Posted May 25 2017

It Was 50 Years Ago Today! The Beatles: Sgt Pepper And Beyond - This Beatles Doc Rocks

Dir: Alan G. Parker

Strring The Beatles, Simon Napier Bell, Ray Connolly, Hunter Davies, Pete Best, Tony Bramwell, Philip Norman

It was in fact 50 years ago next week – June 1– when The Beatles shook the world by releasing the album that many still hold as the greatest ever made. (They’re wrong of course it wasn’t even the greatest album The Beatles ever made – that was Revolver – but that’s an argument for another time.) Parker’s documentary takes the unique approach of not just looking at Pepper itself, but the time either side of it, seeking to explain its place and its creation, and then following up on the impact of the events that followed it.

Thus we begin in the tumultuous heady days of 1966 – with Lennon facing up to having said the Mop Tops were bigger than Jesus, Imelda Marcos roughing them up in the Philippines, records being burned in the States and the band’s increasing frustration with being unable to recreate their newly emerging studio sophistication on stage, leading to their retirement from live performing, leading to speculation that the band was splitting up. Indeed, there appears to have been a man from ITN permanently situated outside Abbey Road studios with the sole task of door stepping any and all Beatles who enter with the one question “Are you splitting up?” to which they invariably reply “No.”

Parker then leads us through the recording of Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane, as significant as that of Pepper itself. But rather than stop there, his movie cleverly moves ahead to the events that followed the album’s release, emphasising not just its impact on the world in general, but the changes it precipitates in the boys’ lives – from their encounters with the Maharishi, to LSD, to Brian Epstein’s death, to the launch of Apple, finishing just before the band dissipates into the White Album.

It is – as it always has been – a fascinating story, and whilst the key players are absent from Parker’s film, his talking heads include such experts as Norman, Davies, Connolly, even Pete Best gets a look in, so we know we are in good hands. There’s a wealth of excellent archive to glom over as well, even if some of it is already familiar – but then again, it was always going to be difficult to make such a movie when The Beatles’ own Anthology remains the masterful benchmark. The biggest drawback of course is the lack of music – it’s genuinely frustrating to listen to people talk about the recording of A Day In the Life and not be able to hear what it is they’re discussing.

But then again you do have The Beatles – in interview, in conversation, at press conferences. And, as ever, such footage is a genuine pleasure. It Was 50 years Ago Today (which could easily be watched straight after Ron Howard’s excellent 8 Days A Week) tackles a concise part of The Beatles story in a smart and engaging way. It may lack the music, but don’t worry – apparently there’s a new box set coming out this week!

It Was Fifty Years Ago Today! The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper & Beyond is in cinemas 26th May, including special Q&A previews and On Digital 1st June and DVD 5th June.


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