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Beatles Biopics
10 May 2015
10.51pm
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12StringKing
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Hey all! I actually thought I had already made this topic, but apparently I had not, or it got wiped in some site update. Now immediately there's probably going to be a reaction to merge this thread or put it elsewhere, but give me a moment to explain why this is it's own thread. I will be linking to the individual threads about these films down below, so don't consider this about those individual films but rather the topic of Beatles biographical films.

I have been wanting to write up a script for a biographical mini-series for a while. A lot of other things are taking precedent, but I was for a while very heavily invested in writing an as-accurate-as-can-be-had event-by-event sequence of the Beatles life from 1956-1969. I still intend to and the Beatles Bible is the most invaluable resource in this regard.

What I want to talk about though are the issues with the films we've gotten so far. There's been more books than one can count, numerous documentaries with most of dubious value or quality, and a fair number of spoofs that sometimes do better in portraying these lovable maniacs than the "serious" biographical pictures do. I want to do a run through of the films real quick and look at whether or not they address that quality that I'm searching for in biographical films before going on. Of course, feel free to put your own thoughts below.

 

Birth of the Beatles (1979) - I think a lot of people really like this film, but I didn't very much. I get that it's trying to capture the frenetic feel of the early days up to their stardom, but it was just very off-putting. I don't think it captured the spirit of the characters very well, though it's inoffensive on that front. If I remember, since it's been a while, I think the George was really good in it, but otherwise I thought the charactures were played up too much and there were too many annoying catchphrases.

Beatlemania (1981) - Apparently a musical. Have not seen, and I'm not entirely sure it belongs on the list, but I'll know when I see it.

John and Yoko: A Love Story (1985) - Only a small bit of Beatles stuff (with a hilarious Paul in there for good measure), but I actually quite enjoyed this one. A pretty honest portrayal of John as a person and the actor was quite good, even growing a beard for the Abbey Road period. He's probably the best physical portrayal of John out there; you can see that especially in the portions when he's playing the guitar. I don't think it was that watered down, even if it focuses its structure around the love story angle.

The Hours and the Times (1991) - Haven't seen yet. I don't really care that it's speculative, so long as it gets the characters right. It seems strange that the third film would be about a very controversial subject, even being that this one was quite under the radar. I'm definitely interested, but it may be a while until I can find it.

Backbeat (1994) - I thought this film was great! It completely captured the feel of Hamburg and the wild times of rock and roll, filling in gaps to a story that most people don't even know existed to begin with. Most of the ancillary characters are a bit weak, but Stu, Astrid, and Jurgen are all fantastic. One scene I'm a bit iffy on is Stu going in and destroying Astrid photographs. I'm not sure how that ends up putting him as a character, though it's still compelling film making. Really though, this film is a lot more fun than a serious character examination. It does what Birth of the Beatles set out to do with more limited scope, and I think that made it turn out way better.

The Linda McCartney Story (1999) - Not watched yet. Only tangentially related, but might be worth it to see the actor who plays Paul. I always liked Linda too.

Two of Us (2000) - This is probably the one I'm most interested in seeing. I have a feeling, given that it's Michael-Lindsey Hogg, that the character interactions are dead on. I'm surprised that he was still so devoted to the legend after all this time, and again this documentary is speculative, it's fascinatingly so. I am really looking forward to nabbing a copy.

In His Life: The John Lennon Story (2000) - I'm almost certain I saw this one, but I blocked it out of my memory. As I recall, I was legitimately mad when we finished. They got so much wrong and the John character was immensely annoying, and they included a lot of erroneous rumor-borne stuff just to keep your interest. None of the mystique of the real John and all of the loud brashness that permeates these rock-style films. Really do not recommend unless you want an example of what not to do in real-to-fiction storytelling.

Nowhere Boy (2009) - The more I think about it, sort of a strange title for the film, but it's great. It's intensely focused, moreso than Backbeat, and that really shines through. The specific relationship between John, his mother, and Aunt Mimi are fantastic, supported by three great actors. It uses all the sort of modern techniques of independent film-making that I quite like, and recreates some fantastic scenes from Beatles lore. There may be a bit more "grit" than needed, but the film has excellent pacing. It covers something we've all wanted to see with respect and almost impeccable skill. Definitely my favorite biopic of the lot.

Lennon Naked (2010) - You know how I said above that Nowhere Boy was only a bit too gritty? Well this one was a lot too gritty. It's a shame too, because there are some fantastic elements here. The girl who plays Yoko is absolutely fantastic, even in her limited role. I find the stuff dealing with the marriage to be more compelling than the father stuff, which seems just sort of like two old sods trying to work out a disagreement with added melodrama. I didn't think most of the acting and stuff was that bad, but it completely failed in trying to use psychedelia as an effect in film and in using film clips into the action. It felt low rent and a bit too big for the britches.

 

So that's and overview that I have so far. What's the takeaway here? I think it's that one shouldn't come from the angle of relishing in the Beatles' legacy, giving little winks Here, There, and Everywhere about what's to come. The point should be that if these guys weren't The Fab, would their stories still be interesting? We certainly think so, but that's a hard thing to actually implement in a compelling way. I will definitely be taking a lot from Nowhere Boy in that respect. Nothing about that film is even remotely connected to their big success. It's about kids forming a band and having personal troubles. That's exciting no matter who's involved, even with some time shuffling towards the end.

What about you all? What do you find compelling in these sorts of films? I will be trying to write my script using the wealth of quotes and resources available to get the personalities accurate, but do you really watch these for the accuracy or to see your favorite historical figures again? Learning what I have about filmmaking over the years, it continues to be a compelling challenge, especially when you add music. I thought at one point that I could play a good George Harrison , but I've neither the quick wit nor the ability to grow a mustache. One can hope that those instilled with the spirit of The Fab by the time I start shopping this script around.

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meanmistermustard
10 May 2015
11.49pm
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Ron Nasty
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Spoofs? Spoofs!! Name me a single spoof?

"I only said we were bigger than Rod... and now there's all this!" Ron Nasty

 

The Beatles Non-Canon Poll List

10 May 2015
11.55pm
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12StringKing
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Ron Nasty said
Spoofs? Spoofs!! Name me a single spoof?

All You Need is Cash and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. I was talking more specifically about spoofs on the characters of The Beatles, rather than film spoofs as a whole, though obvious The Rutles count.

11 May 2015
12.48am
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Ron Nasty
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The Rutles was not a spoof! It was the story of a band whose legend will last a lunchtime! I should know!a-hard-days-night-george-10

More seriously though, some thoughts on some titles you've mentioned.

The Birth of The Beatles Dreadful film. One of the first I saw. Believed it at the time, but then I learnt more. Only two interesting things about it. Pete Best was an advisor on it (so immediately skewered). George was an early role for an actor called John Altman. He went on to play the character "Nasty" Nick Cotton in UK soap EastEnders.

Beatlemania A stage musical that was filmed. No story to it all.

The Hours and the Times Ian Hart's first outing (no pun intended) as John. While much is speculation, a great film.

Backbeat A fantastic telling of the Hamburg years. It works because it's not about The Beatles. It's about Stuart, and the triangle between him, John and Astrid. The Beatles' story is just a backdrop. It drops the camera off of the main action. Another great performance of John by Ian Hart. Put together with Nowhere Boy, they make a fine telling of the early years.

Nowhere Boy The title makes total sense. It's a tug-of-love story. It's about the young John wondering where he really belongs, and discovering how everyone lied to him.

You might also want to consider some of the stage shows. John, Paul, George, Ringo... & Bert and Lennon (both first seen at Liverpool's Everyman) should definitely be considered.

The trouble with doing anything about The Beatles is that the characters are too familiar. Off-angles can work well (Backbeat and Nowhere Boy). Once you get past 1962, there's too much footage for any actors to convince in the roles. In my opinion, anyway.

It's where @Into the Sky with Diamonds was clever in his novel of the same name. He wanted to write about The Beatles, but found a way to do it making them background characters, as he made his main protagonist (and mainly via letters to the friend who narrated the novel) Mal Evans.

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Into the Sky with Diamonds

"I only said we were bigger than Rod... and now there's all this!" Ron Nasty

 

The Beatles Non-Canon Poll List

11 May 2015
6.35am
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Starr Shine?
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There is also Two Of Us which is about the night Paul and John watched SNL together. 

https://youtu.be/52nwiTs7bk8

Brainwashed by RadiantCowbells.

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11 May 2015
9.42am
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12StringKing
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Ron Nasty said
The Rutles was not a spoof! It was the story of a band whose legend will last a lunchtime! I should know!a-hard-days-night-george-10

Well now don't I feel like a goof for not noticing that.

Personally I don't think Nowhere Boy and Backbeat as so offset from their subject. You still have plenty of John and Paul-isms with implications of the further story there. When I say that if you stripped away The Beatles they would still be great films, that doesn't mean removing that element is a net positive. I think the problem has always been that they try and pander too much to people, rather than straddle the line between artistic interpretation as real-life counterparts.

There's also one film that I forgot to put on there as an aside. It's about Allan Williams shot by a bunch of college students. Saw a clip or two on Youtube, but I can't remember the name, else I would go back and watch it. It was so bad that Williams mentioned it in his biography for the awfulness.

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