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John Safran made his name on the Australian television program Race Around The World, which sent eight young amateur filmmakers around the globe in search of an interesting story. Every two weeks each contestant would have to submit a short film on the subject of their choice, meant to epitomise an aspect of the country they had just visited. John Safran’s films always stood out in some way or another and you could tell this guy was a little different to everyone else.

The series died a quick death shortly after Safran’s appearance as the producers could no longer find interesting and creative talent to take part, save for subsequent series winner Tony Wilson (who is now still around the TV circles and works with Safran on a radio program, incidentally). No one could match the provocative, daring and highly amusing approach Safran took with his films; he mocked the Lebanese, streaked down the streets of Jerusalem and generally ran amok. His writing was impeccable, his delivery was spot on and he was just daring enough without resorting to smut, making his films offend yet entertain at the same time. Audiences hadn’t seen such accomplished satire in a young person since....well, ever.

John at Greville Records

His most famous stunt came when he camped outside the house of television personality Ray Martin for an ABC pilot. The point was to see when Ray decided to get up and go to work. Needless to say the usually placid Martin wasn’t all that impressed and proceeded to become involved in somewhat of a stoush with Safran out the front of his home. The pilot never aired because the series never got off the ground, but a program named Media Watch aired the footage to its audience in a thinly veiled attempt to show Ray at his most vulnerable point.

Which brings us to Music Jamboree, an idea concocted by Safran himself when asked to come up with ideas for a show by SBS networker Debbie Lee. A year later the show began production.

The Show
Airing on the SBS network over the course of 2003, Music Jamboree is merely a chance for Safran to pick bones at religion, big business and select individuals whilst loosely tying them into the music theme. Think MTV meets The Late Show, complete with elaborate skits, sharply-written satire and insights into the music industry.

The basic format of each episode is quite simple. Safran usually starts off with a spiel on something to do with the music industry and concocts an “experiment” to test his theory. This usually results in an hilarious stunt by Safran and his buddies to make their point. He’s danced like Kevin Bacon in Footloose around the grounds of his old Jewish school (also proving the irony of taking Bacon into a Jewish establishment), gained entry into Australia’s most exclusive nightclub by posing as American band Slipknot and chastised Joey Fatone for being the ugliest member of boy-band N-Sync. Then there’s a segment called the Music Mole, where an industry insider explains some of the inner workings of the music industry. This serious segment is actually very interesting, with topics such as why pop stars don’t get any money covered in great detail. It does have a slight comic spin with the insider wearing a giant mole’s head and usually found playing chess or taking a stroll with Safran in a lavish garden.

Every episode ends with a segment called The World Of Instruments, where a man named Dr. Jordania stumbles his way through a short piece on the instruments of a particular country. The instruments are then played by popular bands who perform a rather odd version of one of their popular songs. Bands such as TISM, Magic Dirt and Frenzal Rhomb comically tackle these foreign instruments to come up with some sort of a song. There are also a few other small segments in the shows such as interviews with various industry workers and pieces of trivia dotted throughout.

John and the Music Mole take a stroll

Music Jamboree works because of the slick writing on behalf of Safran and Mark O’Toole. While Safran is a self-confessed whining, skinny, white-guy, he does deliver his point with gusto and precision. Perhaps things go on a little too long during some of his sketches but filling an ad-free half-hour with more than a few sections would always be a hard task. We haven’t seen this sharp a satire since the days of Frontline and the musical theme gives the show just enough focus to be able to entertain. Safran is never over the top with his language, remains surprisingly restrained in terms of laughter during his pranks and skits and doesn’t stoop to personality-bashing without a relevant point. Music fans will love it, indie television fans will love it and Safran fans should have already placed their orders. Check it out and see what independent television is dreaming up at present.

Video
With lower-budget television shows you’re bound to come across a variety of filming formats and with that comes varied visual quality. The series was presented in 16:9 enhanced, 1.78:1 and filmed in Melbourne’s Greville Records. The bits with Safran talking to camera are full of bright colours and a high degree of sharpness, as are the other pieces filmed in a closed environment. The street segments and skits are of lesser quality, exhibiting a higher degree of grain as well as a few specks on the print and aliasing here and there. Stock footage of personalities, movies, etc does have its problems but none of it is at all distracting and probably reminds us we are watching a clip rather than the actual show. Most of these problems would have been during the capturing of the footage so there’s not a lot the DVD mastering could have done to rectify the small problems with the print. On the whole it’s a pretty solid effort with a variety of sources.

Audio
Just the 2.0 mix here as the limits of television allow nothing more. Still, the music pumps out quite nicely and you’ll never have to strain to hear Safran, the Music Mole or any others. There’s no surround use and your subwoofer can take a rest until the next disc but it’s still a fine sounding audio track that does the job required.

Extras
Madman have put together a stack of extra material for this set, all of which resides on disc two. First up there’s the Jew’Town documentary where Safran pretends he’s in a Jewish boy band. This is seriously funny stuff and I’m surprised Safran can keep a straight face for the duration. It’s got everything from behind the scenes footage to interviews with the “stars”. Then there’s the Footloose rehearsals showing Safran and his three buddies in a gym going over their moves, which is worth it just to see the bloke struggle to dance.

The Eminem outtakes is a short segment showing Safran smashing up a table full of stuff and trying to tell a little kid when to look scared. Then there’s the SBS commercials featuring SBS sport legend Les Murray talking to John Safran at a urinal. These four short pieces are very funny and well worth a look. The SBS Hotline feedback shows some of the comments made by the general public about the show, some of which are quite hilarious. It just shows how an edgy program can create a bit of controversy in household loungerooms.

TISM play 'Old Man River' on funky foreign instruments

Moving on, there’s a video clip of Safran’s parody Not The Sunscreen Song, a send-up of Quinton Tarver’s Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen). This was another Safran effort that had him noticed by all, particularly those at radio station Triple R. John’s Book Club is a lengthy piece looking at the censorship of literature, with anything from Anne Frank to Salman Rushdie uncovered. Again, it’s John’s writing that really makes this stuff work.

Still going strong, the McDonald’s segment is one of the funniest pieces on the disc. Much like the various pranks in the series, here Safran gets a pseudo lawyer to go to the house of various people named McDonald and ask them to change their name so that the restaurant chain can gain full control of the word. And it gets even better, but I won’t spoil it for you. Things keep going on their hilarious trend with talkback another one of Safran’s pranks where he takes on loud-mouthed radio talkback host Bob Francis. He interviews two males who constantly harass Francis during his segments with stupid phone calls. When he tees up an interview with Francis and brings along one of the pranksters as his boom operator is when your sides will full on split. Brilliant stuff.

A short film entitled 13 Secret Herbs And Spices is a small tale about a man dressed as a chicken taking out none other than Colonel Sanders. It is presented in grainy black and white and is an interesting little piece. There’s also University Elevator Music, an audio only track from his old band Raspberry Cordial, which is probably only for devout Safran fans.

Heading for the end of the extras section there are two quite funny DVD advertisements for the DVD release of the show, the Music Mole & World Of Instruments collections and Madman Propaganda containing trailers for four new Madman films. But it is the Race Around The World audition video that is of the most interest out of the whole extras package. Featuring some sharp writing again from Safran as well as his trademark squeaky voice and monologues to camera, Safran attempted to grab the judges attention by playing the skinny, whiny guy angle. And obviously it worked. For the mini-documentary section he talks to a guy who claims drinking your own urine is good for you, and inevitably Safran dabbles in a little bit of it himself. Hilarious stuff.

The menu, complete with four Johns

All round this is a very impressive extras package put together on top of an already jam-packed series. There’s more stunts, behind the scenes footage, promotional clips and general hijinx to keep you amused well after the episodes are over. Heck, the 2-disc package even comes with the cut-outs advertised in the episodes as well as a well designed slipcase to house the discs. A brilliant effort.

Overall
What a gem of a show! John Safran has some talent, particularly in the writing and delivery. His ideas for pranks and skits are refreshing and funny without causing harm to anyone or going over the top with the language. The music theme gives Safran some focus and enables him to really dig into the subject material with his trademark gusto. Some probably just won’t get it but if you go into the series with an open mind you’ll be pleasantly surprised. The video and audio do the job while the extras package is extremely thorough. A great release worthy enough to sit in anyone’s collection.


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