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Music DVD Reviews: Review of The Beatles From Liverpool to San Francisco
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The Beatles: From Liverpool to San Francisco (2005)

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Here’s a rule of thumb that’s always important to remember when considering purchase of Beatles DVDs: if it isn’t put out in conjunction with Apple Corps, Ltd., then prepare yourself for a viewing experience that involves absolutely no Beatles music whatsoever.

The oddly-titled “The Beatles: From Liverpool to San Francisco” is an Eagle Media release with no assistance from the band or anyone connected to them, so the incidental music goes out of its way to sound reminiscent of early Fab Four material without actually ripping off specific songs. Example: there’s a recurring harmonica motif that’s clearly inspired by “Love Me Do.” (The use of the descriptor “oddly-titled” owes to the fact that, although it’s presumably a reference to, respectively, the band’s city of origin and the location of their last proper concert [at Candlestick Park, on August 29, 1966], its content extends beyond that point in the group’s history.)

Much of “From Liverpool to San Francisco” is solely for the Beatles fans who enjoy the idea of filling in the blanks between the footage seen in all of the official, band-authorized documentaries. The main feature is held together with a nice framing device: pages of a daily planner, with events from the days of the various weeks appearing on the screen. Unfortunately, there are too many occasions where seemingly huge moments in the band’s career are seen in the planner but not mentioned in the narration by one Alan Ravenscroft. For instance, one page references how footage of the band appeared on “The Jack Paar Show” in the US, which actually preceded the infamous “Ed Sullivan Show” appearance; in another case, there’s a reference to the band meeting President Lyndon Johnson – something that this writer, a diehard Beatles fan, had been utterly unaware of – but the narration opts to focus instead on how the guys met up with Cassius Clay a.k.a. Muhammad Ali later that week. Additionally, although there are interviews with John, Paul, George, and Ringo from throughout their early career, predominantly from various BBC appearances or theatrical newsreels of the day, the program weighs far too heavily on narration over top of footage; less than a third of the program involves actual interviews with the band.

The back of the disc asks the following questions: “What was so special about (the Beatles) that they could fill concert halls and airports from Tokyo to New York with thousands of fans? Why did the dream die and what have ‘The Fab Four’ left behind? In short, who were the Beatles and how did they conquer the world?” In no way are any of these questions definitively answered via this disc, although, insofar as what was so special about the group, their charisma comes shining through whenever they speak. There’s just not enough of that conversation to be found here.

What makes this disc worth investigating, however, is the bonus feature: “Beatles Across America,” a 1966 documentary that examines the effects of John Lennon’s comments against Christianity on their popularity in the United States, particularly in the South. (The quote, which Lennon always swore was taken out of context, was as follows: “Christianity will go - it will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue with that; I'm right and I will be proved right. We are more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first - rock 'n' roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me.”) The only appearance by the Beatles in the documentary comes courtesy of the famous clip of Lennon semi-backpedaling about his comments, plus a brief Q&A with them at the end about their reaction to America’s reaction...but what’s fascinating is the interviews with teenagers where they comment on John’s statement.

A few examples:

“I think the Beatles are a real talented group, but I think they need to watch what they say, because they’re in a position where a lot of teenagers really think of them as really big, and when they say things like that, some teenagers are just going to believe anything they say.”

“I burned my Beatles records. I already did it. After Sunday school, at the MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship), we had a program about the Beatles, and we had supper – it was in our back yard – and, after we had the hot dogs, I just put my records on there.”

“I used to like ‘em. I still like ‘em, I guess. I mean, I like the way they write. But every time I hear ‘em sing now, I think about what they said. People used to think so much of them – y’know, they were kinda speaking for the teenagers – and then they come up with something like this. It’s like they’re making fun of everything that we like. I didn’t appreciate it.”

The most interesting comment, however, comes from a young lady who admits with a grin that “what John Lennon said really didn’t have any effect on me because, well, I think for myself.” You go, girl!

It’s rather unfortunate when the purported special feature on the DVD outshines the primary content of the disc, but, ultimately, that’s the way “From Liverpool to San Francisco” pans out. Still, “Beatles Across America” shines a light on an aspect of the band’s career that’s rarely seen, and that alone makes it worth checking out.

~Will Harris 



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