Everyone has some kind of celebrity story. And even if you don't, in this six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon world, you probably know somebody that does. And when it comes to one of the most important bands of all time, who not only touched the world of music, but film, art, politics and social change as well, it's no surprise that the reach of The Beatles stretches far and wide. And so one man with a camera, and passion for the band hit the road (and his Rolodex) and set out to document as many stories about the Fab Four as he could, and Seth Swirsky's "Beatles Stories" does just that. This breezy, no-frills documentary sets out to do exactly what it intends to, both for better or for worse, with a project that while rarely illuminating, will probably be a delight for diehard Beatles heads.
The most immediate question with "Beatles Stories" is how on Earth Swirsky managed to corral a group of people ranging from Jon Voight to Ben Kingsley to Smokey Robinson to Brian Wilson. While he attempts to present himself as a humble Beatles superfan, with a lifelong love for the band, the truth is that Swirsky is a very successful songwriter, penning tunes for Al Green, Rufus Wainwright, Celine Dion, The Four Tops and more. Of course, we had to look up this information after, and perhaps including it in the film would've made it seem a bit more like a vanity project, but without it, "Beatles Stories" can be a bit puzzling as you wonder how this guy manages to reach some of the talent that he does. But knowing his background, it becomes easily understood.
So what do we learn about the Beatles that we didn't know beforehand through these stories? Nothing particularly substantial, but if anything, these tales do surprise from time to time. For example, did you know that Beatles manager Brian Epstein once produced a stage musical written by and starring Ben Kingsley? Well, now you do. There is also a particularly charming story about the genesis of George Harrison's "Apple Scruffs" from All Things Must Pass, and the special letter he wrote to some very devoted fans. Friend, musician and artist Klaus Voormann shares how his presentaton of the Revolver cover went, while it's pretty interesting to hear Brian Wilson's thoughts on Rubber Soul (and same goes for Ray Manzarek, but for different reasons). Meanwhile, folks will be shocked to learn from John Lennon's former assistant Fred Seaman, that the "Imagine" songwriter was a supporter of Ronald Reagan. And the story of famed producer Sir George Martin attending a concert by a Beatles tribute act has to be heard to be believed.
But some of the stories leave you wondering why they were included at all. Jon Voight's tale about almost meeting Lennon is puzzling, while Bob Eubanks' story about the boys making sure he had everything he needed for a concert he was promoting for them, mostly just amounts to confirming they were nice guys when they wanted to be. And falling into the same category of fluff is Bernie Williams' tale of meeting Paul McCartney, who is apparently a big Yankees fan. While the format of the movie presents one story after another, interview style, in segments that are rarely more than a few minutes long, they do seem like needless padding and leave you wondering if Swirsky really couldn't find more weighty anecdotes out there.
But ultimately, "Beatles Stories" lives up to its to title, and it's hard to knock a movie this modest, that is clearly coming from a sincere place. Running under 90 minutes long, it goes by in a flash, and there is bound to be at least a handful of tales that any viewer will offer a previously unknown window into the Beatles. While hardly essential, for those Beatles fans who think they know everything about the band possible, "Beatles Stories" might just have a couple more morsels about Paul, John, George and Ringo that you didn't already know. [B]
"Beatles Stories" is now available on DVD.