This is the second installment in our three-part series. We are discovering 33 films in the series, with 11 films each over the next three days — at 3 PM — as part of our third “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week” installment.
The films are listed by year of release.
Ian Softley (Hackers) makes his feature film writing and directing debut in this chronicle on the early days of the Beatles in Hamburg, Germany — the relationship between Stuart Sutcliffe (Stephen Dorff, S.F.W.), John Lennon (Ian Hart, again), and Sutcliffe’s German girlfriend Astrid Kirchherr (Sheryl Lee, U.S. TV’s Twin Peaks), in particular.
While the movie’s production values are stellar and the accents are spot-on (well done, Mr. Dorff) — and it’s based on interviews conducted by screenwriter Stephen Ward with Astrid Kirchherr — the real gem of the film is the Backbeat “alt-rock supergroup” on the soundtrack. The band is comprised of Dave Pirner of the Soul Asylum (as Paul McCartney), Greg Dulli of the Afghan Wigs (as John Lennon), along with Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth and Don Flemming of Gumball on guitars (Moore and Fleming also worked in a “supergroup” capacity on Velvet Goldmine), Mike Mills of R.E.M on bass, Nirvana’s Dave Grohl on drums. On lead vocals for Dorff’s Sutcliffe: Black Flag and the Rollins Band’s Henry Rollins.
Steven Dorff lip syncing Henry Rollins? Awesome.
That Thing You Do! (1995)
Okay, so the Beatles’ personas or music doesn’t show up (but they’re mentioned several times) in this writing and directing debut love letter to the Beatles and the Beatlemania-inspiring “one-hit wonder” craze of the 1960s. Our “Fab Four,” here, are Erie, Pennsylvania’s the Wonders — who shoot to the top of the charts with their ersatz-British Invasion rave-up, “That Thing You Do.” The film works its wonders (sorry) courtesy of its spot-on production design in conjunction with a brilliant soundtrack composed by bassist Adam Schlesinger of the alt-rock bands Fountains of Wayne (with their own “one hit wonder’ in 2003’s “Stacy’s Mom”) and Ivy (whose music appears in There’s Something About Mary; they also scored Shallow Hal). Mike Viola of Sony Records’ the Candy Butchers (later of Panic! at The Disco and Fall Out Boy) provides the vocals for the Wonders.
Sadly, we lost Adam Schlesinger on April 1, 2020, due to COVID compilations. Listen to this soundtrack — and anything from Fountains of Wayne — for great, goes-down-like-gumdrops tunes.
The Linda McCartney Story (2000)
Armand Mastroianni — yes, the one and the same who made his debut with the ’80s slasher He Knows You’re Alone (yep, the acting debut of Tom Hanks!) — directs this adaptation of the best-selling book Linda McCartney: The Biography that dispels of the Beatles — even Paul’s solo career — instead centering on Linda’s life with Paul.
The soundtrack, featuring the Beatles’ originals “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and “Please Please Me,” along with the Beatles’ covers “Kansas City,” “Yeh Yeh,” and Willie Dixon’s “Back Door Man,” are interpreted by acclaimed Southern California-based Beatles tribute band, the Fab Four.
Paul Is Dead (2000)
The Google rabbit hole that opens for the “Paul Is Dead” legend is twisted and deep, so search with caution — or least do it on your day off, because you’ll be instantly hooked and surfin’ until sunset.
If you know your basic Beatles trivia: The band left “clues” in the 1968 John Lennon-composition “Glass Onion,” on the cover of Abbey Road, and in the backmasked grooves of “Revolution 9,” all which fueled the urban legend that Paul McCartney died on November 9, 1966, in car crash. To spare the public from grief, the Beatles replaced Paul with a lookalike, alternately known as William Campbell and the more widely accepted, Billy Shears. While the rumors got off and running in 1967, it really took off on Detroit radio stations in 1969 (which also birthed the “Jim Is Alive” urban legend in 1974 — and that Morrison recorded albums as “The Circuit Rider” and “The Phantom”), then spread via U.S. college newspapers.
In this German-shot/language film, Tobias, our young Beatles fan in an early 1980s German town, describes (in the scene, below) his conspiracy theory about how Paul McCartney died in the 1960s and was replaced his murderer.
The tale, while with its share of against-the-budget faux pas, is intelligently written and enjoyable, with imaginative plot twists: Paul is not only dead and replaced by Billy Shears, Shears murdered Paul; Shears — still alive — arrives in town driving a yellow, ’60s VW Beetle with the license plate “LMW 281F” — the car from the cover of Abbey Road.
While this impressive movie plays as a mystery-drama, the urban legend returns in a comedic take in 2018.
Two of Us (2000)
This Beatles “What If” comes courtesy of MTV’s softer sister station, VH-1, back in the days when the music channel produced original movies to a meandering-shrug effect. (However, their Def Leppard bioflick, Hysteria, is pretty good; Daydream Believers, their take on the Monkees, is also decent enough.) In this, the channel’s third film, the smart bet was placed on hiring Michael Lindsay-Hogg, the director of the Beatle-chronicle Let It Be (1970). What makes this all work: Jared Harris and Aiden Quinn as Lennon and McCartney are excellent in their roles — especially Harris, the son of the great Richard Harris (Ravagers). No, we do not see them sing, well, lip sync, in the film.
As with 1978’s I Wanna Hold Your Hand using the Beatles’ 1964 New York television appearance, and 1987’s Concrete Angels using the historical folklore regarding the Fab Four’s first Toronto concert appearance that same year, this time, the folklore concerns the mid-’70s public demand for a Beatles reunion show. One of those offers came from Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels on April 24, 1976, who made an on-air offer of $3,000.
The script is based on a 1980 interview with John Lennon in the pages of Playboy, in which Paul McCartney, then on the road with his Wings Over America tour (promoting 1975’s Venus and Mars and 1976’s Wings at the Speed of Sound), visited with John Lennon at the Dakota when Michaels made the offer. And they almost took up the offer. . . .
VH-1 was unable to obtain the rights to the Beatles’ catalog, so none of their songs appear in the film. And the ghost of Let It Be is coming back a little later in another film.
I Am Sam (2001)
If you’re searching for a primer to help you swallow Across the Universe, the later-produced “film based on the Beatles’ songs,” and if All This and World War II wasn’t enough to send you reeling back to your VHS copies of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, this overwrought, saccharine hokum, is it.
Sean Penn’s performance (Tell it, Sgt. Osiris!) as a Beatles-obsessed, mentally-challenged man fighting for the custody of his bright, young daughter is outweighed by the Beatles tunes expertly covered by alt-artists such as Nick Cave, Ben Folds (of the Ben Folds Five), Heather Nova, Paul Westerberg (of the Replacements), and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder. Not the same as the original verison-Beatles, but what is?
Writer-director Jessie Nelson, she, the force behind 1994’s incredible Corrina, Corrina (her daughter is Molly Gordon, of Booksmart), later produces a tale based on ’70s folk musician Steve Tilson almost meeting John Lennon. . . .
The Rutles 2: Can’t Buy Me Lunch (2002)
Is there such a thing as Rutlemania? Well, not in the U.S. where the 1978 original, All You Need Is Cash, bombed with the lowest ratings of any show on U.S. prime time television that week. However, in the U.K., the film’s intended audience, the mania led to Eric Idle and the Python troupe to embark on tours and recording full-lengths albums as their mock-Beatles.
As with Spinal Tap diluting the brilliant joke with an ABC-TV spoof concert special, The Return of Spinal Tap (1992), this Rutles sequel also dilutes the once brilliant gag — and it’s nothing more than a new edit of All You Need Is Cash, presented in the same chronological order, with a few new interviews, a couple faux celebrity insights (SNL’er Jimmy Fallon and Steve Martin show up; even Tom Hanks of That Thing You Do!), and a couple scenes cut from the first movie, as the Rutles embark on a reunion tour of America.
Across the Universe (2007)
As Robert Stigwood’s debacle based on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band wasn’t enough . . . and with Sean Penn’s Oscar-bait still wormed in your brain . . . we get another musical drama written “around the music” of the Beatles. As with the later “alternate universe” romp, Yesterday . . . the Beatles “don’t exist” in this film’s verse: a “jukebox musical” that features 33 Beatles songs to weave the tale of two lovers, Jude and Lucy.
While it had a tumultuous studio vs. creative post-production process over the film’s length (it was intended to be longer), the film none the less won over Paul McCartney, Yoko Ono, and George Harrison’s widow Olivia.
Still no word on what Ringo thinks.
Chapter 27 (2007)
Jared Leto gives a bravo performance as Lennon assassin Mark David Chapman in this adaptation of the best-seller Let Me Take You Down (1992). While the book pinches its title from the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever,” the film’s title references J.D Salinger’s 1951 novel The Catcher in the Rye, which has 26 chapters — with the film’s title suggesting a “continuation” of the book, which was an obsessive favorite of Chapman’s. Another Lennon fan is portrayed by Lindsay Lohan — and she’s actually good, here, for you Lohan detractors.
Chapman’s psyche is also explored in 2006’s The Killing of John Lennon — but we didn’t see it U.S. theaters until after the release of Chapter 27.
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007)
“Spinal Tap” does not strike twice in this Judd Apatow-backed mockumentary concerning an ersatz-hybrid of Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan. The film barely cleared $20 million against is $35 million budget.
The Beatles appear in the form of Paul Rudd as John Lennon, Jack Black as Paul McCartney, Justin Long as George Harrison, and Jason Schwartzman as Ringo Starr. Sadly, their time is brief . . . and we wished the producers realized what they had, ditched John C. Reilly (an acquired taste that inspires more passes than watches), and just gave us a “What If” Beatles flick about the band moving on after the death of Paul McCartney . . . of which there is one. . . .
The Killing of John Lennon (2008)
While this was completed first, and released first in the U.K. and overseas markets in 2006, it was released in the U.S. in 2008 — after the 2007 release of the (much) better and better known, Chapter 27. Lennon, Harrison, McCartney, and Starr appear as themselves via 1960s archive news footage, but actors Richard Sherman and Tom J. Raider dually portray John Lennon against Jonas Ball’s Mark David Chapman.
Join us tomorrow for our third installment with our final batch of films.
If you missed “Part 1,” you’ll find it, here.