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Arts and Entertainment

DVD Review: "The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players: Off & On Broadway"

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I was lucky to catch a performance of of the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Playersalmost exactly 3 years ago in a small museum's theater north of New York city. It was a winter performance, one that the family patriarch, Jason Trachtenburg, decided to bill as "The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players: On Ice!" The "On Ice" part was performed by the family pretending to skate on and off stage and it's that kind of brazen corniness and fun that are at the core of the Trachtenburg experience.

A quick overview: Jason (the Dad) plays guitar/keyboard/sings; Rachel (the Daughter) plays drums and sings; Tina Pina (the Mom) shows the slides, sews the costumes, and otherwise conceptualizes. The Family has a collection of several thousand slides that they have bought at garage sales - they then put together a pseudo-narrative with the slides and write a song that plays off of it. Jason was a part of the "anti-folk" movement in Seattle but since there is such obvious affection between all band members one doesn't know where the irony ends.

This DVD less of a collection of video performances, and more of a documentary with snippets of performance in between interviews with the Family and their fans as well as walking around (off and on Broadway, NYC, as well as other cities) with the Trachtenburg family.

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The primary commentator is Jay Ruttenberg, a staff writer for magazine 'Time Out New York' and he provides a bit of background history of the Family including their move from Seattle to NYC in 2002 and their rapid assimilation into the East Village.

We see the Family talk with John Waters after performing at a show hosted by him and then we jump into a performance of "Mountain Trip to Old Japan, 1959" which is one of their more remarkable pieces. This is where the limitations of video become apparent. Since the live experience is multi-media, the director of the video, Richard Drutman, has been forced to make choices about what shots to take and sometimes those choices aren't the ones I would have made, but it can't be easy so he has my sympathies.

Other performance bits include "Look At Me," "Beautiful Dandelion," "Don't You Know What I mean?," and "World's Best Friend." My favorites are the songs/slideshows based on corporate slideshows, they're particularly hilarious: "Wendy's, Sambo's, and Long John Silver's,"
"Together As a System We Are Unbeatable," and "Middle America."

The performances are broken up with ad hoc interviews with Family friends and fans including: David Cross, Nellie McKay, Regina Spektor, and Langhorne Slim among others.

There are segments on the specific Family members but the best profile is of Rachel Trachtenburg. She turns out to be very well-rounded, happy and excited to perform all around the world with her Mom and Dad. She's now home schooled to accommodate touring but she gets to bring friends on tour with her several times a year. Interestingly, she's way into classic rock (Zeppelin, Sabbath, etc.). What she wants to be when she grows up: "I want to live in New York, help homeless people, try to be a vegan, and hopefully play in a band with some friends." I think she's well on her way to that outcome.

The insight the DVD provides is that this is a real family, fully invested in supporting fellow artists and their neighborhood. Whether you appreciate their kitsch, irony, and quirkiness is another matter. Again, since it's difficult to replicate their slideshow experience, this is merely a pretty good introduction to the Trachtenburgs.

And don't miss Jason's hilarious/bizarre message at the end that people should use landlines whenever possible because of the radiation from cellular phones.

Bonus features:

All performances in the documentary section are repeated in their entirety. There are additional appearances, most notable "East Village rocker missed connection" a song based on a Craigslist post as well as the full "OPNAD" mini rock opera (have to see it to believe it).

The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players: Off & On Broadway DVD