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In many respects, “Black Sabbath: Masters of Reality,” is a
commendable effort. This three-DVD documentary chronicles
the history of this band from their beginnings to their 1997
reunion with Ozzy Osbourne. Released in 2008, the film
primarily consists of candid interviews from band members,
other musicians, and various music critics/journalists. They
weigh in on various aspects of Black Sabbath, primarily
discussing their albums. Needless to say, in light of all of
the personnel changes, this was a huge undertaking.
It essentially seemed to be “Tony Iommi’s solo project.”

The DVDs were entitled, “The Halcyon Years,”
“The Osbourne Era,” and “Full Circle.” To no one’s surprise,
the lion’s share of running time was devoted to Ozzy
Osbourne. In fact, I believe that regardless of the title,
the first disc could also be called “The Osbourne Era,”
because the focus was almost entirely on Black Sabbath’s
first self-titled album from 1970. It discussed how Bill Ward,
Tony Iommi, Terry “Geezer” Butler, and Ozzy Osbourne
formed a band in 1968 named “Earth,” before adopting the
name, “Black Sabbath.” The second DVD references the
remaining seven albums recorded with Ozzy Osbourne’s
vocals that were released until 1978, when he was
essentially fired from the group. By this time, Black Sabbath
was becoming a caricature of the accomplishments of their
early years. The 56-minute Disc Three was about five minutes
longer than the prior two, and devoted to the period from
1979 when Ronnie James Dio joined the group, until the
aforementioned 1997 reunion concert.

This set has a lot to offer, and features archival “live” concert
and video footage, including Black Sabbath’s famous
performance in Paris, during December 1970. I also relished
footage of the band playing, “Children of the Grave,” during
the 1974 Cal Jam. I’d never seen it before. It was also
interesting to hear the opinions of Neil Murray, who had
a brief stint with the band (as well as with Whitesnake),
and other noted authorities, such as “Kerrang!” writer,
Malcolm Dome, and fellow journalists, Chris Welch and
Steve Rosen. As the primary creative force in Black Sabbath
after Dio left in 1982, Tony Iommi’s input was particularly
valuable. Singer Glenn Hughes (formerly of Deep Purple,
between 1973 and 1976) was also interviewed, along with
drummer Bobby Rondinelli (formerly of Rainbow). Some of
the interview footage was recent, such as the 2006 audio
clips of Ozzy Osbourne, and other footage was from the
early 1970’s. The audio clips were often barely intelligible;
however most of the film footage was shot in a “talking
head” fashion and was fine.

The most notable omissions from this set were contributions
from founding Black Sabbath drummer, Bill Ward. For some
reason, his services weren’t enlisted. Sadly, I’ve learned that
he’s also declined to participate in Black Sabbath gigs that
have been scheduled for this year.

I was perplexed by the decision to issue this project on
three DVDs, instead of two discs or even one, because the
running time of each disc was barely more than 50 minutes.
In addition, despite its importance as a classic Proto-Metal
anthem, I found the allocation of more than 10 minutes on
Disc Two to “Paranoid” rather odd. This choice meant that
only 40 remaining minutes were left to discuss the rest of the
album, as well as the remaining six albums from
“The Osbourne Era.” This strange allocation of running time
also applied to the choice to devote a disproportionate
amount of footage to the song, “Black Sabbath,” on Disc One.
As a result, a lot of other songs and entire Black Sabbath
albums were given short shrift.

Nevertheless, due to the considerable information that is
included, Black Sabbath fans will want to see this set.
I’m looking forward to a future in-depth documentary about
this band, one which will do them justice, and is hopefully
backed by major funding. Surely, they’re important enough
to warrant such an effort. Until then, this “good, but not great”
set will have to suffice. I was frustrated by the omissions,
but personally very glad that I watched it.

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