Wednesday, May 21, 2008

"The Beatles: Rare and Unseen"

If a product breathlessly hyping itself makes you wary, be prepared. You'll hear that a lot throughout "The Beatles: Rare and Unseen."

The single disc DVD starts out with promoting its exclusive unseen footage through "rare and previously unseen home movies, personal photographs, recently discovered film and true stories told first hand by the people who were really there." And on that score, it lives up to the hype.

Well, sort of.

The rare footage includes the earliest known footage of the Beatles onstage in Liverpool in 1962, a rare film of the Caird Hall, Dundee, Scotland show in October, 1964, footage taking during the making of "Help!," home movie footage from the 1964 Paris Olympia show and a rarely seen French TV interview with John Lennon.

And it's all there -- if you don't mind the fact that the interviewees are superimposed over the rare footage more often than not. Sadly, none of the rare film is seen unedited. What is there, though, is tantalizing, like dangling a carrot in front of a horse. It sure makes you wish for more of it without the unnecessary obstructions.

Some of the interviews, on the other hand, are quite good. The best are Abbey Road recording engineer Norman "Hurricane" Smith, Gerry Marsden of Gerry and the Pacemakers and former Beatles press officer Tony Barrow. Others offering comments include Ken Dodd, Sylvie Vartan, Sam Leach, Quarrymen member Colin Hanton, Phil Collins and Steve Harley of Cockney Rebel. But even the interviews have a few snags. In near succession, different interviewees recall "the original Beatles" as having different lineups. An eight-page booklet features text by Barrow and more rare photos.

Even more frustrating is the fact that the disc's special features are extended interviews with everyone on the disc -- but not the raw unedited rare footage.


Still, just seeing this stuff is great. And at least some of the interviews aren't the deadweight talking head interviews usually found on many of the endless line of DVDs that tell the Beatles story.

If only, though, someone had figured out that the rare footage would have been better appreciated if left the producers had left it the hell alone.