The quirky Brooklyn based group, They Might Be Giants have been one of the most eclectic and eccentric duos in music history. While many have dismissed them as a novelty group, their following has only grown since they began in the 80’s. Led by the 2 Johns (Flansburgh and Linnell), the duo has been releasing album after album for more than a decade. As John Flansburgh handles guitars and vocals, John Flansburgh handles the accordion, keyboards, woodwinds, and vocals too. They began with their self-titled album, that had the minor hit Don’t Lets Start. Then, Lincoln came along with the fabulous Anna Ng. Their next album, Flood, was a huge success with hits like Birdhouse In Your Soul and Istanbul (Not Constantinople).
Eventually, they changed record labels, got a band to back them and released more LPs including one for children. They have made themes for TV shows (like Malcolm in the Middle) and even a children’s book. Their legacy of achievement demands respect. Finally, their story is told. Gigantic: (A Tale Of Two Johns) is a delightful and energetic film about the band. The DVD not only includes the movie, but more than 4 hours worth of extras including videos, more interviews, outtakes, and more. Directed by AJ Schnack, Gigantic is a documentary that can appeal to both fans and non-fans since it is a story of friendship, endurance, and humor. Gigantic is truly a gigantic event for lovers of They Might Be Giants.
The film, Gigantic opens up with Paul Simon, (a former senator) delivering a disquisition on Abraham Lincoln. This introduces Linnell and Flansburgh, who met each other as middle school students in Lincoln, Mass. The two music lovers experimented with sounds and tapes. They eventually began to make extremely interesting and obscure music. While the main interview between the two Johns takes place with New York behind them as they sit in comfortable chairs outside, the film encapsulates their entire career so far. From their first meeting as friends to their infamous Dial A Song and all the way up to their children’s book, their story is incredibly interesting. As friends and musicians, the two Johns tell their interesting and humorous tales about starting out, making their low budget videos and live performances. The videos and the live performances are especially entertaining. Videos like Anna Ng and Birdhouse In Your Soul bring back memories for the pre-alternative music lovers like myself.
Celebrities and musicians contribute quite a bit to the film too. Frank Black (Black Francis of The Pixies), Syd Straw, Janeane Garofalo, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Conan O’Brien, Jon Stewart, and even Joe Franklin give their unique perspectives on the band’s career. It is especially odd and entertaining when Harry Shearer recites the band’s lyrics.
The love for They Might Be Giants runs deep and strong. This is evident in a scene where a sobbing teenage girl weeps because she is so in love with the two Johns. At a record signing, she can hardly talk because she is so taken back by their talent and power. Amazed yet still somewhat humble, the two Johns comfort the young lady.
The fact that Might Be Giants are unlike any band is evident in this documentary. There’s no heroin, no naked ladies running around, no debauchery, and no destruction of hotel rooms. In fact, their drug of choice is coffee. The two Johns are intellectuals. While some of their music is quite silly sounding, there are generally serious themes behind the songs.
Dial-A-Song was how the exceptionally distinctive way that the band made a name for themselves. Still working today, they basically made a song a week and used it for their answering machine announcement. As a child, I remember calling the number too. In their debut album, there was a note that said “Free when you call from work”. It is this unique approach to music and publicity that makes They Might Be Giants so fascinating.
While I was a fan of They Might Be Giants in the late 80’s, I lost touch with their music after Flood, even though I always respected them. I was never turned off by their music, I was just distracted by the rave scene and my love of Manchester groups like The Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays. The bonus features on the disc, like their guest hosting spot on Nick Rocks, and their old videos, bring back fond memories. Most of the film is about those years from their debut album to Flood. The following albums like Apollo 18 and John Henry are discussed but the truly fascinating aspects of the film deal with their early period.
Every classic DVD has extras and Gigantic has tons of them. From videos and promotional films to live performances and outtakes, Gigantic satisfies your thirst for They Might Be Giants. The live performances are very well filmed with excellent sound quality. Another plus is the inclusion of the full-length videos. Many documentaries about bands only include excerpts of the videos and should include the complete video as a bonus feature. This DVD includes videos for Anna Ng, Don’t Let’s Start, Put Your Hand Inside The Puppet Head, and Birdhouse In Your Soul. The inclusion of the videos alone makes this a must-have DVD for They Might Be Giants fans. On top of all of those bonus features, there is also deleted interview footage and outtakes.
They Might Be Giants are an excellent, intelligent, and odd group. Gigantic: (A Tale Of Two Johns) DVD is a must-have for any fan of They Might Be Giants but will be very entertaining for those who are not familiar with the group too. The film becomes a video scrapbook of live performances, videos and interviews that are interwoven with testimonials by friends, admirers, and collaborators. At the core of the film, the friendship between John Flansburgh and John Linnell is inspiring and enlightening. It is well executed and over-flowing with fascinating facts, stories, and visuals. As a DVD package, the high quality of both the sound and picture along with the bonus features make this definitely worth the money. It is one of the best music documentaries in the past couple of years. Gigantic: (A Tale Of Two Johns) is a gigantic achievement for They Might Be Giants.