Judge P.S. Colbert wishes all he needed was love.
Some people want to fill the world with silly love songs.
Upon launching Apple Corps.—The Beatles' owned and operated business conglomerate—in 1968, Paul McCartney described the venture as "an experiment in Western communism."
This clever turn of phrase made good copy for the press and summed up the sense of utopian optimism shared by the company's owners at its inception. Their idea was that Apple Corps. would be different from other commercial entities. Whereas most industries were overseen by various levels of management and operated purely for profit, The Beatles' joint would focus on artistic freedom and fulfillment. Anybody who had ever found him or herself shut out by corporate strictures was hereby invited to submit their wonderful ideas to John, Paul, George, and Ringo, all of who pledged to give these beautiful people a fair hearing.
Almost immediately, this ship of dreams was dashed on the rocks of reality. It turned out just about everybody had an idea of some kind, the glut of submissions coming not only from undiscovered talents, but deluded no-talents and cynical greedy operators as well. The fab four quickly realized that keeping to their mission statement would require sacrificing their personal and professional lives. Time for Plan B.
Strange Fruit: The Beatles' Apple Records, devotes 162 minutes to chronicling the long and winding road from the label's lofty-minded beginnings to its acrimonious 1975 end. Unfortunately, the film—sanctioned by neither The Beatles nor Apple Records—simultaneously conveys too little and too much.
On the plus side, there are insightful interviews with Apple's managing director Tony Bramwell, and recording artists Jackie Lomax, David Peel, Badfinger members Ron Griffiths and Joey Molland, and bassist Gary Van Scyoc (one-time member of John and Yoko's backing band).
Unfortunately, the number of key interviewees missing—due to death or disinterest—trumps those participating. Perhaps, in the interest of keeping this documentary from becoming just another Beatles bio, its compilers have neglected to include The Beatles' work together and alone for any detailed analysis. Imagine a comprehensive look at the life of Stephen King with very little of his writing, and you have a pretty good idea of the problem here. We are treated to a parade of historian eggheads, including Mark Paytress (writer for England's preeminent Mojo magazine), and Stefan Grenados (author of Those Were The Days: An Unofficial History of The Beatles' Apple Organization). Succinct and knowledgeable, both men acquit themselves admirably in terms of moving the narrative forward.
Conversely, Chris Ingham (author of The Rough Guide to The Beatles) seems more interested in throwing a spanner in the works. For example, Ingham spends quite some time explaining that he can't put his finger on what it is about the George Harrison produced Doris Troy album that doesn't quite work for him. The author then moves from time-wasting to outrageous pontificating, arguing against a rave Rolling Stone review for Badfinger's 1970 album, No Dice. Turns out Badfinger—Apple's most successful non-Beatles artists—isn't one of Ingham's favorites, fortifying his argument by pointing out that it was Harry Nilsson who took Badfinger-written ballad "Without You" to the top of the charts in 1971. More bewildering is the image that accompanies this discussion: Grainy black and white footage of Nilsson clowning around, while his version of the song (released on RCA records, featuring no Apple participants) plays in the background!
Presented in standard definition full frame, most of the archival footage is similarly grainy, no doubt another consequence of the producers having no cooperation from Apple Corps. On the other hand, new interviews—presumably shot for the occasion—are unmarred. The Dolby 2.0 stereo mix does a fine job with dialogue and music clips, though the music is a bit too on the short side. Bonus features are limited to short bios of those being interviewed and a brief interview with New York singer/songwriter Stephen Friedland, who (in the guise of alter ego Brute Force) scored a 1969 Apple release of his single, "King of Fuh."
Strange Fruit: The Beatles' Apple Records proves to be a noble and ambitious disappointment that can't overcome its inaccessibility to the company it profiles. A comprehensive documentary on the Apple Records story is definitely worth the wait for rabid Beatle fans like me. Here's hoping.
Well-intended, but Guilty.
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Studio: MVD Visual
• Bonus Interview
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