YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Retro : A Trip Down Penny Lane


The director of "The Beatles Anthology" describes the six-hour documentary, premiering Sunday on ABC, as a celebration of the legendary '60s rock 'n' roll band.

"You could make it a hard-hitting documentary," says director Geoff Wonfor. "Some of it is hard. There are big truths told, but in the main it's a celebration of their lives and their music. It's the greatest story ever told--in rock 'n' roll terms."

The Fab Four--John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison--tell their story in their own words. The documentary blends exclusive interviews with the band, home movies, performance clips, classic news footage, rare recordings and film outtakes. Also featured are the previously unreleased "reunion" songs, "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love," on which Harrison, McCartney and Starr added their voices, instrumentation and arrangements to recordings made by Lennon before his 1980 murder.

Anticipation among the legions of Beatles fans for the documentary and "The Beatles Anthology Vol. 1" CD set being released Tuesday almost parallels the frenzy of the first Beatles' invasion 31 years ago. The group, which broke up 25 years ago, also has been the subject of recent cover stories in Newsweek, Life and The Times' Sunday Calendar.

"It's unbelievably similar to other times," says Derek Taylor, a former journalist who accompanied the Beatles on their 1964 world tour and was press officer at the Beatles' Apple Corps from 1968 to 1970. "There is an enormous groundswell. I was around then and I'm still here, so it definitely has taken off. It's a genuine second wave."

"It just plain deserves this much attention," says Ted Harbert, president of ABC Entertainment. "It's certainly the most special thing I have been lucky enough to be associated with. Being able to sit there [in London] in the editing room and look at this performance footage from the '60s and '70s and see footage of these guys when they were teen-agers. It just sends chills up and down your spine. I finally got to hear the new songs. I am not even sure I can talk about that because it was such a special experience."

Taylor believes now is the perfect time for the documentary because the three surviving Beatles are in their 50s and "are perfectly able" to look back "with a bird's-eye view of the years between 1958 and what they set out to do. They left school with very few qualifications, but with a genuine, huge certainty they'd amount to something. They definitely got very, very involved with their kind of music, to the exclusion of any kind of social life that wasn't attached to it. By 1968, they had made 'Sgt. Pepper.' They were the lords of the Earth."

He got involved with the Beatles in 1964 because "they looked like fun. They were very clever and amusing and also extremely demanding. They took a lot out of each other."

Their music, Taylor adds, is what drives the documentary. "A lot of the songs are there in full. The music is remarkably enduring. They do seem to be fulfilling a need, although, God knows, there's plenty of contemporary entertainment, more than enough, isn't there?"

Wonfor has been working on the documentary for 4 1/2 years. "We are sort of bleary-eyed," he says, laughing. "Basically, we could have any footage of anything that had been shot on them. Just the outtakes of the movies--there are something like two-and-a-half thousand cans. Then you had all of the John Lennon tapes to go through."

Though Lennon died nearly 15 years ago, he's very much a part of the documentary. "He was very vocal [in interviews]," Wonfor says. "I hit on the idea of listening to his interviews that were done ... getting all the pertinent questions and answers to any year we were doing [in the documentary] and then pose the exact same question to the other three Beatles, so it looked like the four of them were answering the same questions, which of course they were. So that was a nice technique."

"Anthology" also explains exactly why the Beatles broke up 25 years ago. It wasn't just one person or event, Wonfor says. "It was basically pressure. They were in each other's pockets not from '62 and '63, but when John met Paul" in 1957. "They didn't have any youth at all apart from the Beatles. It had to break. Nobody could take that pressure. If you lived through the programs, you know what they went through. They couldn't go anywhere."

Wonfor says he discovered their favorite moments were when they had some time alone, as when "John and Paul slipped security men and the police and went to a pub around the corner and had a beer and a cigarette. They all have little stories like that"

Among the treasures in the documentary, Wonfor says, are home movies from Beatles archives that have never been seen before, "which is really nice because that's the first time you see them relaxed, just playing around like four lads would. It's lovely to see them on a day off. We got a few outtakes that haven't been seen from 'Let It Be.' As I said before, it's a hell of a story. I think people are going to get a lot out of it."

"The Beatles Anthology" airs Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday at 9 p.m. on ABC.

Los Angeles Times Articles