Semolina Pilchard Climbing Up the Eiffel Tower
Review by Newton C. Smildge
A slew of CDs and DVDs have been issued over the years that compile public domain film clips and audio interviews which were never intended to be released in any venue besides the local nightly news or popular teen magazines. 1960s Beatles press conferences, once cut down to a few sound bytes (before the term was popularized), held in, say, Minneapolis or Los Angeles, can now be found in their entirety on various DVDs or YouTube postings. Magazine interview tapes made by journalists for print transcription make their way onto CDs that announce NO ORIGINAL BEATLES MUSIC IS INCLUDED. The market demands more new material from the group that changed the world and split up nearly forty years ago. How can we miss them if they won’t go away? It’s as if the Beatles were the Undead. The blood is the life, Mr. Renfield.
The unfortunately named Wienerworld company has released The Beatles: Rare and Unseen, a DVD that collects brief clips of home movie footage, some shot by Beatles themselves, in Liverpool, on tour in Scotland, filming Help! and Magical Mystery Tour, and more, including snippets of a 1970s John Lennon interview on French television. These silent clips — the raison d'être for this DVD — are interspersed with interviews, some of which are with people who had genuine connections to the early Beatles — tour managers and press officers, friends, fellow musicians. Some of the interviews are rather charming (Gerry Marsden of Gerry & the Pacemakers) and some insightful (press agent Tony Barrow), while others are typically marginal for these efforts (I don’t get why comedian Ken Dodd or ballroom dancer Len Goodman are here at all). The biggest name present is Phil Collins, whose main Beatles claim to fame is that he was an extra in A Hard Day’s Night. Collins gives a straightforward account of how he found himself working on the film despite ending up on the cutting room floor. He also, in the bonus interviews, gives a nice drummer’s appreciation of Ringo’s too readily dismissed drumming.
One section of the DVD is devoted to Mickey Jones’s home movies from the Paris Olympia Theatre eighteen-day run in early 1964. Most of this footage, made while drummer Jones was backing Trini Lopez, is already available on another DVD that Jones put out some years ago, most prominently featuring footage he shot while touring with Bob Dylan. But this recounting of the Olympia shows is better, with the added plus of an interview with co-star French pop singer Sylvie Vartan (who still looks pretty damn good at 65). Between Jones and Vartan we get a good sense of the Beatles as individuals literally days before they left for America to play their first Ed Sullivan Show. After that nothing would be the same.
This collection is chiefly for Beatle maniacs (and maybe Phil Collinsiacs). But it is entertaining and, aside from some self-consciously Beatlesque background music that comes oh-so-close to plagiarism, the DVD and eight-page booklet written by Tony Barrow are far more enjoyable than sitting on a cornflake.
Text copyright © Newton C. Smildge