Backbeat [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
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Ian Hart's second performance as John Lennon (the first was the little-seen The Hours and Times) commands attention in this marvellous musical bio of the Beatles in Hamburg directly before their stardom. The focus is on the "5th Beatle" Stuart Sutcliffe (Stephen Dorff), a bluesy bass guitar player who finds Germany has more interesting things (art and a woman) than music. The woman, Astrid (Sheryl Lee), chronicles the early years of the Beatles and shefalls in love with Stuart, a move that would influence many aspects of the Fab Four. Nearly overpowering the film is Hart in a great, energized performance of an artist on fire. The music was adapted for the movie, rediscovering the raw sound and ballistic energy in the back street clubs. These scenes of rock and genius intermixed with a nervy lead singer evoke similarities to Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. Backbeat is directed by Iain Softley. --Doug Thomas --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Ian Hart plays John Lennon (with a grouchy catchphrase, throughout the film, of 'It's all dick') - he's brilliantly cast, as the actor looks so much like the singer! The soundtrack is made up of early Beatles hits ('Rock and Roll Music', 'Twist and Shout', 'Twenty Flight Rock') all originally recorded before the band started writing their own material. The difference here is that the songs are revitalised by 'The Backbeat Band', a one-off combination of grunge / rock artists such as Greg Gulli (Afghan Whigs), Dave Grohl (Nirvana / Foo Fighters) and Mike Mills (REM) and the new versions are all fantastic. Get this video! Stuart Sutcliffe trivia: several of the artist's paintings were recently used as covers for Mansun's "Closed for Business" EPs.
All in all Dorff and Sheryl Lee (who plays Astrid Kirchherr) give a very emotional performance of the passionate but too short relationship of Kirchherr and Sutcliffe. Also featured is the passionate but too short relationship of Sutcliffe and Lennon, you have to remember that Lennon not only lost his best friend when he tragically died but he lost him the day that Stuart and Astrid met. All of the actors in this film play their parts perfectly and even though Chris O'Neill (George Harrison) has probably one of the smallest parts, he has Harrison's accent down to a T and you can feel the vulnerability that the 17 year old George probably felt as he travelled to Hamburg for the first time to play with the big boys (Harrison was the youngest member of The Beatles.)
I would recommend this film to any Beatles fan and hope that they love it as much as I do!
Having read many a biography about Lennon and the Beatles as a band, I had a fair old knowledge about this period in the bands life, but the gaps I had were all to do with Stuart Sutcliffe whom I knew little about, other than his love of art, and his relationship with Astrid.
The film is only 96 minutes long - so you can't expect a true historical account of the `Hamburg period', and this film is mainly concerned with the story of Sutcliffe. It's for those reasons that you more-or-less forgive the exclusion of McCartney and Harrison from the film - they are relegated, it seems, to extras, but here it doesn't matter. This is the largely untold story of the fifth Beatle.
Stephen Dorff does an admirable job as Stuart Sutcliffe, the likeness is uncanny. In fact, during the photo session with Astrid, the Stephen Dorff Sutcliffe looks as identical to the actual Sutcliffe in the real-life photos. Sometimes he struggles with the accent, but it doesn't detract much away from a good performance.
It's Ian Hart though who steals the show. His John Lennon often seems a like a caricature - his lines saturated with witty one liners, but this feels like the concentrated essence of Lennon. The energy he gives lifts the film, without it the feature would seem a bit flat. I've yet to see Ian Hart in a film where he falls anything less than fantastic.
In a nutshell: This is a good film and does a great job of portraying the Beatles before they gained international fame. It would have been nice to have seen McCartney performing the lead vocals (especially for the songs he used to lead on!), but the film successfully tells the story of the man who stepped out of the limelight to follow his love of art, and the love of his life. After watching Ian Hart's high-octane youthful Lennon, the final text epilogue stating that John Lennon was shot dead in 1980 seems ultra poignant. The impact is heightened and you realise that the film was maybe more about Lennon than Sutcliffe for many of the viewers.
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