The "Paul is Dead" story really is one of the better hoaxes of modern times, as evidenced by its longevity (nearly forty-five years and counting). Like many a Beatles fan, I'm still fascinated by the treasure trove of "clues" delivered all those years ago via album covers, song lyrics, and backward masking - so, naturally, I had to see this "documentary" as soon as I heard about it (via a talk radio interview with director Joel Gilbert). Having watched it, I find it somewhat difficult to rate the whole production. In some respects, Paul McCartney Really Is Dead is quite a piece of work, inundating the viewer with a number of thought-provoking claims reinforced by high production values. Fans will, of course, immediately see through all of the many problems inherent in the production - but viewers who know little about the Beatles and nothing about the history of the Paul is Dead myth could very well find themselves wondering - once or twice - if Paul McCartney did actually die in a car crash in 1966. By the end, though, any sense of believability is pretty much gone. Apart from all its larger problems, this video pushes its own cleverness way too far, yielding claims that are thoroughly ludicrous.
Rumors of Paul's death have been around since 1969. For those unfamiliar with the story, here it is in a nutshell. Following a row with John during a late-night recording session in late 1966, Paul stormed out of the studio and sped off into the rainy night in his Austin Healey. Seeing a young woman out in the rain, he stopped and offered her a ride. When she realized she was in a car with Paul McCartney, she went into hysterics, causing Paul to lose control and crash the car. The young lady ("Rita") escaped, but Paul was trapped - and then killed (decapitated, even) when the car exploded. For various reasons, including concern that untold Beatles fans would commit suicide over the news of Paul's tragic death, Lennon, Harrison, and Star decided to cover up the fact and continue the band with a Paul look-alike. Feeling guilty about the whole thing, Lennon decided to give fans a bunch of clues to the truth he could not reveal.
This documentary is built around a tape recording supposedly made by George Harrison following the home invasion knife attack he suffered at the end of 1999. In two microcassettes that mysteriously turned up at Highway 61 Entertainment in the summer of 2005, "Harrison" relates the whole story - in great detail - of Paul's death and replacement by look-alike William Campbell (whom he refers to as Faul, for False Paul), John's obsession with hiding clues to the truth in later album covers and songs, and the risk involved with the whole operation. According to the voice on the tape, an MI5 agent named Maxwell swore the three band mates to secrecy, under penalty of death if they ever revealed the truth. Rita was paid off and given a new identity, William Campbell was brought in and gradually transformed into Paul - via numerous plastic surgeries designed, musical training, speech therapy, etc. - and the band went on to release several more albums, thanks largely to a backlog of song McCartney had written before he died. "Harrison" then goes through all of the clues secretly inserted into their songs and album covers, reveals how he and his mates were threatened and - on one occasion - physically punished by Maxwell and his MI5 goons, describes the fear that overcame then when the Paul is Dead secret got out in 1969, and offers quite an alternative view of post-Beatles history for all concerned.
Rather than simply stick with all of the well-known clues, "Harrison" drops a number of increasingly ridiculous bombs on the listener. He claims that John Lennon was murdered less than two weeks after telling him he was going to come out with the truth about Paul McCartney. He himself was now lying in hospital, recovering from an attempt on his own life by a home invader, after telling "Faul" that he had now decided to come clean, as well. In fact, he says he is recording this "last will and testament" as a means of protecting himself from another MI5-sponsored attempt on his life. He also describes the Beatles' trip to India as an attempt to get help in convincing the dead Paul's spirit to take over the body of "Faul," but even this wild claim can't compare to the revelation regarding Heather Mills - an allegation that, all by itself, makes a mockery of the whole story.
Other problems with the tape abound. First and foremost, the voice doesn't really sound like that of George Harrison. The recording was supposedly made in hospital, but there is none of the ambient noise you would expect from such an environment. Then there's the fact that the speaker has perfect diction, never stumbling over a word or pausing to clear his throat - and what a memory he has, easily going into the smallest details of every single clue the Beatles left along the, details that go back well over thirty years. There are other major goofs, such as a very wrong date for the recording of "Yesterday." It's also pretty amazing that Harrison himself added some of the most obvious of clues to Beatles albums and songs, often during a time he claims to have begged John to stop being so reckless with those very same things.
So, yes, the whole documentary is rubbish mired down by wrong facts and ridiculous claims. That doesn't mean it isn't fascinating or fun to watch, however. After all, we are talking about one of the most fascinating urban legends of the twentieth century. As long as you don't take this documentary seriously, Paul McCartney Really is Dead makes for quite an entertaining spectacle.