The Final Moments of Ronnie Van Zant

Filmmaker Jared Cohn (Devil’s Domain) recreates the terrible plane tragedy that hit Lynyrd Skynyrd at the height of their popularity in Street Survivors: The True Story of the Lynyrd Skynyrd Plane Crash. Killing the band’s popular lead singer and frontman Ronnie Van Zant, the major 1977 accident gets retold through the eyes of Lynyrd Skynyrd drummer Artimus Pyle, who survived the crash.

Unauthorized because Pyle and Ronnie Van Zant’s widow have fought for years through the courts over several issues, Street Survivors is a mostly entertaining curiosity for fans of the Southern rock legends. Narrowly focusing on the tragic accident and its immediate aftermath, the movie is not a project looking to place blame on anybody. Consider it a fond remembrance by Artimus Pyle of the friends he lost that day.

Known for iconic hits like the legendary “Free Bird” and “Sweet Home Alabama,” the Southern group hit the heights of rock fame during the Seventies. Their signature three-guitar attack and charismatic frontman Ronnie Van Zant produced an electric live show that led to constant touring for the group. On October 20th 1977, their rickety plane ran out of fuel mid-air and crashed in Louisiana. The crash killed several members of the group and both pilots, leaving few survivors.

What Street Survivors gets right is the proper period vibe and a heart-felt love for Lynyrd Skynyrd

Drummer Artimus Pyle survived the crash, walking away under his own power while frantically looking for help. Street Survivors adapts Pyle’s memoirs of the tragedy, written by Dean Goodman. The drummer introduces the dramatized portrayal of his account seen in Street Survivors.

Events are treated fairly even-handed, if a little cheesy and circumspect. Cohn gets across how much respect and love Pyle had for the group and his fallen friends, even after all the bitter legal battles with Judy Van Zant.

Street Survivors embraces the sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll lifestyle, showcasing the band’s decadent and raunchy tours. The opening act dwells on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s backstage antics after a live show. Drowning in naked groupies, the band lives a never-ending party from town to town. Ronnie Van Zant is almost a larger than life figure as played by Taylor Clift. The band revolves around Ronnie and everyone else is along for the ride.

A few distracting things drag the film’s value down. You’ll notice the complete lack of actual Lynyrd Skynyrd music, permission blocked by Ronnie’s estate. The story is also mildly self-serving, painting Artimus in the best possible light at all times. If you believe Artimus, everyone in the band were huge party animals but himself. It also paints the drummer as a heroic figure that pulled bodies from the crash when some have called that into question over the years.

What Street Survivors gets right is the proper period vibe and a heart-felt love for Lynyrd Skynyrd. It’s not the final word on the band but competently tells their tragic story from Artimus Pyle’s inside perspective.

Video

Distributed by MVD Visual for Cleopatra Entertainment, several technical issues crop up in the Blu-ray for Street Survivors. Once again they encode the main feature in MPEG-2, a recurring practice for the label which hasn’t been corrected. More worrisome, the movie is presented in 1080i video. That just isn’t acceptable for a film made in HD and in 2020. Otherwise what you get is tolerable HD with marginal detail and shoddy cinematography.

The last major issue is the wonky aspect ratio, shown in a strange 2.6:1 aspect ratio. There are no tangible benefits to the panoramic dimensions and it introduces obvious anamorphic distortion near the edges.

Other than those problems, video quality is satisfactory. Street Survivors suffers from the same over-driven lighting seen in many films produced by Cleopatra. Blown-out highlights and somewhat underwhelming definition remind everyone that Street Survivors is a low-budget digital production from inexperienced filmmakers.

Audio

Despite only containing lossy 5.1 Dolby Digital audio, the mix provides appreciable separation and enough forceful bass when the plane crashes. It is a bit sad that a music label continues to forget about lossless audio for their BDs, especially on a music-themed released such as Street Survivors. There is a fair amount of rock music used on the soundtrack, mostly contributed by Artimus Pyle and friends. The movie is careful to avoid any songs written by Lynyrd Skynyrd, so don’t expect “Free Bird.”

Optional English subtitles are included. A secondary 2.0 Dolby Digital soundtrack is included.

Extras

One thing that Cleopatra is great at is stuffing their releases in attractive packages with multiple goodies. This three-disc Blu-ray/DVD set comes with a slipcover and a full soundtrack CD containing twelve original songs written for the film.

The feature-length documentary goes behind the scenes with daily footage from the set and is almost more entertaining than the movie itself. Interviewing practically everyone in the cast and crew at various stages of production, it’s a day-by-day account of the film shoot. Drummer Artimus Pyle receives a lot of focus as he discusses his memories of working in Lynyrd Skynyrd and showing the band appearing in the movie how to perform their songs.

Slideshow (03:29 in HD)

Street Survivors Trailer (02:20 in HD)

Cleopatra Entertainment Trailers (Five in HD) – Includes trailers for unrelated projects from the label.

Surviving Street Survivors (87:23 in HD) – A fantastic documentary that offers an inside glimpse making the film. Raw and honest, everything from issues with the union picketing the film’s production to Pyle’s longstanding feud with Judy Van Zant are covered. I’d almost recommend watching this over the main feature. Some of the best interview material comes from the actresses playing groupies.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Street Survivors
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
3

Movie

A decent, if self-serving, dramatic account of the crash that killed members of Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1997, told from drummer Artimus Pyle’s perspective.

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User Review
5 (1 vote)

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