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Strange Fruit: The Beatles' Apple Records

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  • Posted March 8, 2013

    Comprehensive at 2 hrs 42 min yet not enough! Very nice and ve

    Comprehensive at 2 hrs 42 min yet not enough!

    Very nice and very in-depth and long discussion of the Apple years, which is beginning to capture historian's imaginations 40 years on. For decades all the Beatles books ended when they broke up in '69. Quite early on Richard DiLello's "The Longest Cocktail Party" was the only available document about the Apple years/scene (1973) that went rather unrecognized. Lately a couple writers have been delving into the solo years (Doggett's fine (if gossipy) "You Never Give Me You Money" (2010) is the first comprehensive bio of the solo years, after FAQ 2.0 outlined the shape of the '70s decade in anecdotes).

    This docu has a lot of ground to cover and at 2 hours and 42 minutes takes its time telling various nuances of the story in depth but only appears to have access to a limited number of key people. This is not an authorized or official film so naturally the Beatles do not appear - Tony Bramwell of Apple is the only true "insider" who speaks on camera. A handful of Beatle authorities as well as Jackie Lomax, Joey Molland and Ron Griffiths (Badfinger & Iveys) and Gary von Scyoc (Elephant's Memory) make up the vast majority of the interview time as well as numerous clips, music "videos" and newsreel footage. And at that, therefore, there seems to be inordinate time spent first on Lomax's travails, then Iveys/Badfinger releases and history, and then a bit near the end with Lennon in New York and Elephant's Memory and David Peel.

    Don't get me wrong - all of this is great and to have critics (and the players themselves) actually explain what went right - and wrong - with their relationships with Apple, with the Beatles and with the record companies is fascinating stuff and the 2.42 went by for me like a breeze. I actually think the film is too short - if only they had access and footage of for example James Taylor or Mary Hopkins or John Tavener or, imagine it, Yoko Ono or one of those Krishna singers, to explain some of the other aspects of the story, or the outer fringes of the producing arc which is only alluded to in this film.

    The DVD is ultimately limited in its ability to get deep into all of the story. It tells the history from 1968 to 1973 well with the critics who know their stuff and can deconstruct what was going on culturally at the time, but the film must ultimately fall back on Lomax (little more that a flash in the pan, with that basso-boiler warble on "Sour Milk Sea," the only song anyone can remember from him), Badfinger (whose ex-members seem more than willing to talk) and endless clips of Mary Hopkins who hit very big very early but doesn't appear in person to talk. And damn it, clips of Elephant's Memory with Lennon on Mike Douglas (available elsewhere) would have been nice to fill out that segment.

    The film's extensive use of clips is generally effective, using many period-specific segments of almost all the artists mentioned usually in short 10-second snippets (probably for legal reasons, assuming a "limited and appropriate amount" is acceptable for fair use/ journalistic-reporting). We also see many Apple print ads. We see and hear short segments of the Beatles' "Penny Lane" promo film (about 5 minutes in) and the "Hey Jude" performance on David Frost (about 50 minutes in) as well as various newsreel shots of them, including the shots entering Apple offices famously seen in Anthology. The filmmakers affect a slightly off-putting visual affectation - they or the editors have put on "artificial" film scratches and wear over a lot of the older stills and clips - a visual cue that makes us associate the shots with "archival" or "authentic" but is unnecessary and a little overdone. (A slow zoom-in of a record cover should not have film scratching or wear - it's a static shot and not unique rare footage of the cover of a record, is it?) While there is a wealth of rarely seen footage here (including television and concert appearances of the groups) to obscure it slightly with digital effects is a misguided aesthetic decision.

    A word about legal clearance problems with this title: this DVD has apparently been pulled or delayed from some websites (including Amazon) and are only available through secondary sellers because the copyright holders (Apple) feel the music and/or clips have not been cleared. I was able to get this film after the kerfuffle from B&N and it appears intact - reports that some material has been deleted or music replaced are at this time unsubstantiated. All music is original and not dubbed over by "sound-alikes." Note that no Beatles are seen speaking on camera. Newsreel footage from the time in which John and Paul talk about forming Apple would have been ideal and perfect for this film and yet does not appear. This suggests to me the filmmakers were careful to choose what they thought would pass "fair use" muster (basically, news footage and 10-second clips of songs) and did not push past accepted best practices ... although with Apple even a little push may invite the attention of lawyers.

    The running time of 162 (2 hours and 42 minutes) seems to be consistent so any rumored variants would possibly not be shorter, only have music replaced? More information and empirical evidence is needed.

    That said, although epic in length and obsessive in its attention to certain artists (the ones they were able to locate and interview) I would have welcomed another 3 hours of information - about White Trash, Modern Jazz Quartet, Ringo's involvement, Apple Films (never mentioned), Alex Madras (never mentioned), the office itself and/or Derek Taylor and/or Richard DiLello's take on the scene there, the studio... and on and on and so on.

    Enough quibbling. For Beatle and Apple completists this DVD is a must and as I said it was the fastest 3 hours I spent this year watching. Required viewing for those of you who know who you are, and only wanting more is a good thing, right?!

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