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DONOVAN Sunshine Superman - The Journey of Donovan
SPV 80001294 2DVD (2008)
Excellent career overview of folk to rock troubadour...


'Sunshine Superman - The Journey of Donovan' is an excellent 3 hour documentary by Hannes Rossacher who places nothing but the camera between the unflinching, wide eyed subject and the viewer. And given the fact Donovan Leitch is so loquacious it's a smart move.

In the main Donovan's career is given a chronological context with all the 60 hippy cultural antecedents including the influence of the Beat Poets and Jack Kerouac's 'On the Road' in particular. Donovan readily immersed himself in music, books, poetry, and philosophy. And in the first part of the documentary he revisits some of the places and recalls the events that shaped both his life and the 60's.

But unlike many of his contemporaries, he continues to write music some 40 years on and as in consistently evident through this engaging autobiographical trip he is still smitten by the power of language.

For make no mistake, if ever there was an artist worthy of an Honory Doctor of Letters - which he is filmed receiving from the University of Herts in one of the bonus segments - Donovan is that person. His suitably eloquent thank you speech is one of the highlights of the whole DVD!

As Donovan himself says at the outset, 'I'm a poet', but he quickly qualifies that by suggesting that it spelt trouble for a working class man such as himself.

And it is this little humorous comment delivered with a wry smile that lets you know that Donovan is in no way the clichéd and oft lampooned vacuous trippy hippy character. On the contrary he is an artist with real presence and self belief in his own abilities as evidenced in his meeting with his American counterpart Bob Dylan.

At the time the media made much of Donovan being a Dylan copyist, but Donovan calmly and effectively puts this media jibe to rest by succinctly analysing some of the Scottish Folk roots of Dylan's music and his phrasing. Indeed the clip with Donovan and Dylan in D.A. Pennebaker's 'Don't Look Back' finds Donovan confidently presenting one of his songs to Dylan, who compliments him.

Donovan's eventful life is seamlessly unravelled, taking in what he saw as 'his arrival' in the music world, when invited to perform at the 1965 National Folk Festival, as well as his subsequent belated first US number one with 'Sunshine Superman' (belated because of a delayed release) and his trip to Rishikesh with the Beatles.

The Indian trip is further evidence that he was far from overawed in the presence of the Fab 4. Indeed as the decade progresses you feel Donovan the artist and person growing ever more confident as he accumulates a total of 13 hits, including 'Hurdy Gurdy Man', recorded with the 3 core members of the nascent Led Zeppelin.

Then there are other classic songs such as 'Season of the Witch', which he explains became a jam favourite. It was also the first 'electric' song he played in front of quarter of a million or so people at The Isle of Wight Festival.

There are a few little curious diversions such as an overlong sequence profiling his guitar maker and by the time Donovan dwells on his mushroom infused recollections of Joshua Tree in California he almost reverts to the misleading parody of a stoned hippy.

But there's a sharp, astute intellect at play making it all the more curious as to why his finances and career went so badly awry in the late 80's. The rest of the doc possibly tries a little too hard to outline his contemporary influence with an unlikely duet with John Mellencamp. More relevant is the comment by a young band member who says that if a DJ were to slip on 'Goo Goo Barabajagal', kids nowadays would think it was new.

Overall 'Sunshine Superman', is an excellent lucid exposition of an artist who knows where his muse comes from, even if he's not sure where it's going now.

His dip into his own archives in the bonus section confirms an enduring flair and ease with the poetic word. On the recording side he doesn't fair quite as well as moments earlier he flicked through his record collection, which with the exception of an inspired liaison with Rick Rubin, effectively stopped some 20 years before.

This is a superbly produced DVD, full of the hits, recollections, anecdotes and countless bits of illuminating footage that reveals Donovan to be a brilliant wordsmith/poet, song writer, musician and humanist. He also turns out to be probably one of the most lucid social commentators of our time.


Review by Pete Feenstra

Best of 2008


***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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