BEATLES ANTHOLOGY, THE
Reviewed April 28th, 2003 by Brian White
“Let's go back back back back back...” That looped dialogue from Help! begins the journey into the Beatles’ past, where the viewer learns everything about the band. The Beatles Anthology is a monumental effort undertaken by the three surviving band members, and their inner-circle, to present their history in their own words. In 1995, the television special aired, 3 double CDs of live performances and rare tracks were released, as well as a coffee table book full of never-before-released photos, and more information from the interviews seen on the special. For Beatles fans, which is a large population, this was all you needed to know, and maybe a little more. The television special was released on VHS a little later with two extra hours of footage at a hefty price tag. Finally, DVD gets the extra VHS content, plus an additional 51 minutes of really fascinating stuff; and it's cheaper than the VHS set!
From very early in their solo careers, The Beatles were interested in documenting their history. Neil Aspinall, who was an early handler of the band, tells us in the Anthology that after the band broke up, he searched the world for Beatles footage for a documentary. Even in John Lennon interviews, the late Beatle talks about a project called “The Long and Winding Road,” which would be a documentary that covered Beatles history. The band members pitched this idea, but nobody thought there would be an audience for the material. A third-party production, The Complete Beatles, was released on video in the early eighties, and did remarkably well. Obviously, there was an audience.
The Beatles Anthology goes were no other history could: it is a first-hand recollection from all four Beatles. Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr were interviewed in 1994 and 1995. John Lennon interviews are cut into the mix to round out the picture. Home movies, private photographs, and the mountain of footage collected by Aspinall provide the images that the Fabs describe.
Calling the Anthology a wealth of information is quite an understatement. It is almost exhausting to watch the footage around the Beatlemania period of 1964-65, because the Beatles do so much in such a short period of time. You really see everything that was going on. While some critics claim that the surviving Beatles do not deal with more negative aspects of their careers, the viewer should realize that this is an autobiography, and the material keeps with that form. You don't get hard-hitting journalism, but you get remarkable access to some really cool Beatles footage and stories. While your author has not bothered to dig out his old tape of the TV special, it appears that the DVD does not cut off performances, and contains additional interview footage.
So what does a six-year-old television special look like on DVD? Surprisingly good. The picture was “re-graded” according to the packaging. Basically, all footage looks as good as its medium will allow. The surviving Beatle interviews were obviously captured on videotape, with no thought of DVD or high definition. While this footage isn't bad, you can certainly see the limitations of the medium in places. What is remarkable is how good the filmed footage looks, even decades later. The stuff from Help! looks incredible. The Help! DVD will be quite fantastic when it is released. Time has not been kind to other filmed elements. So video-wise, the Anthology is a mixed bag. They certainly didn't scrimp anywhere. The viewer is at the mercy of the medium capturing the image, and whatever abuse has visited the footage over time. The Anthology is presented in 4.3, fullscreen.
And for the audio? A 5.1 mix was created for the DVD release. The discs contain both Dolby Digital and DTS mixes. These mixes are really good. The music is all remixed, but not as dramatically as on the Yellow Submarine DVD. The effect instead fills out the sound, and places the listener in the middle of the songs. This mix is much more involving than if the documentary was just presented in stereo. Great stuff.
And for extras? Perhaps the greatest extra, given Harrison's recent death, is the footage of a jam session between the surviving Beatles. Paul and George pick out some old rock numbers on acoustic guitars, while Ringo plays what appears to be his old Beatles drum kit. For a bunch of guys who have shared such vitriol, they sure make a sweet sound. There is additional footage of the surviving Beatles reminiscing about their Elvis visit, and some other memories (and couldn't they have straightened out the damned table cloth?). There is a great bit of footage of the “Threatles” at Abby Road with George Martin, listening to individual tracks from early masters of songs. They discuss who is playing what, and how the sounds were made with the technology of the day. It is amusing to see them using just the first four volume sliders on a huge modern board. A documentary is also included on compiling the Anthology CDs, and on recording the “new” Beatles songs, Free as a Bird and Real Love. The making of the Free as a Bird video is included, as well as the video for Real Love. Finally, a featurette on the production of the Anthology documentary is included.
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