Judge Bill Gibron wanted more from this otherwise exceptional BBC documentary on the noted music mogul.
In My Life…
Sir George Martin, one of the most influential and important music producers of all time, will always be irretrievably linked to the biggest pop culture phenomenon in the history of modern media. The rest of his amazing resume—his work with British comedy icons The Goons, his leadership of afterthought EMI label Parlophone—mean very little when compared to his guidance and glittering output as part of that little band from Liverpool known as The Beatles. Luckily, the new documentary on the aging icon avoids much of the Fab Four accolades to concentrate on life before and after John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Yes, the last remaining members of the seminal mop top talent brigade are on hand to praise their mentor and main industry support. But we also get intimate glances as Martin's marriage to current wife Judy, his service in the Royal Air Force during World War II, and his many charitable and music business ventures.
Of course, The Beatles are part of the mix, but most of this material is rote. In fact, any true fan of the foursome will know the stories by heart: how Martin didn't like their demo, but loved their creative energy; how he hated Pete Best; how Paul focused on melody while John obsessed over lyrics; the input (or lack thereof) from George; and Ringo's lazy precision. We also learn about the betrayal Martin felt during the Let It Be sessions (he would be replaced by the "overproducer" Phil Specter), his reasons for building a studio in Montserrat, and his collaboration with son Giles on the Cirque du Soleil music mash-up Love. In between, artists Martin worked with—from McCartney and Starr to Rolf Harris and members of America—sing his well-deserved praises. But what makes Produced by…so special is the insider information that fans may not be aware of. Martin started suffering from a severe hearing loss during his heyday, something he struggled with as part of his career. He also argues for his desire to be the next Rachmaninov, and his love and joy of flying.
But there are gaps here, intentional omissions that work, if ever so slightly, against this otherwise fascinating film's definitiveness. For example, Martin was married before Judy. This relationship is never explored or even mentioned. Similarly, he has four children, but only Giles appears on camera (he acts as a kind of smarmy, ersatz interviewer for his good natured dad). The Beatles' Anthology project is also avoided, as is his weird decision back in 1998 to rerecord several Beatles songs with alternate vocal takes by the likes of Robin Williams, Bobby McFarren, Celine Dion and…Jim Carrey? In fact, there's so much material missing that an entire separate documentary could be made about his involvement with the James Bond franchise, his efforts to transform Elton John's "Candle in the Wind" into an inspirational ode to the late Princess Diana, and his amazing memoir All You Need Is Ears. Apparently, Produced by… wanted to take the safe route toward making Martin, already an established music industry myth, into something even more sainted. While the added dimensions wouldn't have destroyed said status, including them would have created a much more rounded and realistic portrayal.
From a technical standpoint, the Blu-ray from Eagle Rock Entertainment is excellent. The BBC production sparkles in a 1.78:1/1080i presentation that is colorful, detailed, and filled with depth. In many cases, you can see the subtle shadings of the hair dye used by aging rock guitar god Jeff Beck, or the wrinkles around Michael Palin's playful eyes (he is on hand to discuss the impact of Martin's comedy records on Monty Python). Yes, this is still a TV feature and suffers from some of the issues we expect from same (shoddy stock footage, talking head framing), but the overall production is polished and very smart. The same can't be said for the sound situation. The LPCM Stereo is good, but not great, and when you are dealing with someone known for their sonic output, average just doesn't cut it. At least the added content stacks up. We get 52 minutes of additional material, including discussions with various producers (T-Bone Burnett, Rick Rubin) influenced by Martin, as well as more on his early days at Parlophone and more of his work with The Goons. It's grand stuff all around.
While it's easy to criticize Produced by George Martin for its lack of thoroughness, what's offered as part of the main feature and the bonus materials more than makes up for it. He remains one of the most important and influential figures of the 20th century. His legacy will outlast this nice, neat overview.
Not Guilty. Could have used more meat before we got to all the pudding.
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