Beatles video is twice as fab Anthology: Packed with stuff you didn't see on TV broadcast, home version is a scream, and a keeper.

September 04, 1996|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

If you watched the broadcast of "The Beatles Anthology" and therefore assume that you've seen all there is to see, you don't know the half of it. Literally.

In fact, the home video version of "The Beatles Anthology" (which arrives in stores tomorrow) contains more than twice as much material as the broadcast edition. There's more concert footage, more TV appearances, more vintage videos, more home movies -- and, of course, more interview time with the surviving three of the Fab Four.

All told, the set spreads some 10 hours of material across eight VHS cassettes ($159.98 list) or eight laser discs ($229.98 list). And that, naturally, has hardcore Beatles fans wondering what is included among the unaired fare.

Well, there's cursing, for starters. Not a lot of it -- maybe a dozen words overall -- but enough to remind us that, yes, these are real people, not the well-scrubbed Mop-tops of myth. (There's also a bit of nudity, when the front cover of "Two Virgins" turns up in Volume Seven, but nothing terribly racy or salacious.)

Mainly, though, what we get is music -- and plenty of it. Where the televised version of the "Anthology" gave us just a taste of the Beatles' first actual American concert, at the Washington Coliseum in D.C., the home version gives us three full songs: "She Loves You," "I Saw Her Standing There" (which boasts some surprisingly hot instrumental interplay), and "Please Please Me."

There's a segment from a 1963 Swedish television show called "Drop In" that finds the lads uncorking a ferocious rendition of "Long Tall Sally," and killer version of "Nowhere Man" from a mid-'60s German TV Show. We see them sing "You Can't Do That" in Australia, and offer an intrepid run through "Paperback Writer" at the Budokan in Tokyo, Japan.

Even better, we also get the band's early "music video" for "Paperback Writer" -- along with similar short films made for "Rain," "Day Tripper," "Strawberry Fields Forever," "Sgt. Pepper," "Hello, Goodbye" and more, each offered at full length.

"What we'll do is just go make our own little films, and we'll put them out," says George Harrison, recalling the band's thinking. "So I suppose in a way, we invented MTV."

In addition to all that Beatles footage, we also see plenty of other performers, particularly those like Little Richard, Buddy Holly and Bob Dylan, who had a lot of influence on the band's sound. There are even a few shots of other artists doing Beatles tunes, such as the Rolling Stones playing "I Wanna Be Your Man," and Jimi Hendrix playing "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

(Mercifully, there's nothing from the Peter Frampton film of "Sgt. Pepper.")

We also hear the surviving Fabs talk about what life was like for the Beatles onstage.

There's some great stuff about the band's early days in Volume One, covering everything from a talent show the teen-aged pre-Beatles entered (they lost "as usual," says Paul McCartney), to the grueling hours and pilled-up mania of the band's days in the Reepersban district of Hamburg.

We also get to hear what a drag it got to be trying to play for crowd after crowd of screaming Beatlemaniacs. "I never felt that people came to hear our show," complains Ringo Starr at one point. "I felt they came to see us, because from the count-in on the first number, the volume of screams would just drown everything out."

This, Starr adds, made his job especially tedious. As producer George Martin explains at one point, there were no such things as onstage monitors in those days, meaning that the Beatles had no way to hear for themselves what was going through the P.A. system.

For that matter, the sound they got from each other was fairly dodgy; with all the noise coming up from the crowd, Starr's bandmates could only hear his kick and snare drums, meaning that any "fancy stuff" he tried with the tom-toms rendered him essentially inaudible onstage. "Vox made us special, big amplifiers for that [last] tour," laughs Harrison later. "We went up from the 30-watt amp to the 100-watt amps."

Granted, if you haven't ever played in a band, or don't know much about amplifier wattage, it may be hard to see what's so funny about Harrison's story. (Now that even small stage amps deliver 60-100 watts of power, the notion of playing Shea Stadium with a 30-watt amp seems as ludicrous as crossing the Atlantic in a biplane.) But that's part of the charm of this set, because neither it nor the Beatles ever talk down to the viewers at home.

In that sense, "The Beatles Anthology" is less a musical biography than a musician's biography. Sure, it addresses the social stuff that came with the Beatles Phenomenon -- the band's look, its wit, its flirtations with drugs and transcendental meditation -- but only insofar as it impacted the music.

So the sensationalistic stuff that pads out most Beatles books is given the short shrift by this band-produced biography. We hear nothing of manager Brian Epstein's homosexuality, much less any speculation over whether or not Lennon once slept with him. Nor is there any but the most cursory mention of Beatles spouses -- until Yoko Ono began turning up at recording sessions with Lennon.

Perhaps that's why watching "The Beatles Anthology" is such a satisfying experience. Because it's more interested in informing and entertaining than in titillating, its 10 hours zip by so quickly that you may want to put off watching the end of Volume Eight.

Though if you really need to make the ending last, you can use the freeze-frame to count all the visual references in "Free As a Bird "

Pub Date: 9/04/96

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