Thursday 1 June 2017


Cannily arriving just in time to tie in with the anniversary of the release of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, It Was Fifty Years Ago Today! The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper and Beyond is now in cinemas.


As proven by Ron Howard's excellent 8 Days A Week documentary from last year, nostalgia around The Beatles is at an all time high, and given that Ron Howard's doc had such a purposely abrupt conclusion and there's such a wealth of footage available from the time, creating a documentary using archive footage should give you a variety of options. Well, unless you've got rights issues, of course.

Picking up at approximately the point where Ron Howard's doc left off, with the band shifting focus away from being a constantly touring entity, "Fifty Years Ago..." shifts its focus away from the band's impact in the US back to the UK, and their move from family friendly mop top image into the psychedelic moustachioed stage. It was during this time that the band pursued other interests, like spending time with the Maharishi and taking LSD, before coming back together for the album that would become Sgt. Pepper.

If this new documentary should be commended for one thing, it's the ability to make it at least 20 minutes in before you realise something is quite amiss. Perhaps coasting that far through by riding on the high left over from Howard's documentary, the filmmakers have set themselves up for a fall by failing to get access to those most important of cultural artefacts; namely any images or music associated with the Sgt. Pepper's album. Given that this is billed as a study of the creation of that album, you'd think that would be an integral component.

The omission could almost be forgiven if that talking heads were of a higher quality, and this film relies on a never-ending stream of anecdotes from people who were there on the periphery at the time, like their official biographer and John Lennon's sister. All of the gossipy stories are delivered in a flat and lifeless fashion and are of the "I probably shouldn't say this, but..." variety, including one completely scandalous statement about Brian Epstein that will surely have his family's lawyers on the phone. It's hard to shake the feeling that these stories have been told a thousand times before in some dark, cavernous pub in Liverpool.

The film is not with completely without merit and the footage of The Beatles ascending the stairs of Abbey Road is great to see, but "Fifty Years Ago..." has failed to make itself as crucial an experience as Howard's rabble rousing doc. Apart from having a similarly unwieldy title, the films are more chalk and cheese than they are Lennon and McCartney.

Aimed at an audience who are established Beatles fans, perhaps of a particular age who look back on this time fondly, it will certainly find its admirers. But a documentary about an album that contains none of the music from that album cannot be anything but a bit of a duff.


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