I wonder if one day the tale of The Beatles will join the likes of Homer’s The Odyssey or Aesop’s Fables as part of the canon of the greatest stories ever told. It seems to be the closest to a modern day odyssey or fable that has ever come to pass. One of the most original (and hilarious) versions of it was Eric Idle and Neil Innes’ The Rutles (1978). But that was all done with a wink and a nod, in fact George Harrison was even involved in it. As far as a “straight” telling of the band’s time together, it is hard to beat the Beatles Anthology (1995). All of this is meant to suggest that it is pretty difficult at this late date to find any kind of an original take on the basic story, but the new The Beatles – Their Golden Age (2010) makes a valiant effort.
This one-hour documentary was written and is narrated by the self-described publisher, author, and filmmaker Les Krantz. There is a great deal what appears to be public domain footage included, but I have never seen a lot of this material before, so that is a big plus. There are scenes from 1963 of the lads on a boat in Holland, and a short film titled “The Beatles Come To Town,” filmed in Manchester that same year. There is no footage of them performing however, all the shots are of the audience before and after performances.
There is also a short interview with John, done as part of promotion for his book In His Own Write. In 1964, we are shown extras being hired for the crowd scenes in A Hard Day’s Night. We are also offered a brief interview with Paul in Seattle in ‘64, with the Space Needle behind him. Next up is Help!, which again offers something I had not previously seen, one of the original trailers for the film.
Their Golden Age continues with a mix of old newsreel footage and the like with the Fabs receiving their M.B.E. awards in 1965. Just for fun, I’ll quote what the newsreel guy had to say about the event: “The Beatles of course have proven to be one of Britain’s prime exports. They have brought in more foreign exchange than many industries. After all, they are an industry unto themselves, and the Queen saw fit to reward their economic contribution to the nation. The award entitles The Beatles to put the letters MBE after their names. And what could MBE mean but ‘More Beatle Encores,’ yeah, yeah, yeah.”
Good Lord! Here’s what makes Their Golden Age so odd. The whole thing is done in a breathless newsreel tone, almost identical to that of the old fart who intoned those words about their M.B.E.‘s back in 1965. There is no wink or nod on the part of Mr. Krantz. The film has the look and feel of an old March of Time newsreel, expanded to an hour. It is kind of surreal, as if none of the huge societal changes that defined the era actually occurred.
Here is the description of Rubber Soul: “Clearly The Beatles’ days of targeting an adolescent audience were fast fading.” Well, duh. Krantz still seems a bit dumbfounded as to how John could have ever said that The Beatles were more popular than Jesus. The fact that the comment was made nearly 50 years ago, and was taken completely out of context is not even explained. We do get John’s famous non-apology when he tried to explain it, but that is all the rebuttal there is. It was a very weird blip in the annals of Beatledom, yet for some reason Krantz spends an inordinate amount of time on it.
In discussing the music of Revolver, the subject of drugs finally comes up. This is during another famous Paul interview, in which he owns up to having taken LSD.
To offer a better sense of the tone of this documentary, allow me to quote Les Krantz himself as he describes the Sgt. Pepper album: “It redefined what a rock album could be, with The Beatles’ alter-ego band taking the listeners on a musically lavish journey from ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” to the haunting, heavily orchestrated ‘A Day In The Life. Rolling Stone magazine ranks Sgt. Pepper as the greatest album of all time.”
All of that is true of course, but it is not exactly news. The bare-bones presentation of the basic Beatles story continues on through Brian Epstein’s death, Magical Mystery Tour, Yellow Submarine, the White Album, Abbey Road, and Let It Be.
Their Golden Age is (if nothing else) as inoffensive a history of the legendary band as I have ever seen. It does have its charms though, mostly from the rare early footage. Towards the end, it seems as if Mr. Krantz himself was as flabbergasted by John’s antics with Yoko Ono, and of the music made during the later days of the group as anyone on the “other side” of the generation gap in the late ’60s.
The final five minutes of the film focuses on the group member’s solo efforts, John’s senseless murder in 1980, and George’s death in 2001. For Beatles fans, these are just the sad facts. My only complaint (if you can call it that) is that Their Golden Age is a bit bland. Having said that, I might as well give Les Krantz the last word, as he sums up the impact of The Beatles over the final set of images: “50 years and counting, their appeal is stronger than ever.”