The Beatles

Composing The Beatles Songbook: Lennon and McCartney (1957-1965) [DVD]

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As the title indicates, this 80-minute critical documentary focuses on the songwriting of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, composers of almost all of the Beatles' pre-1966 original material. They wrote a lot of great Beatles songs after 1965 too, but the idea seems to be to focus on these years since their collaborative partnership was much stronger in the earlier part of the group's career. The disc's biggest strengths (indeed, its dominant features) are its assortment of talking heads, including a few people who knew the Beatles (Hamburg friend and bassist Klaus Voormann, journalist Maureen Cleave, writer Barry Miles) and a whole passel of esteemed critics (including Robert Christgau, Steve Turner, Peter Doggett, Johnny Rogan, and Nigel Williamson). Don't come here looking for Beatles footage or music, rare or otherwise, as the main attraction, since there isn't anything along those lines other than some Beatlemania scenes and still photos from the Quarrymen days through the mid-'60s. There actually isn't much in the way of little-known info about the band and Lennon-McCartney songs either. But the interviewees comment knowledgeably on the differences between John and Paul, the ways in which they complemented and brought out the best in each other, and how they grew artistically as composers. Some might find it odd and unsatisfying that just a few major songs are discussed as in-depth illustrations, leaving out quite a few famous hits and classics along the way. It's best recommended to intelligent viewers not yet steeped in Beatles lore, as serious fans are likely to find much of this fairly well-worn territory, though at least Cleave offers a first-hand story of having been at the recording session for "A Hard Day's Night" in the extras section.