Appellate Judge James A. Stewart recalls Paul McCartney's career as a subway violinist.
"There are little pockets of surprising projects."—Chris Ingham, on Paul McCartney
Paul McCartney was definitely popular in the Sixties, and royal honors definitely put him in the mainstream. At the same time, he was enjoying the company of some of England's prominent Underground figures and even supporting an Underground bookstore. The dichotomy, we're told in Going Underground: Paul McCartney, The Beatles and the UK Counter-Culture, continued throughout McCartney's career. Thus, if you wanted to introduce the history of the Underground to a new audience, he'd be an ideal vessel.
The first thing you learn is that the music of the UK Underground wasn't rock 'n' roll to begin with; it was jazz. It all began in 1958 with something very serious: nukes in Britain. Hints of class consciousness in Britain also permeate the discussion.
There's lots of talk in Going Underground, as you'd expect, but there are a good number of musical snippets. Most of the songs mentioned, including "Tomorrow Never Knows" and "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" (of course), get at least a little play, and for the Beatles, that's probably enough to have them play through your mind. Other bands, like Pink Floyd and AMM (which has some interesting videos I'm going to look up one of these days on YouTube), are less familiar, but represented equally strongly with snippets.
There's always something visual, with lots of black-and-white stock footage of the city and key figures, including Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. I was amused by footage of the International Times, with its headlines asking to "ARREST THE HOME SECRETARY." Fans of family-friendly Doctor Who can take pride in seeing that its psychedelic intro and electronica theme, circa William Hartnell, made it in there alongside body painted women dancing wildly, courtesy of McCartney's interest in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.
Even beyond the Beatles, the UK Counter-Culture did make quite an impression, as you'll note from details like a poetry reading in Royal Albert Hall, home of staid classical BBC Proms concerts.
The only major extras are an outtake comparing American bands like the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane to UK psychedelica and text bios of the talking heads. However, with more than two-and-a-half hours of documentary, that won't be a big problem for most viewers.
The picture and sound quality, of course, vary.
McCartney and the Beatles don't figure in Going Underground as much as you might think; a more specific documentary on John Lennon or the Beatles might be more to your liking if that's your only interest. Moreover, even at 153 minutes, the way the Underground surfaced in British pop and political culture is only hinted at. Still, Going Underground is interesting throughout and gives viewers a solid introduction to a rather complex topic.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: MVD Visual
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