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McCartney film reveals Beatles' impact in Russia

September 18, 2003|Randy Lewis | Times Staff Writer

It might not seem possible at this point for the music of the Beatles to get even more meaningful, but try following Paul McCartney around Russia for a few days.

That's what the makers of "Paul McCartney in Red Square" did for a two-hour special premiering at 9 tonight on A&E. It's a frequently touching, consistently powerful and, now and then, benignly myopic documentary on what the Fab Four meant to the millions who once lived back in the USSR.

The centerpiece of the event is McCartney's concert in Red Square in May, when his "Back in the World" tour brought him to Russia for the first time in his life. Director Mark Haefeli and his crew took the opportunity to go beyond the standard concert film to explore how the songs of the Beatles, and by extension other pop music from the free world, contributed to the collapse of communism.

Among the show's extraordinary moments is a meeting in the Kremlin at which Russian President Vladimir Putin greets McCartney and wife Heather Mills and tells him that hearing the Beatles music as a boy "was like a gulp of freedom." And Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov beaming about the day in 1984 when he was able "to fulfill one of my wishes in life ... when I could buy all the Beatles records." And former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev telling McCartney that "I do believe the music of the Beatles taught the young people of the Soviet Union that there is another life."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday September 20, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 72 words Type of Material: Correction
Armstrong in Russia -- A review of the A&E program "Paul McCartney in Red Square" in Thursday's Calendar Weekend incorrectly stated that Louis Armstrong had performed in the Soviet Union in the 1960s. Armstrong played behind the Iron Curtain in several Eastern Bloc countries, but never appeared in the U.S.S.R., having withdrawn from a State Department-sponsored tour of that nation in 1957 in protest of the Eisenhower administration's policies on school desegregation.

Because the tour was McCartney's, it's probably forgivable that the documentary often creates the impression that the Beatles were Paul and three other guys. And there's a feeling that it was exclusively the four Liverpudlians who brought 70 years of communism to an end. It would have been nice to see some recognition of the seeds of artistic freedom and individual expression planted by the likes of Benny Goodman and Louis Armstrong on their '60s visits to the Soviet Union.

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