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  • Composing Outside the Beatles: Lennon and McCartney, 1967–1972, and: George Harrison: Beautiful Stranger Unauthorized
  • Michael Adams
Composing Outside the Beatles: Lennon and McCartney, 1967–1972. DVD. London: Pride Production, 2009. PGDVD126. $19.95.
George Harrison: Beautiful Stranger Unauthorized. DVD. Directed by Spyros Melaris. London: Waterfall Home Entertainment, 2009. CVIS607. $19.95.

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A rock-and-roll band from Liverpool experienced a spot of bother in the late 1960s and eventually broke up. Composing Outside the Beatles: Lennon and McCartney, 1967–1972 examines the first solo albums by John Lennon and Paul McCartney within the context of this breakup.

During this period, Lennon released three albums of mostly experimental music with Yoko Ono, two more conventional recordings, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band and Imagine, and an album of political songs, Some Time in New York City, again with Ono. McCartney, meanwhile, released McCartney, Ram, and Wild Life, the latter his first effort with his new band, Wings. The DVD consists of news footage of the two musicians, films of stage and recording-studio performances, and commentary from twelve experts.

The commentators include journalists John Blaney, Robert Christgau, Anthony DeCurtis, Chris Ingham, Paul Gambaccini, Garry McGee, Johnny Rogan, Steve Turner, and Jon Weiner, several of whom have written books about the subjects. Joining them are Denny Seiwell, the drummer for Wings, Klaus Voorman, Lennon's bass guitarist, and Alan White, Lennon's drummer. The musicians are generally more anecdotal and interesting than the writers.

Lennon gets the most attention in Composing Outside the Beatles because he was more productive during this period and because his life was more controversial, with his marriage to Ono and his involvement in anti-war and other political activities. Most of the journalists try to remain objective, with the notable exception of Rogan, who clearly abhors McCartney. Voorman, who became friends with the Beatles when they were starting out in Hamburg, is especially insightful into the demons tormenting Lennon and how they informed his music.

The comments about Lennon often smack more of psychoanalysis than musicology, especially when looking at such songs as the autobiographical "Mother" and the anti-McCartney diatribe "How Do You Sleep?" McCartney comes across as more enigmatic, with many commentators dismissing him as a mere composer of catchy melodies, though Ingham admits that his post-1972 music is more substantial.

Composing Outside the Beatles, which strangely credits no director, cannot avoid paying considerable attention to the Lennon-Ono union and McCartney's marriage to Linda Eastman, and while the three musicians seem fond of the women, the writers imply that everyone would have been better off had the ex-Beatles not made their wives part of their bands. Everyone seems uncomfortable with Lennon's trendy politics and feels relief when he finally stops allowing social issues to interfere with his art.

At two hours and seventeen minutes, Composing Outside the Beatles is a bit long, though never repetitive. While Thomas Arnold's narration is a tad dry and BBCish, the film blends the archival footage and the commentators together well. Helpful photographs and identifications of the twelve experts appear on the DVD box, and more biographical text is available on the disc. Composing Outside the Beatles can serve as an excellent supplement to the authoritative The Beatles Anthology ([England]: Apple Corps Ltd. 2003, 1996. C9 7243 4 92975 9 3).

There is nothing, alas, excellent or authoritative about George Harrison: Beautiful Stranger. Director Spyros Melaris, whose credits include a film about Lennon as well as a documentary about the autopsy of a supposed alien from outer space, merely cobbles together news footage about Harrison, and interviews with Rod Othen, who went to school with the musician, and Tony Calder, a publicist for the Beatles. While Calder has a few interesting things to say, Othen bores for England.

George Harrison: Beautiful Stranger is typical of shoddily made documentaries about all subjects, clogging up the DVD market in hopes of landing a sucker. Because the disc opens as George Harrison: The Quiet One, even the title is a lie, in addition to not making sense. The box also claims it is seventy-five minutes long when it limps to an...


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