Def Poetry: Season 4 – DVD Review

Created by:
Russell Simmons

Starring:
Mos Def …. Himself – Host
Russell Simmons …. Himself
Random Poets …. Themselves

Studio: HBO Home Video.
Release Date: February 27, 2007.
Number of Discs: 2.
Number of Episodes: 10.
Running Time: 300 minutes.
MSRP: $19.98.
Available at Amazon.com

The Show


Def Poetry is yet another step in Russell Simmons’ master plan for world domination. Well, maybe world domination is a bit excessive, I think he’d be perfectly content with owning a piece of every single form of multi-media entertainment instead. But just barely.

Poetry is a very fascinating form of personal expression, one that goes back centuries. So it’s understandable that to some the format has lost a lot of it’s luster. Maybe it’s because of the mandatory Shakespeare courses we have to take during both Junior High and High School. Some look at programs like Def Poetry as either pretentious or a mainstream watered down version of what the art form was intended for, so it’s lose-lose regardless. Still, there are some who can watch and for a half hour be exposed to multiple poets expressing themselves in completely different formats and on a multitude of subjects, from pleasuring a woman to reflections on race, upbringing or political views — among other topics — and enjoy the experience.

The series has lasted for going on six seasons now thanks to HBO’s continued effort to putting out unique material that other networks aren’t willing to take a chance on. It’s easily produced and filmed in New York, so you know there is no shortage of struggling poets looking for work. And it only produces an average of ten episodes each season, which means they’ve already released over 50 shows, which is quite a feat given that most never expected Def Poetry to get past its first two seasons. Most feature recurring poets or the occasional celebrity guest appearance.

Mos Def serves as the host of the show. He’s a true jack of all trades, and while he performers the thankless role of simply invigorating the crowd at the start and introducing each poet, Mos Def has a charm to him that is hard to deny and takes the mundane Master of Ceremonies role and spins it in to a very integral part of the show. From his opening speech about being in Brooklyn to handing the mic off to Russell Simmons to say their good bye’s, he’s the glue that holds everything together.

How do you review a compilation of poetry? Do I count the number of times I wished that I could hit the fast forward button? How do you rate a form of expression? Something like that is easy with TV shows, movies or documentaries, because there is at least something that can be scrutinized. Maybe the camera work isn’t quite as good as it could be, or actors appear to be on screen solely to collect a check, or if the documentarian is trying too hard to get his own message across, regardless of what the facts show. With poetry that’s all thrown out the window.

Regardless of age, race, gender, creed or sexual orientation everyone is sure to find several pieces here that speak to them. Sure, at times the performers over emphasize their body language where in some cases it looks like some are either convulsing or having a mild seizure, but most keep a simple approach to sharing their heart and soul with the audience.

This season of the hit show seems to be on par with the previous three, but does include several performances that try something new with multiple speakers that occasionally fall flat. It also started to rely a bit too heavily on Mos Def performing his own pieces during just about each episode. However, the special guest speakers alone are worth making this set a rental. More specifically, Dead Prez, KRS-One, Talib Kweli, Kanye West and Speech from Arrested Development (the rap group, not the TV show). All of these performers show a side of themselves that they hardly ever get to express in their own work, but on the Def Poetry stage they’re able to open up like never before.

Of coarse, what is really great with this show is how each episode offers up so many different poems where it produces a very eclectic collage or human emotion. While some poets may share a story about dealing with a relationships, others might talk about dealing with parenthood, or feelings of inadequacy. And when taken in thirty minute doses, there’s hardly anything that can compare to the joy one can get from watching an episode of this show.

The DVD


Video:
(Presented in 1.33:1 Fullscreen)
Unlike when most shows find their way to DVD, Def Poetry doesn’t seem like that much of an upgrade in comparison to when it was first shown on premium cable. It still looks wonderful and has no digital problems with little to no noticeable grain or artifacting.

Audio:
(English Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround)
There isn’t much to be said about the audio option here other then that each poet is heard loud and clear with no pops or hiss in the track. Seeing as the entire series is dialogue driven, that is the most we could ask for. Well, maybe a 5.1 track too, but beggars can’t be choosers.

Extras:

None. And if it weren’t for the fact that the season can be had for only $13 at Amazon I would probably be going on a tirade about HBO’s complete disregard for their DVD sets while still including the premium price tag.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for Def Poetry: Season 4
CATEGORY
RATING
(OUT OF 10)
THE SHOW

7.5
THE VIDEO

6
THE AUDIO

6
THE EXTRAS

0
REPLAY VALUE

6
OVERALL
6
(NOT AN AVERAGE)