In Chrome Dreams’ previous documentary on a specialty record company, From Straight to Bizarre, the filmmakers had several advantages. First, the story of Frank Zappa and Herb Cohen’s eccentric labels is known mainly among cult circles. Much of the music discussed is extremely rare, so most viewers would find this film an eye-opening history lesson in a rather obscure chapter of rock. Second, while there was useful commentary from music historians, the heart of the film were the interviews with many of the actual participants including members of the GTOs, Alice Cooper, and Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band.
However, the story for Strange Fruit: The Beatles' Apple Records is rather different and much more complex. After all, Apple had four head chefs named John, Paul, George, and Ringo with other key players like Beatle compatriots Peter Asher, Mal Evans, and Neil Aspinall. While the Zappa and Beatles projects were almost exactly concurrent (essentially from 1968 to the mid-70s), Apple Records had a very high profile indeed. From the much publicized 1967 announcement the group was seeking new talent, the post-Epstein rudderless period, the Allen Klein takeover, and finally the ultimate break-up of the Beatles, the story of Apple Corp Ltd. topped the headlines. Along the way, the group had popular releases from the Fabs themselves as well as a handful of their discoveries, notably James Taylor, Badfinger, and Mary Hopkin. Of course, this is only part of the story.
Strange Fruit attempts to analyze and explore some of the lesser-known aspects of Apple Records, and the resulting lengthy (162 minutes) film is a mixed bag, much like its subject. It’s at its best when musicians like Jackie Lomax, David Peel, members of Badfinger and Elephant’s Memory, as well as label M.D. Tony Bramwell, reminisce about their involvement with Apple. They were there. However, Beatle “experts” Chris Ingham and Mark Payt get much of the screen time, and their perspectives are often intriguing and just as often quite debatable. In particular, the choices of what releases get in-depth coverage and which do not should raise some eyebrows. Even more questionable are some of the conclusions the experts make.
To be fair, the multi-faceted stories of Apple Records productions are skillfully woven together. Following a chronological flow, it’s clear 1968 was a time of utopian and energetic goodwill in Apple offices. It’s evident the Beatles who invested the most energy in the early days were McCartney and Harrison. That is, when they were inclined to produce or support the acts they had signed. Since every release and signing had to have the approval of a Beatle, if the group was busy with its own affairs or on vacation, much productivity was lost.