Paul McCartney's fascination with the avant-garde is examined in the new DVD “Going Underground: Paul McCartney, The Beatles and The UK Counter Culture,” (also available on Amazon.co.uk) which hits the streets Oct. 1 in the U.S. And it's too bad this 2 ½ hour film is so thin on information.
For one, it's not just about Paul McCartney, John Lennon and the Beatles. A healthy chunk of the film discusses the Syd Barrett-led Pink Floyd and the Soft Machine and tries to draw a connection to McCartney and the Beatles. The connection, however, is thin. The film gives no evidence of any collaborations between the groups, just their shared interest in the underground scene.
The DVD, however, does have interviews with some of the figures from those days and authors weighing in on the significance of the period, notably McCartney friend Barry Miles, author of the McCartney biography “Many Years From Now” and John Dunbar, founder of the Indica Bookstore and Gallery where McCartney hung out and where John Lennon first met Yoko Ono. (Dunbar was also married to Marianne Faithful before she hooked up with Mick Jagger.)
Also on the discussion panel on the DVD are Joe Boyd (who has a portrait of John Lennon hanging in the background), producer of Pink Floyd and founder of the UFO Club; Robert Wyatt of the Soft Machine; Chris Ingham, author of “The Rough Guide to the Beatles”; Jonathan Greene, author of “Days in the Life: Voices from the English Underground 1961-71”; Eddie Prevost, drummer with avant-garde group AMM; John “Hoppy” Hopkins, the founder of the International Times counter-culture newspaper and Mick Farren, journalist with the International Times and vocalist with the Deviants.
But you won't find any new or unseen interview footage with the Beatles. Paul McCartney is seen in archival footage that's been used elsewhere many times before, including the BBC interview in which he admitted taking LSD.
The DVD does touch on the Beatles' fascination with avant-garde music, including “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Revolution No. 9.” The most interesting scene, though, is when Barry Miles actually talks for several minutes about hearing “Carnival of Light,” the legendary experimental sound collage created by McCartney and the Beatles in 1967 for an avant-garde happening and not heard or released anywhere since.
“It lasts for about 17 minutes, I think,” he says. “It was really a lot of echo. There was people banging and shouting … and you can sometimes hear Ringo's voice or John or somebody shouting.
“But again, …. there's no melody. There is no rhythm. There is no hooks, nothing that would want to make you play it again, quite honestly.”
Miles does say he thinks they should release it. “It's a fascinating piece of Beatles history that no one has heard.”
As it turns out, just as the film really does start to get a little deeper into the Beatles question, it ends. “Going Underground” isn't an awful film, but the biggest problem is that it's weighed down with more opinion than revelations. On the good side, it comes from the same people who brought you the very interesting and scholarly “Composing the Beatles” series.
But can you really talk about the Beatles' underground scene for 2½ hours with so few comments by the Beatles themselves and do it well?
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