Five decades on from The Beatles’ release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, filmmaker Alan G. Parker pieces together the story of making “the most important rock ’n’ roll album ever made”.
Not that they ever really disappear from the public consciousness, but The Beatles appear to be on people’s minds recently. Last year it was Ron Howard sifting through hours of archive footage and conducting talking-heads interviews for his documentary. Just eight months later, here’s another one. And while it boasts just as unwieldy a title as Howard’s The Beatles: Eight Days A Week — The Touring Years, Alan G. Parker’s It Was Fifty Years Ago Today! The Beatles: Sgt Pepper & Beyond is a far more focused (and ultimately better) documentary. But it has to work harder.
Fans should be satisfied.
While TB: EDAW — TTY had the benefit of full collaboration — Paul and Ringo were interviewed anew, and Howard could call upon the likes of Whoopi Goldberg, who popped up to reminisce about going to see them play Shea Stadium — IWFYAT! TB: SP&B lacks both new interviews with the key players and actual Beatles music. It’s the latter that hits the film hardest — we’re told how great the music they’d created is, but we don’t get to hear it during its runtime. Sure, you probably know how A Day In The Life goes, but it’s hard to argue it wouldn’t add something if it were in the film.
Ultimately, however, it’s the story that matters, and that’s where this delivers. Concentrating on 1966 and ’67, when the band called time on their live shows then recorded Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, it’s a revealing insight into their mental state, the rifts that were beginning to appear and what inspired one of pop’s great albums. Perhaps not the best way in for those people who thought Kanye’s collaboration with Paul McCartney was the hip-hop star giving an “unknown artist” a helping hand, but fans should be satisfied.
Compromised in terms of polish by its unofficial status, but this is a detailed, revealing portrait of one of the greatest bands ever at a key part of their history.