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There's no doubt in my mind that 'Backbeat' is the best movie ever made
about the Beatles. Dare I utter such blasphemy-- it may even be better
'A Hard Day's Night!'
Director Iain Softley (his first film!) and his co-writers chose a period and a time that have always held a lot of romance for the group's fans, their trial-by-fire apprenticeship in the seedy nightclubs of Hamburg, Germany c. 1960. This was the crucible in which the band was transformed from noisy amateurs to professionals ready to take on- and change- the world. The focus is on two young friends from Liverpool, John Lennon (Ian Hart) and Stuart Sutcliffe (Stephen Dorff). (As a critic once noted, dead men don't file lawsuits.) Stuart is a sensitive lad with a great talent for painting. John is a cynic with a very large chip on his shoulder. He may be sensitive and intellectual, too, but he'd rather die than admit that to anyone. His artistic passion is expressed in the rock & roll music he's driven to play. Stu likes the image more than the music, so he buys a bass guitar, turns his back on a promising art career and joins the band. The fact that he can barely play his instrument is not lost on bandmate Paul McCartney (Gary Bakewell.)
Playing a backbreaking schedule in Hamburg they meet up with two young Germans who become important in their lives- Klaus Voorman (Kai Wiesinger) and especially Astrid Kirchherr (Sheryl Lee), two "exi's", sort of latter-day beatniks or early hippies. Stu and Astrid fall in love and John is both irritated and fascinated by her. Soon Stu has to choose between his love for Astrid and painting and his deep emotional ties to John and the band.
The actors portraying the most well-known characters (Hart, Bakewell and Chris O'Neill as George Harrison) all bear striking resemblances to their look in the early '60's. But this movie not only gets the style right, but the substance as well. Paul McCartney has said it was full of inaccuracies (like John singing "Long Tall Sally," always Paul's number) but as an avid Beatles fan since 1964 my view is that it's a very honest portrayal. Ian Hart shines in his evocation of the complicated personality and tortured soul of John Lennon. He practically looks like a twin of John's son Julian. Sheryl Lee also stands out as the super-cool Astrid in a restrained but powerful performance. The musical performances are fine, too, done by a band including Mike Mills of R.E.M. No Beatle originals are used in the movie but that's OK because at the time they were mostly playing powerful cover versions of American rock and soul. In fact the "B word" is not seen or uttered except once, just before the film's conclusion.
This movie is a triumph for all involved and even though it's not "official" it will only add to the great legacy left by the Beatles.
Finally we see the side to the Beatles that no one really knew - what happened before and what they were before. Stephen Dorff gives off another simply brilliant performance as Stuart - the man who could have been but never cared enough he was "Just along for a few laughs". Being a Beatles fan I've always been interested in their personal lives and this movie gets more personal than any documentary or news reel could. As to how true the events are I'm not sure but it was a definitely enjoyable movie.
This is a film above all about the triangular relationship between John
Lennon, Stuart Sutcliffe, and Astrid Kirchherr (four-sided if you
include Astrid's boyfriend Klaus Voormann, five-sided if you include
the band John and Stu were members of: the Beatles) -- a film about
real events, about love and life and tragedy -- played out to a
backdrop of the Beatles' visits to Hamburg and their performances
Based primarily on interviews with Stuart's mother and sister and with Astrid Kirchherr, it's been often criticised as a 'crude caricature', for its factual inaccuracies about the Beatles' time in Hamburg, about the musical performances portrayed, for the one-dimensional portrayal of the "minor" characters, including Paul, George, Pete and John's girlfriend Cynthia, and even for the fact that the actors aren't exact doppelgangers for the characters they portray (they're pretty good likenesses, though).
I can accept all these criticisms, but somewhat to my surprise they didn't spoil the film at all for me. If you want detailed accuracy about the Beatles, this is not for you. Read the books. But if you want to see a film which tells a good story well, and which will give you a real feel for the vibes of the time and for the characters it claims to portray, and an insight into one important aspect of the early history of the Beatles, I think you will enjoy this. I thought I wouldn't, but I did. And I will watch it again. And, did I say? it's about the Beatles.
This is not a biopic, nor does it pretend to be, but it does claim to tell the story of Stu and Astrid, and I thought it did that very well. I don't object at all to the use of some artistic licence, such as Astrid's excellent English. Contrary to some other reviewers, I found the portrayal of the quiet, enigmatic Stu by Stephen Dorff quite excellent, a perfect foil to the bitter, sometimes thoughtful, and wholly charismatic John Lennon, portrayed just as well by Ian Hart.
I first heard the Beatles just before their first British record "Love Me Do" became a minor hit in Autumn 1962. This film portrays events mostly more than a year before then, and even longer before their last stint in Hamburg, at the Star-Club in December 1962, the subject of a famous amateur recording. Apart from the Polydor recordings by Bert Kampfaert, we have little to judge objectively what the band sounded like in 1960-61, but judging from the 1962 live recordings, and the comments of those who heard them before they were famous, I'm quite prepared to believe the Beatles sounded then very much like the band used for the soundtrack to this film. OK, the band aren't the Beatles, and some of the details are a bit askew, but the rock-and-roll standards portrayed were all part of the Beatles' act, and are performed much as they performed them. Everyone tells how Stu Sutcliffe often played turning away from the audience, as often seen in the film. It's hardly a realistic portrayal of the Hamburg clubs on the Reeperbahn in the early 1960s, but I've seen worse, and if you have little idea what life was like for the band before 1962, this will not be a bad introduction.
Comparisons with "A Hard Day's Night" are ingenuous: that was a film made by the Beatles early in 1964 after they were famous (in Britain at least); this is a film about the band when they were teenagers, before pretty much anyone knew them outside Liverpool and Hamburg. Not the same at all. And of course, they didn't sound back then like the Beatles' later recordings, or even like they did on their tours of the US and elsewhere. Perhaps the only recording you can really compare is their first album "Please Please Me" (and the live Star-Club recording, if you have it).
It's a film, for goodness' sake. I enjoyed it as one, and I hope you do too. The characters rang true, especially Ian Hart as John Lennon, and the story is well worth telling, and well worth watching. And, did I say? it's about the Beatles.
This is an excellent depiction of the Beatles ' Hamburg days .But the
movie real heroes are actually Sutcliffe,Lennon and Astrid.The movie
was made some years after Goldman's infamous book and there are hints
at an homosexual relation between John and Stu ("you're jealous of
me!"Astrid would have said to John!) but the director does not insist
and he finally depicts a true friendship.He pits Stu's down-to-earth
world against Astrid's chic elitist intellectual one : they go to the
pictures to see Melville's "Les enfants terribles" (actually a Cocteau
story),and she seems to be very fond of the French
culture:Cocteau,Sartre ,Edith Piaf ,Rimbaud,;and she was ahead of her
time since fifteen years later,rock singer Patti Smith had the same
idols.The scenarists also sketch a parallel between the Klaus
Voorman/Astrid relationship and "les enfants terribles" Ian Hart is an
excellent John Lennon,in turn
cynical,violent,delicate,nasty,hateful;Gary Bakewell resembles Paul,but
he is not given a single moment to shine ;as for Georges ,he is
completely insignificant.The music is very exciting .Even when Stu
(Dorff) sings his ditty in a gleeful croak ,it's rock and roll ! At the
end of the movie,the dialog begins to ring false.Everybody acts as if
the Beatles were to become huge ;at the time ,who could have predicted
such a career?It's a rebuilding of history a posteriori.And if the
final lines about Astrid,Stu and Klaus are useful,those about the
Beatles are overkill:everybody knows that they were the biggest group
of all time.
A must for Beatles' fans anyway.
Softley's 'Backbeat' is my favorite movie I've ever seen. I'm a huge Beatles fan and I've watched many biographical films about The Fab Four like 'Birth of Beatles' for example, and I must admit that this production from 1993 is the best of them all. This picture shows us the Hamburg's episode (early 60s) of Beatles career and it concentrates on relationship between John Lennon (fantastic play by Ian Hart) and Stuart Sutcliffe (aka The Lost Beatle). Lots of laughs, lots of tears and above all - great music ! A must seen for Beatles fans.
I think that it's especially appropriate that "Backbeat" was released
right after the 30th anniversary of the Beatles coming to America:
everyone was remembering them, and then a really good movie shows their
early days. Specifically, it focuses on when they went to Hamburg and
met artsy photographer Astrid Kirchherr. I should identify that this
movie is for mature audiences only: aside from the language and sex, it
shows how John, Paul, George, Pete, and Stu got addicted to speed so
that they could keep playing; as a result, they got little sleep and
their eyes got all glassy as they laid awake.
A really effective scene is right after Stu leaves the Beatles. Hoping to devote his life to art, he goes out and gets all drunk. Around this time, East Germany's government erects the Berlin Wall. Watching it on TV, Astrid and Klaus hold hands to be supportive of each other. When Stu sees this, he gets all violent. This scene - possibly more than any other in the movie - shows his mental breakdown.
All in all, a great movie. We also see that they first met Ringo in Hamburg. I'm sure that we'll all be remembering "Backbeat" for years to come. Rock on, lads!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As a huge Beatles fan this movie was actually much better than i had expected. Not sure how accurate all the smaller details were but it seemed to capture the raw energy of the early Beatles years and depicted very well just how unpleasant much of the that time must have been - a far cry from the sterile manufactured pop industry today. I really enjoyed the dialogue, interaction between the characters and the music even though there was no room for a genuine Beatles number. Whilst a massive Beatles fan generally in particular I am a massive fan and have huge respect for John Lennon as probably the greatest popular musician of all time. When you bear in mind his childhood and family background it should come as no surprise that he was such a tortured soul and, as one of the other comments puts it "had such a chip on his shoulder". We are just lucky that this manifested itself in his incredible writing and soulful singing (surely he has the most underrated voice ever - just listen to Mr Moonlight (Beatles for Sale)or it's only love if (help) you don't agree). My overriding thought at the end of this movie was just how close Stuart Sutcliffe and Lennon were and thus what a massive impact his death must have had on him. Very sad but generally an enjoyable uplifting movie. A must for all Beatles fans and pretty good entertainment for anyone else.
I really enjoyed this film, I do however doubt that i would have enjoyed
as much if it hadn't been for the absoloutely storming soundtrack made up
Fifties covers which you believe would have been played by the Beatles at
that stage in their careers. Add to that the fact that the Band used to
create the sound of the Beatles consisted of some of the leading
of the 90's. They bring their own interpretation to the music just as you
believe the Beatles would have done, The only exception to this is the
beat which tends to sound more like the 90's than the 60's that being
it does make it more accessable to a contemporary audience.
Now as for the actual film itself, It was built on an interesting story about Stuart Sutcliffe, John Lennons best friend, Choosing between music and Art, the latter enevitably wins out with the help of Astrid. Much of the story is of a Tug Of war between John lennon trying to keep him involved in the music and Astrid who sees his artistic potential. It's a story that has been played over and over again but is refreshed in the context of surrounding characters that you feel you already know.
The Characteristically funny Lennon, Business like McCartney, Shy Harrison all come across very comfortably. But they are merely bit characters as this film is more about the choices of sutcliffe than it is about the fab four.
I won't attempt to cover the detail that so many others have simply to
add. Sheryl plays Astrid very well, she implies the flavour of those
early days of popular music very much in the raw. Not musically perfect
or electronically sanitised but real thumping music for kids which they
(and I was of that time albeit a little younger than the characters)
loved. Remember there had been nothing like it before. Even Elvis's
influence lacked the raw dark, smoky, sweaty feel of Hamburg, the
Cavern Club and many venues that have disappeared from history.
Astrid's art work through pictures captured the early feel of the
Beatles and their lives/times like no other. When you look at those
photos you can almost touch that slightly dangerous era.
The various films about the Beatles early years all contribute varying flavours of that time without individually capturing the whole and I would recommend Beatles/film buffs to look up and watch all versions.
Most of all the individuals.John was THE leader. Paul the workaholic perfectionist. George dedicated to improving his art while not taking any of it too seriously. Stuart doing his best for his friend John but inevitably his destiny (sadly abbreviated) was art. Pete was only transitional and Ringo who had already performed with them became an important factor. Tony Sheridan and others in Hamburg made important contributions and Brian Epstien was the final and very important cog.
Enjoy all of the films.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I really enjoyed this film, but I just had a little trouble with the music. It was truly terrific, but Dave Pirner sounds nothing like Paul McCartney by any stretch of the imagination, nor does Greg Dulli sound anything remotely like John Lennon. I thought it was great that they used such well-known and talented musicians as Thurston Moore and Dave Grohl, but couldn't they have found somebody that sounded a little bit more like Lennon and McCartney? Ok, enough about that. I didn't know the whole story about Stuart Sutcliffe, and I had no idea that *SPOILER* he died. That was awful. But I really enjoyed learning more about one of my favorite bands, especially since I completely missed out on their heyday. (John Lennon died about six months before I was born! Oh, the agony!) I really didn't know much about the early days of the band, so this movie was very informative. I thought all the actors looked incredibly like their real-life counterparts. I had already see Ian Hart portray Lennon in The Hours and the Times, so I knew his characterization of Lennon was awesome, and made me enjoy his performance in Backbeat all the more. I highly recommend this film to all Beatles fans and anyone interested in rock 'n' roll history.
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