Stu Sutcliffe (Dorff), an art-school friend of John Lennon's, played bass with the Beatles in the early days but quickly decided he would be happier being a painter and settling down with his lover, a German photographer named Astrid Kirchherr (Lee). The Beatles, of course, went on to do very nicely without Sutcliffe, who was sensitive-sexy but not especially talented, lie died of a brain hemorrhage at age 21 in 1962. As far as one can tell from BackBeat, which feels like an Afterschool Special tailored to the sensibilities of fanzine readers, his chief influence on the Fab Four would seem to have been the mop top, a variation on a haircut Astrid gave him.
In other words, Backbeat fails to make any sense of this pop-musical footnote. You might as well be watching a film bio of the horse that fell on Cole Porter. Nor does Dorff make much of an impression, oilier than looking androgynously handsome in that haircut. The only surprise comes from the tentatively floated suggestion that Sutcliffe was Lennon's unrequited gay crush. Lennon, at least, is well played by Ian Hart—who, oddly, had the same part in The Hours and Times, a smaller, quieter and altogether superior 1992 film that speculated about Lennon's relationship with manager Brian Epstein. (R)