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The Compleat Beatles review

Post: 6008 of 6072
From: (saki)
Subject: Re: Another Compleat Beatles Question
Organization: UCLA Mathematics Department
Date: Tue, 5 Oct 93 05:04:09 GMT
Lines: 119 (Michael S Ritchie) writes:
>  [Quoting Bruce Dumes]:
>  >in "The Compleat Beatles" they play the audio portion of "The 
>  >iRoyal Command Performance" which contains the line about "those
>  >in the cheaper seats". The colour visual that the shown was
>  >from a completely different performance, from the Pathe
>  >newsreel called "The Beatles Are Coming To Town".
>There is a lot of this kind of misleading manipulation in The 
>Compleat Beatles, but I really don't mind it much because it is 
>relatively obvious when it is happening, which makes it all the 
>more "cool" when you can tell when the sound and footage really 
*do* match up.

I suspect the producers of the documentary were trying to find a
reasonably artistic path to history, which inevitably compromises
history a bit. :-) It's not the first time that's happened in
attempts to tell the Fabs' tale. Both Hunter Davies and Phillip
Norman wrote excellent books on the Beatles, but neither tome
told a perfect version of reality; in Davies' case we know that
his writing was subject to editing by the Boys and even by John's
aunt Mimi, who insisted that John never swore as a boy and she
wasn't going to have it reported that he did!

"The Compleat Beatles" has its irritating moments---use of footage
or soundtrack not related to narration in order to illustrate a
point (using the Granada Cavern TV clip twice, once with existing
sound ["Some Other Guy"] and once with another live overdub, for
instance; inane sound effects (typewriter behind Bill Harry, a
journalist; twittering birds behind still shots of child John in
garden, etc.) I suspect the editor and director made some decisions
based on impressionistic need to tell the story rather than 
adhering to reality (maybe it looked better to them to use color 
footage from Pathe under John's sound-byte comment about "rattle 
your jewelry"; maybe they couldn't get the rights to the correct 

Sometimes that works very wittily in "Compleat Beatles"---i.e.,
the song "Twenty Flight Rock" is played under introduction of
Paul (aficionados know that this was the song he first played
for John on 6 July 1957, the day they met); "Raunchy" played
when talking about George's early attempts to play guitar
(another funny in-joke). Many of the bits of film shot in
the Fabs' earliest days of fame was silent, and the filmmakers
add crowd noises for effect. Or perhaps the most complex multi-
layering: in the opening minutes, you see black-and-white footage
of crowd scenes at Shea, hear a passel of KRLA deejays announcing
the Fabs at the Hollywood Bowl in 1964 ("And now, here they
are...."), admixed with the studio "Rock and Roll Music" *under*
dubbed-in crowd noise from yet another source!

Other than doing a straight newsreel approach (which would have
looked as awkward as did the one about Charles Foster Kane :-)
or a clinical treatment of the facts, complete with the nasal
whine of a self-styled Beatles expert ("Here we see the Beatles
photographed at Liverpool Art Institute, though please note that
the music comes from the Star Club performance on...."), I'm not
sure what better way there would be to tell the Beatles' story,
as far as facts were known in 1981, than the way the filmmakers
did it. It's something of a myth that documentaries tell only
the truth. There *is* no truth, as historians know---only someone's
version of it. And "The Compleat Beatles" is one such version. It's
a reasonably good history, as are Davies' and Norman's books...just
not perfect history.

"Compleat" is, however, pretty good art, insofar as documentarians
can be said to make art, so closely are they treading on real
life (see Errol Morris' "The Thin Blue Line" for another stunning
balance between art and actuality). The makers of "Compleat"
interview solid people who knew the Fabs (the three ex-Beatles
were presumably disinclined to particpate, as they had been up
till very recently in most efforts to chronicle their careers).

They obtained rare and little-seen footage from contemporary
sources (snippets of the August 1963 BBC-TV documentary "The
Mersey Sound"---where the Boys talk openly and appealingly
about what they'll do after it's all over---are particularly
tantalizing). They blended illustrative material with interviews
to enhance the point (capturing Gerry Marsden singing a mincing
version of "Living Doll" and seguing perfectly into Cliff Richard
doing the same song from his film "Serious Charge" is a very
deft technique). Their use of background pop-music clips (American
as well as British) is fairly accurate in tone, and really brings
a sense of musical contrast between British and American pop
development, something not easily captured in words alone. And
the editing is *very* good; crisp, fluid, compelling. (Too bad
so much of the 1981-era filmed interviews were done on apparently
cheap film stock, with significant gouges in emulsion; was video
not available, one wonders? Has the laserdisc version cleaned
this up?)

And of course, one must mention the generally-decent (if 
occasionally maudlin) narrative, gleaned from historical sources 
available in pre-Lewisohn times (and surprisingly on-course even so 
:-) , spoken with a slight snarl by cinema's own "bad boy", Malcolm 
McDowell (Leeds-born but theatrically bred, so to speak, in the 
Liverpool Repertory Theatre).

I expect the upcoming many-chaptered video history of the Boys
to supplant "Compleat" somewhat, but never replace it. "Compleat"
has its own inner harmony. It sports a relentless enthusiasm for
its subject matter; it celebrates the heights of the Beatles
first triumphs with tangible electricity (the segue between
George Martin's commentary on the inevitable number-one ranking
of "Please Please Me", and the ringing tones of the song itself
at goodly volume, never fails to set my heart to double-time),
and the poingnant solemnity of a dream's demise (the near-sacred
allusions of the song "Let It Be" played over the Fabs' last
moments as a group).

Best of all, it's a history told with love. That counts for
something. Perhaps love isn't history's most accurate translator,
but it communicates the reverence, joy, and energy of a phenomenon
which continues---visually and musically---to enrapture the soul
of those who understand (through whatever media possible!) what
it meant, all those years ago.

"Musically authoritative and physically magnetic, THE BEATLES
are rhythmic revolutionaries with an act which is a succession
of climaxes."
saki (

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