not easy to put a different spin on one of the best known stories of the
Twentieth Century. Writer and director Iain Softley was able to do
that with his 1994 film Backbeat by telling the story of the early
days of the Beatles in a way that the Fab Four are only supporting
characters in their own saga.
Instead, the film focuses on Stuart Sutcliffe, the forgotten fifth Beatle,
the band's original bassist. Sutcliffe wasn't the best player ever, in
fact Paul McCartney was a better bassist, but Stu had the look of a rock
star. He was classically handsome, he had the devil-may-care attitude,
he dressed well and he could pull off sunglasses in a dark club.
Sutcliffe was also an artist, a man whose painting was as important to him
as music was to bandmate John Lennon.
Lennon idolized Sutcliffe, for he envied Stu's polished good looks and his
ability to blend into every situation. Lennon felt that his image was
more important to the fledgling success than his lack of musical talent.
(There are occasional hints to a homoerotic aspect in their relationship,
but their love seemed to be more fraternal.)
film focuses on the 1960-1961 pre-stardom days of the Beatles when they
traded upon their local popularity to get an extended gig on the infamous
Reeperbahn in Hamburg. When
they got there, it turned out they were playing at a strip club. (They
had to hide the fact that George Harrison was only seventeen.)
the band was making it's first little baby steps towards stardom -- gaining
a rabid live following, meeting execs and even getting a gig backing up Tony
Sheridan on a version of the standard "My Bonnie."
Ironically, their first big break in recording was for a singer who is now a
footnote in history only because his band on one single ended up being the
biggest rock band ever.
this germinating period, the group met two people who were instrumental in
the band's early image -- a couple named Klaus Voormann and Astrid Kirchherr.
Klaus introduced the band to local scenemakers. Astrid was a
photographer who took the first photos of the group. She was also
instrumental in the image of the band, giving them fashion tips and
suggesting the famous Beatles hairdo.
Quickly Stu and Astrid fall in love. The whole thing becomes sort of
an extended love triangle -- Stu and Klaus trying to win Astrid, and... more
importantly... a tug-of-war between Astrid and John Lennon over influence on Stu.
Eventually, Stu decided to leave the band to stay in Hamburg to be with
Astrid and concentrate on his art.
Unlike Peter Best, the band's original drummer who is here but soon gets let
go to be replaced by Ringo Starr, Sutcliffe decided on his own to leave a
band that would soon become the world's biggest. Sadly, it turned out
that he would not have had the chance to become a part of the band's
stardom, anyway, but that just adds to the dramatic effect of the story.
Stephen Dorff is fantastic as Stu Sutcliffe. In fact, after a decade of
subpar work in really bad films since this movie was released it
is refreshing to remember he actually is a talented actor. Sheryl Lee (who was
then red hot from having played Laura Palmer on Twin Peaks) is charming
greatest performance was by Ian Hart as John Lennon. Hart, who had
previously played the Beatle a few years earlier in The Hours and the
Times has the character nailed. In a couple of interviews in the
bonus features of the film, they quote a story by Lennon's estranged son
Julian in which his mother told him that if he wanted to meet his father he
should watch the movie. That type of story is usually tired hype, but
here it is legitimate. Ian Hart IS John Lennon. It's sad that
Hart never got the stardom that he deserved from this, though he has worked
rather steadily since. Interestingly, he seems to have made a bit of a
specialty of playing real characters. Most recently, he was seen as
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in Finding Neverland.
music is spectacular, covers of a bunch of fifties classics that the Beatles
used to do in the early years which were recorded by "The Backbeat Band," a
super-group of then-giant alt-rockers including Dave Grohl of Nirvana (and
later of Foo Fighters), David Pirner of Soul Asylum, Mike Mills of REM,
Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, Don Fleming of Gumball, Don Was of Was (Not
Greg Dulli of Afghan Whigs.
Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: February 5. 2005.