actor, sometimes takes several tries before getting a line right. It’s obvious his sense of humor helps him through those rough patches.

Some “Unseen Footage” shows some of the clips cut from the film while they shot it. It was very interesting to see the camera work and how weather affected their shots.

The “Original TV Pilot Film” that was made in 2001 is included on the DVD. Originally the Soskin and Bott’s idea was for a number of short segments on television. But after they shot the first 10 minute film, they decided that it was untenable due to schedules and weather. Instead, the duo took it upon themselves to write, shoot, and edit the film.

Also included is a short trailer for the film, a slide show with 72 slides covering the making of the film, and commentary from Soskin and Bott.

If you’ve ever wanted to know more about some of the stone monument mysteries of the British Isles, Standing with Stones is a great way to learn more. In addition, the high definition video provides a beautiful way to tour parts of the U.K. without actually getting a plane ticket!

For more information about the film, be sure to check out the Standing with Stones website.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up your copy of the DVD and the companion book at Amazon:

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Music Review: Interrupting the Silence by Max Morgan

Hi all…

Max Morgan has been making waves ahead of his new album Interrupting the Silence release this week. Back in December 2008, one of the songs off the album “Secret” was featured on Grey’s Anatomy and “Secret” and “Wait for Me” were already heard by viewers of the NFL Network, Private Practice, ESPN, and Animal Planet. He’s been a busy guy!

So with the release of Interrupting the Silence I suspect his schedule will get that much busier. Morgan grew up in Liverpool wanting to play soccer like his father, but a growth spurt at age 13 put a bit of a pause on that dream. Instead, he started playing music. As his family moved around England, Max learned how to play multiple instruments that would later be used on his debut album. Over the last few years (he’s 22 now), he has been living in California working on his album.

On the web, Max has been busy as well, doing interviews and having CD reviews pop up in a number of other places. This interview on Teenspot.com was interesting. I find it amusing that he’s been mistaken for Russell Brand recently with his curly hair and “English-ness.”

Each song on Interrupting the Silence is infused with pop sensibilities — from rocking out on guitar in songs like “Ya Better Believe” to piano ballads like the media-friendly “Secret” and “Wait for Me.” His music has been compared to many of his contemporaries in the Top 40, including The Fray, Oasis, and Coldplay. And I think once the radio starts playing some of the tunes off the album, we’ll be hearing more from Max in the near future.

Though there are a number of anthem-type songs, I was drawn more frequently to Max’s ballads. “Nobody’s Coming to My Rescue” somehow seems to be one of the songs that really grew on me with its lyrics and arrangement. “Secret” with its soft guitar intro also worked for me as it builds throughout the heart of the song. He uses that pattern of soft intro building to a strong chorus on a number of songs on the album.

I think “Trouble” is my favorite song on the album. The lyrics speak of a girl leading him to trouble again and again until he seems like he’s attracted to it. With the guitar and strings at the beginning, it builds into the pop-infused guitars and strings at the chorus… “Here I go again / I’m always looking for trouble…”

Though Interrupting the Silence is a decent debut effort from Max Morgan, I’ll be interested to hear what he does in the future. With the public already embracing “Secret” and “Wait for Me” in the media, I suspect we’ll hear another album from him in a year or two with TV-soundtrack friendly tunes. He obviously has talent and a good voice, but I hope he outgrows his pop phase quickly and truly finds a style all his own.

Be sure to check out Max’s MySpace page and website for additional information and to listen to some of his music online. It’s obvious that he has a following (1.5 million fans have already listened to his music on MySpace) and talent. Let’s see where his journey goes next.

–Fitz

p.s. Check out Max’s music at MySpace or on Amazon:

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