MVD Visual // 2009 // 137 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // January 7th, 2010
The true story of how their music was composed when writing alone or with new partners.
Like countless other people in this big old lovely world of ours, I'm a big fan of The Beatles. I own every album, I've seen the films, I've watched documentaries and read books, and all of that is just the tip of the iceberg as far as the band is concerned. There has perhaps never been a group so obsessed over by the public at large. Not only has every song The Beatles ever wrote been studied to death by countless musicologists, just about every noteworthy public and/or private activity ever engaged in by the band has been documented and commented on at length. So, when a new documentary about The Beatles comes out, it's going to be a challenge to reveal anything new. The overtitled Composing Outside the Beatles: Lennon and McCartney 1967-1972 does its best to provide a meaty and substantive documentary, though the results are mixed.
The documentary is unauthorized, meaning you get a whole lot of people who were friends of friends sharing their thoughts and personal stories. Fortunately, there are a whole lot more intelligent Beatles experts than there are experts on most other bands, so plenty of the participants have some sharp observations to make about the group's most turbulent period. As the title indicates, the documentary focuses on the slow break-up of the Beatles that took place during the late 1960s. The usual subjects are touched upon: the increasing friction between the band members, the effect that the arrival of Yoko Ono and Linda McCartney had upon the band, the solo projects that were starting to form outside The Beatles, the increasing lack of collaboration between Lennon and McCartney on later albums, so on and so forth.
It's all handled with well-researched professionalism and a distinct lack of sensationalism, but alas, we've heard it all before. There is so little included in the documentary that I was unaware of, and the lack of participation from those we really want to hear from prevents the doc from becoming essential for Beatles fans out there. The documentary is best-suited for the casual fan that has a good deal of familiarity with the music of the Beatles but knows relatively little about the real-life stories behind the music. Even so, those coming from that perspective may be disappointed that the documentary offers next to nothing about the early years of the Beatles. The stage isn't set; you're simply thrown into Act 2 without any warning or notes about Act 1.
Another minor issue I have with the documentary is its tendency to become rather biased at times. While every individual participant handles themselves quite well, the majority of them tend to have something in common: they think that John is the hero and Paul is the villain. I don't really feel that's an entirely fair perspective, and those willing to speak in Paul's defense should have been given more screen time. The interviews don't quite add up to a hit piece on Mr. McCartney, but any praise thrown in his direction seems to be handed over rather begrudgingly.
One unexpected positive is that the doc actually manages to include quite a lot of actual Beatles music, albeit typically in too-brief snippets. Still, you'll hear bits and pieces of dozens of tunes by the Beatles and particularly a lot of songs from the early solo careers of Lennon and McCartney ("Imagine," "Maybe I'm Amazed," etc.). Otherwise, the best moments of Composing Outside the Beatles are those in which the panel members offer their own personal feelings on particular songs (an extended analysis of "God" is particularly compelling).
The transfer is fairly mediocre, though that's okay given that this is largely a talking heads piece with bits of archival footage thrown into the mix. Audio is very simple 2.0 sound, which is mostly fine despite a few interviews that sound like they were recorded in a bathroom. The only supplement on the disc is a series of extended interviews from the documentary.
Though by no means terribly dull or amateurish, I find it a bit challenging to recommend this somewhat unnecessary documentary.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: MVD Visual
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 137 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Extended Interviews