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Monday, August 12, 2019


Writer-director Alan Byron (BILLY FURY: THE SOUND OF FURY, PUNK '76) opens his 2018 documentary THE BEATLES: MADE ON MERSEYSIDE (Film Classics) with the familiar strains of "Twist and Shout." But it's the Isley Brothers version we hear, not the Beatles' celebrated cover.

This is typical of the entire film, which features not one note of actual Beatles' music (much as the documentary JIMI HENDRIX: THE GUITAR HERO had no actual Hendrix songs save for a public domain version of "Hey, Joe") and not that many images or film clips. It's a bit like making a documentary about the Apollo space program and not including any footage of the first moon landing. 

What compensation there is consists of ample interview footage of people either directly or indirectly involved with the Beatles during their five-year rise from obscurity to stardom, including their tour manager, a business associate of Brian Epstein, Epstein's secretary, and Pete Best's brother.

Best of all (pun intended), the Beatles' initial drummer Pete Best is on hand to offer his quiet, thoughtful reminiscences from a very first-hand point of view, and it's his segments that are the most welcome ray of sunshine in the whole presentation.

What makes it most worth watching, in fact, is finding out at the end that he's enjoying a happy life, both personally and professionally, including ample compensation for "The Beatles Anthology" and a new band which makes terrific music (I've heard them--they're really good).

There are also a couple of original members of the Quarrymen giving us their equally first-hand accounts of what went down on and offstage when John, Paul, and the rest were whooping it up at the Kaiserkeller and Star Club in Hamburg or electrifying local Liverpool kids at the Cavern and Casbah clubs.

Mona Best herself turns up in old footage with son Pete, which is of interest.  And last but certainly not least, Cynthia Lennon appears briefly a few times to share her own intimately personal perspective.

Most of the other interviewees relate familiar stories while the few film clips of the Beatles are augmented by lots of B-roll footage of Liverpool and Hamburg and various locations where the Beatles lived or performed.

When we're told the old story of how young Paul and John acquired American rock and roll records from sailors down at the docks, we're shown a lengthy montage of freighters unloading their cargo at those docks.

Say they liked Elvis and we see a minute or two of Elvis performing; say they covered "Long Tall Sally" and we hear Little Richard singing it. Snatches of other songs later covered by the Beatles turn up in their original form as well.

The Beatles, it turns out, are in the periphery of their own documentary. There are some nice clips of Ringo near the end, talking about joining the band, being in the hospital, etc.  But again, no actual Beatle music.  The effect is ultimately a bit dull and, needless to say, disappointing.

The DVD from Film Movement is in 1.78:1 widescreen with 2.0 stereo sound. No subtitles or extras.

If THE BEATLES: MADE ON MERSEYSIDE were chosen to be enclosed in a time capsule, future archeologists would learn the usual pre-fame history of the group, and get brief samples of their images and speaking voices, but would have no idea what their legendary music sounded like.

Pre-order the DVD from Film Movement

Release date: 8/20/19


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