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The Compleat Beatles Reviews

Though it's undeniably entertaining (how could a two- hour compilation of clips featuring the Fab Four not be?), THE COMPLEAT BEATLES rarely gets beneath the surface of its subject. Malcolm McDowell narrates newsreel and film clips, augmented by still photos and audio recordings, that trace the history of the Beatles. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr (nee Richard Starkey) grew up in Liverpool, "a provincial seaport from which nothing came." Influenced by American R&B and early rock-and-roll recordings brought home by sailors, the Beatles in their earliest (pre-Ringo) were performing together as early as 1960. They honed their skills, and learned much about the world, working in Hamburg's rough Cabaret District, where they played as much as seven hours a night. Back in England, they were taken under the wing of Brian Epstein, a fledgling promoter. After polishing up their rougher aspects, he got them an audition with record producer George Martin. By 1963, they had swept Britain, holding the #1 spots on the singles and album charts for more than half the year. The American branch of their record company, Capitol, resisted releasing their records until Stateside curiosity about "Beatlemania" grew too great. On their first visit, the quartet captured America the same way they did Britain, charming the press with witty press conferences and appearing on the nation's top-rated "Ed Sullivan Show." For two years, the Beatles toured and recorded incessantly, as their worldwide fame and popularity continued to grow. As they become interested in more complex kinds of music (aided by the classically-trained Martin) and tired of endless concerts in which the din of screaming teens drowned them out, they eventually decided to stop touring and concentrate on recording. Their experimentation culminates in the 1967 album "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." With the suicide of Epstein and the individual Beatles developing separate interests, the band began to fragment. The British telefilm "Magical Mystery Tour" was their first flop, and a highly publicized infatuation with the Mahesh Maharishi Yogi also fell apart. After business squabbles and several recordings in which the four essentially served as sidemen on each other's songs (rather than as a true band), the Beatles officially come to an end in 1970. THE COMPLEAT BEATLES is an outsider's view of the band, avoiding any of the personal aspects of the four men's lives that influenced their music. It's understandable that a project like this will tend to focus on those elements that were documented on film or audio, but still there are some glaring omissions, such as their meeting Bob Dylan and their experiments with drugs. And Lennon's infamous "Bigger than Jesus" remark is surprisingly avoided -- only his apology is given. (At the very least, you'd expect a film like this to provide the original remarks in order to demonstrate how the remark was misunderstood.) The good parts of this documentary--such as producer George Martin's in-depth discussion of the recording of "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane"--are good enough to make you wonder why the film didn't do more of a similar nature. While THE COMPLEAT BEATLES filled a niche when it was released in 1982, it has been superseded by more in-depth projects like IMAGINE: JOHN LENNON (1988) and the 10-hour video series "The Beatles Anthology" (1996). It remains valuable as a quick fix for Beatlemaniacs and perhaps for parents as an answer to the question, "Daddy, who were the Beatles?"