The Beatles

The Beatles Anthology [DVD/Video]

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The Beatles Anthology project (ultimately comprising audio, video, and book aspects) initially reached the public during the week of Thanksgiving 1995, with the first of three two-hour television specials broadcast Sunday, November 19, followed by the first of three two-CD sets of outtakes of the group's recordings released Tuesday, November 21. The TV portion continued on Wednesday and concluded on Thanksgiving. The second CD set was released in March 1996, with the third coming in October, while in September the VHS version of this video set was released. (A coffee-table book was published in 2000.) It expanded enormously on the original TV broadcast, which ran six hours including commercials. The home-video version had eight episodes, each running between 71 and 81 minutes, for a total length just short of ten hours, which just about doubled the running time. (The 2003 DVD reissue contains five discs, with two episodes per disc, plus an 81-minute bonus disc containing extra material.) At the longer length, the story is the same, a roughly chronological history of the Beatles from their beginnings in Liverpool, England, to worldwide fame and their breakup at the end of the 1960s. Except for brief newsreel-like recitations, there is no overall narrative, just interviews with the three Beatles then still alive (John Lennon's comments are culled from his numerous press interviews over the years), along with three key associates, Neil Aspinall (who began as their roadie and went on to run their company, Apple), Derek Taylor (their press representative), and George Martin (their record producer). As a video autobiography, the film shares the advantages and disadvantages of autobiographies generally. On the plus side, there is lots of rare footage of the Beatles performing, and of course, their music is used extensively. On the minus side, there are occasional factual errors; there is little historical perspective (for example, there is no discussion at all of the development of the Beatle haircut and its effect on their career and on men's grooming, though this matter is addressed briefly in one of the segments on the bonus DVD); and in telling their own story from their own perspective, the Beatles largely ignore other perspectives. They do not, for instance, ask dismissed drummer Pete Best for his side of the story. Lennon's remarks are characteristically incisive, while Paul McCartney comes off as a charming self-promoter; Ringo Starr is relentlessly sunny for the most part, and George Harrison can be smug and sarcastic. The group's history was well-documented on film, and much of that film has been obtained and used, so the viewer gets a good look at what happened. With ten hours to fill, the story unfolds gradually, with frequent stops for full-length musical segments, excerpts from radio shows, and studio chatter. This is not really the place to start in learning the Beatles' story; frequently, the interviewees provide details on a story they assume viewers already know the gist of, rather than explaining the basic facts. But it is, of course, a treasure trove for Beatle fans, providing large amounts of rare and previously unseen audio and video material on the group. The bonus DVD adds to this particularly by providing extra footage of Harrison, McCartney, and Starr together in 1994-1995, reminiscing and playing some impromptu tunes.