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THE BEATLES ANTHOLOGY

Review by Michael Jacobson

Featuring:  John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr
Director:  Geoff Wonfor
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, PCM Stereo
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Apple Corps
Features:  See Review
Length:  593 Minutes
Release Date:  April 1, 2003

“No need to be afraid,

No need to be alone,

It’s REAL LOVE.”

Film ****

I don’t know what can be said about The Beatles that hasn’t been said before, so let me begin on a personal note…

Growing up in the 70s and 80s, The Beatles were no more, but like ripples in a pond from a stone being dropped, the waves of influence were still apparent (they even are to this day).  You still heard their music everywhere.  I knew of them as much as anybody my age did, but I didn’t really discover them fully until my high school years.

There, with my fellow musicians, enthusiasts, and best friends Norm and Mark, I plunged into the slowly-but-surely emerging compact disc re-releases of the group’s CDs.  The hits we knew well, of course, but we were more fascinated by their later, more experimental and more musically daring pieces.  We’d spend hours together or apart listening and re-listening to these classics of rock and roll that shaped and defined a generation that existed while we were just coming into the world.

Those were happy days, indeed.  And my love for The Beatles has never dissipated.  Which brings me nicely to another happy day in my life as a Beatles fan…the long awaited release of the 10 hour Anthology on DVD.

It originally aired on ABC television back in 1994 as three nights of 2 hour programming, but became something of a legend when it hit laser disc in its expanded form.  It was an audacious piece of work and an incomparable amassing of footage.  No narration guided the movie; everything was in the words of The Beatles themselves and their close associates in both new and vintage interview segments.  Live clips featuring the lads at their youngest (Hamburg and the Cavern Club), at their happiest (Ed Sullivan and the Royal Command Performance), and at their discontent (the Philippines and their finale at Candlestick Park) are here, but often expanded to include several full song performances.

The music is, of course, what the group and this documentary are all about.  The songs you know and love are here, but there are also plenty of rarities for the rabid fans.  Want to hear early Hamburg recordings with Pete Best on drums?  How about an early home recording of Paul and John at about ages 14 and 15 respectively?  The demo that eventually landed them their recording deal and partnership with George Martin?  Or how about famous songs in development…like “I’ll Be Back” in waltz time instead of common, or “Norwegian Wood” in a different key?  How about “The Long and Winding Road” without Phil Spector’s orchestration?  Man, it’s ALL here.

I can’t speak for the casual Beatles fan…for them, 10 hours might be overkill.  But for those like me for whom this band’s music shaped their imaginations and ideas, and inspired them into making music for themselves, this is like the world’s biggest ice cream sundae that you can eat and eat and eat from, and never get full, fat or sick.

And if the Anthology is a sundae, then the cherry on top is the inclusion of two new (at the time) Beatles songs.  “Free As a Bird” and “Real Love” were home recordings of John Lennon that were turned into full blown band numbers thanks to modern technology and the irreplaceable input of Paul, George and Ringo.  The former is a nice tune with a great video to go along with it.  The latter, “Real Love”, still occasionally brings tears to my eyes.  It proved that the lads from Liverpool could still make magic…even if it was for the last time.

But the story of the group isn’t overlooked here, of course.  From their childhood days to their break-up (this truly is the BEATLES anthology; it doesn’t go into their solo years or the loss of John), this is as complete and thorough a documentary as can possibly be produced on the Fab Four.  The rise of Beatlemania is well documented, as well as its eventual backlash, plus the evolution of the group from a touring outfit into a studio one.  Everything is included, from their highs to their lows, from their humble beginnings to their sad ending.  I cherished every minute of it, and had it been twice as long, I wouldn’t have loved it any less.

FINAL NOTE:  I want to dedicate this review to four special people.  Two are no longer with us, and the world has been an emptier place without them…John and George, I miss you both, but I know in my heart that where you now dwell, the music never dies.

And finally, to Mark and Norm, my best friends in music and in life, who helped me learn my appreciation of The Beatles and made my life more enjoyable because of it.  Real Love to you both, always.

Video ****

It’s hard to put into words the amazement I felt looking at the Anthology.  It combines new and old footage, as mentioned, but what really impressed me was the effort that must have gone into the cleaning up of the historical clips!  As a Beatles fan, I’d seen quite a few of them before, but never in this good a shape!  Some bits, like the Cavern Club footage, still show a bit of age, but the improvement is still remarkable.  The Shea Stadium footage looks better than ever, as did the Ed Sullivan bits and the world wide broadcast of “All You Need is Love”.  That last bit was beautifully colorized, too, and while I normally condemn the practice of adding color to films that were originally black and white, for the Beatles and that number, it seemed highly appropriate…and no one can argue with how good it looks.

The modern pieces were all done well, of course, and feature varying settings, from the lads’ homes and studios to outdoor night scenes with Paul by campfire and such.  Overall, this set looks as good as fans could hope for, and maybe even better.

Audio ****

What bliss…it was gorgeousness and gorgeousity made flesh, to steal a phrase!  The Dolby Digital and DTS remixes are flat out amazing, and I’m now convinced a Beatles’ fan hasn’t lived until he’s heard some of these legendary recordings come to life in full digital surround…even the early mono recordings sound live and fleshed out!  The dynamic range created by the music was SO strong I had turn my receiver way down from the opening strains of “In My Life” on disc one…but lowering the volume didn’t dampen the experience in any way.

The rest of the disc is mostly dialogue oriented, and all audio from vintage to current sounds clean and well presented, but the music is never far away.  I’m somewhat at a loss for words overall…I can only say that you won’t be disappointed.

Features ****

Four discs contain the feature, and the fifth disc in the set is bonus material.  The recollections of Paul, George and John is a terrific piece, as the old friends share memories, and…better still…make some music together.  Whether it’s a rendition of “Blue Moon of Kentucky” or re-enacting a furniture commercial, when those guys got behind their instruments, they made enchantment.

A look at the compiling of the Anthology CDs features interviews with the group and George Martin, discussing the trip down memory lane through countless hours of outtakes, first runs and rarities.  A 1995 look at Abbey Road Studios brings The Beatles back to place where they captured most of their magic to tape.  There is even a look at the recording of the two new tracks with the band and producer Jeff Lynne.

The production team discusses the enormous effort in making this 10 hour features, while video director Joe Pytka discusses the making of the incredible “Free As a Bird” video.

Finally, this disc includes the video for “Real Love”, while the aforementioned “Free As a Bird” one is at the end of disc four.  No commentary tracks are needed; as mentioned, the band and their associates actually do “narrate” the program in their own words through new and archival footage.  This is an impressive package.

Summary:

Though officially broken up for three decades, and irretrievably gone because of the untimely loss of two members, The Beatles’ music and magic will live forever.  The proof of that is in The Beatles Anthology, which is not only the most thorough documentary ever offered on the band, but an indelible compilation of concert and studio footage, rare recordings, and music that helped change and define the rock era.  From a loyal and lifelong fan, I can only offer a heart felt and humble thank you to John, Paul, George and Ringo.  J’ai guru deva, gentlemen…nothing’s gonna change our world.