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Backbeat Movie Review

softley sutcliffe ian dorff

Backbeat begins with stylish titles that capture the pace and feel of the early ‘60s and then cuts to an absolutely perfect girl singer in a club, circa 1960: cute, dressed to the nines in a bright yellow dress and demure hair bow, and singing drekky music slightly off-key. One thing leads to another, and the two young male protagonists are fighting in an alley with a gang of thugs much bigger than they are. One of them sustains severe head injuries, and his ultimate fate is left in no doubt. And somehow, in spite of all that, there's still no sense of Here Comes Beethoven or the lavish costume ball before the Battle of Waterloo, a real tribute to Backbeat's director Iain Softley. Even though we know how the story of the Beatles will end (indeed, books exist which account for nearly every day of the group's entire career), Softley wisely chooses NOT to be comprehensive. Instead, he tells a short and simple story of how the friendship between Stuart Sutcliffe (Stephen Dorff) and John Lennon (Ian Hart) evolved as the group paid their dues in a string of grimy nightclubs in Hamburg and Liverpool. The other Beatles appear in recognizable sketch form: ambitious Paul McCartney (Gary Bakewell), dweeby George Harrison (Chris O'Neill), laconic Pete Best (Scot Williams), and even Ringo Starr, who didn't become a Beatle until 1962, is represented in a brief cameo. And then there's Astrid Kirchherr (Sheryl Lee), whose “je ne sais effin’ quoi” bewitches Sutcliffe into making a decision he needed to make anyway. Never much of a musician, Sutcliffe left the band to devote more time to his art. His best friend grumbles and grumbles and grumbles about his departure (after all, with whom else can he share an evening with a couple of girls on adjoining bunk beds?) but eventually adjusts. And then, because of Act One, Scene One, the movie is over, except for the overfamiliar epilogue crawl. Still, Softley approaches potentially intimidating material in a fresh and vibrant way. Luckily for today's audiences, he is not a reverent worshipper at a well-tread shrine; he is a fine, evocative storyteller. With the help of charismatic performances from Dorff, Hart, and Lee, Backbeat succeeds in conveying the frantic fun that was crammed into the eight days a week of another time.

1994 (R) 100m/C GB Stephen Dorff, Sheryl Lee, Ian Hart, Gary Bakewell, Chris O'Neill, Scot Williams, Kai Wiesinger, Jennifer Ehle; D: Iain Softley; W: Michael Thomas, Stephen Ward, Iain Softley; C: Ian Wilson; M: Don Was. VHS, LV, Letterbox, Closed Caption

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