Appellate Judge James A. Stewart is glad he wasn't a Beatle. You'll be, too, after watching The Unseen Beatles.
"They were all mystified by what had happened. They had become the most-famous people in the English-speaking world."—Journalist Maureen Cleave
On August 29, 1966, the Beatles—John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr—ended a concert tour in the United States with a show at San Francisco's Candlestick Park. It was to be their last concert.
Timewatch, a BBC series, dug up a fan's home-movie footage of that concert, plus film of the lads on a Jersey vacation, news clips from the time, and other footage. They put it together with interviews to give modern audiences a glimpse of the first megaconcert tour. You can see the result as The Unseen Beatles.
While I don't see any new ground broken here, what the documentary does is show people what it was like for the Beatles to be on tour while mass hysteria broke out around them. When you see it, you'll wonder how they stayed on the road as long as they did. Among the problems the foursome dealt with were a violent student faction in Japan, an angry dictator and his wife in the Philippines, an engine fire on a plane, and rainy concerts that created sparks—in their equipment. And they couldn't even leave the hotel between concerts because of the fans.
If that weren't enough, the last concert tour was followed by controversy. Remember that "We're more popular than Jesus" quote from John Lennon?
One scene that really didn't work right showed the Beatles traveling by plane, with typical bouncy 1960s background music, the sort Anthony Bourdain uses in jest on his show. The music wasn't bad, but we're talking about The Beatles. Couldn't they have used "Ticket to Ride"? That misstep aside, The Unseen Beatles does a lot of things right. Even if Timewatch couldn't show me everything, I got a feeling of what it was like to be there on the plane, on stage, and in the hotel room with The Beatles.
The documentary uses a lot of scratchy, beat-up film, so the picture quality isn't fantastic. The sound quality isn't bad, although the DVD isn't really a concert film.
The Unseen Beatles is less than 50 minutes long, shorter even than the 65 minutes in the DVD cover description. The DVD adds to it with a few minutes of footage from the Beatles' Jersey vacation, with the musicians mugging for the camera; a photo gallery set to music; and extended interviews. The extended interviews will be worth watching for fans; the best moments, from early Beatles manager Allan Williams, talk about how the band started out in Liverpool and Hamburg.
The Beatles continued recording and making films for a while after they stopped touring in 1966, but the release of Let it Be in 1970 was the end for the Beatles—and an era. John, Paul, George, and Ringo found "room for growth," as their Web site puts it, by going their separate ways. The Beatles, too, grew after that split; by quitting at their creative peak, they ensured the band's legendary status.
I found this peek at the pressures that broke up The Beatles fascinating. If you were part of that 1960s mass hysteria, you won't be able to pass this up.
Not guilty. Let it be, and let people watch.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
• Extended Interviews
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