New to the Shout Select line, Hype! offers viewers an inside look at the Seattle music scene of late '80 / early '90s, the seismic shift it caused in pop culture, and how the media exploited it. While the first two elements tell a unique story, the third seems unfortunately all too common.
The late '80s were an interesting time in music. Country was turning pop and rap/hip hop was slowly on the rise. Rock music was dominated by hair metal bands, but that would change by the end of the decade. "Alternative music" was a catch-all descriptor for a wide-ranging number bands from the U.S. and UK who were doing their own thing out of the mainstream. But not completely, as R.E.M., The Cure, and other gifted music makers, with help from MTV, couldn't help but become widely popular.
Then in the summer of 1991, Alternative stopped being alternative with Perry Farrell's Lollapalooza festival touring America and the release of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" off Nevermind. While there were other Seattle bands, such as Soundgarden and Screaming Trees, that had albums on major labels, Nevermind made nearly everyone stand up and take notice.
Hype! tells that story in this fascinating documentary by director Doug Pray, who thankfully doesn't take the easy road and just focus on the stars that came out of the scene. The film opens with performances by Crackerbash and The Monomen then moves on to the Melvins and Mudhoney and concludes with Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. One highlight is getting to see a lot of bands live that slipped through the cracks for no apparent reason but still deserve to be heard.
In addition to the bands, the Sub Pop record label helped create an identity for Seattle and itself. Into the new decade, the scene was growing more commercialized than many local fans and artists wanted, and some expected the phase to die down. Cut to grainy video footage of the first live performance "Smells Like Teen Spirit". Seattle would never be the same as the music industry descended on the city. Not only label executives looking to discover the next Nirvana, but bands looking to be discovered.
Not only was the music world focused on Seattle and its "grunge" sound that many bands were being classified as, but Madison Ave. thought they could take advantage, selling a facsimile of the identity to those who didn't understand it beyond knowing it was the latest fad. The world's spotlight on the city begins to dim after Kurt Cobain commits suicide, even all the other bands solider on. Pearl Jam's "Not For You" is one of the last songs in the documentary and is a fitting message. Hype! concludes with text warning ends "Your Town Is Next."
The video is presented in a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The interview segments are well-lit and the subjects usually appear in sharp focus, although it looks like an odd lens was used with the band Tad as objects appear slightly stretched. The performances have varying degree of clarity due to the lighting in clubs, moving cameras, and quality of the source. The Nirvana footage is as bad as it gets. For the most part, the colors come through in natural hues. Blacks are inky but don't appear in a consistent quality. Film grain is noticeable.
The audio is available in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Surround and the original 2.0 mix. All the dialogue is clear. The 5.1 immerses the viewer in the performances. Soundgarden's "Searching With My Good Eye Closed” gets so intense that the speakers rattle to distortion on occasion. There's very good bass support and even a bit of imaging as a truck can be heard moving across the channels.
The Special Features, all on HD, include
“Hype! 20 Years After” (16 min) - Interview subjects talk about the changes to Seattle and music scene since the movie.
Peter Bagge's "Hate" (4 min) - A funny animated short adapted from Bagge's comic strip that reflects what happened to the Seattle scene.
Additional Performances (12 min) - By Mudhoney ("Dicks Hate the Police", a The Dicks cover ); Supersuckers ("Coattail Rider"); Pond ("Rock Collection")” and Gits ("Here's to Your Fuck") with optional director's commentary
Interview Outtakes (23 min) - Assorted clips of interview subjects.
Audio Commentary by director Doug Pray and producer Steven Helvey from 2004 as the pair talk about the making of the film and Audio Commentary by director Doug Pray in 2017. Pray listened to the previous commentary before recording the second in an effort to keep from repeating stories. Both are worth a listen.
While being a fan of the music certainly adds to the enjoyment of Hype!, it's not required to learn the cautionary tale it tells. Shout's Blu-ray offers a good HD experience and the Special Features do a great job adding to the story that continued after the film ended.