Picks and Pans Review: The Beatles Anthology
In the 1960s, the lads from Liverpool redefined rock music, pop fashion and what it meant to be young. They made some startlingly good movies too. The Fab Four surely deserve better than this uninspired documentary (continuing Wednesday and Thursday nights), which presents the Beatles' story in their own words, with recollections culled from both new and old taped interviews.
The best anecdotist, believe it or not, is Ringo, especially when he describes how the foursome snuck unscheduled marijuana breaks into the filming of 1965's Help! But only one chapter in their remarkable career—the first delirious blush of Beatlemania in the early 1960s—is presented with panache.
Some of the rare performance footage is a treat, particularly Paul's lilting "Till There Was You" at a 1963 Royal Variety show in front of the Queen and later a piercing version of "Paperback Writer" at the Budokan Theater in Tokyo. But for the most part, the music is poorly showcased. (The special's heavily promoted "new" Beatles songs—two Lennon demos to which the surviving members have added instrumentation and harmonies—were not included in the preview tapes.)
Overall, the Anthology does a merely serviceable job of telling the group's story. A narrator could have lent the film context and shape. Richard Lester's 1964 film A Hard Day's Night still does a far better job of capturing the Beatles' magic spirit.