The artist almost known as a Fab
IT’S with a groaning sense of obligation that those of us who came to consciousness on a diet of solid Beatles, especially those who picked up an instrument and learned to play it because of them, will tune in tonight. Groaning because, like the ongoing creative output of what’s left of the group, the law of diminishing returns applies. Every time you see or hear them, there is less satisfaction. Every last gram of flesh has been cut from the corpse. Every word spoken, every song sung, every bed- in, lovein, cash- in and rake- in has been analysed and theorised to within a shard of its existence. We’ve moved on. But what if you could go back to those days when turning every page of something such as Hunter Davies’s 1968 biography The Beatles was a revelation? Would that be seductive enough to make you want to look again? The book hypnotised us with its tales of the group forming as likely lads, of a seemingly mythical Liverpool joint called the Cavern, of George Harrison being deported for being underage from the sex and amphetamine madness of Hamburg and especially of the caravan of lost souls who played for a while or otherwise nearly made it into the band, such as Pete Best, Klaus Voorman and Stu Sutcliffe. This documentary takes you there.
Sutcliffe was more than an occasional fill- in or a drummer ( Best) dumped because he couldn’t drum. He was a kind of male muse for John Lennon in particular and the two were so close in the Hamburg days there were rumours of a physical relationship. Sutcliffe was a gifted painter, torn between that calling and his love of rock ’ n’ roll and being a Beatle. But when he met Astrid Kirchherr, another artist and an influence on the look and style of the band before it was Epstein- ed and anodyned, it was all over.
Sutcliffe’s stunning artworks are in evidence throughout the film. His presence is strong, and this is aided by words from his letters and notebooks read aloud by a Scouse actor.
Sutcliffe died of a cerebral haemorrhage at 22, leaving behind a vast body of art. Kirchherr, the main interviewee in this film, dismisses the rumours that his condition was caused by a vicious kick to the head from Lennon.
‘‘ John would never have raised a hand to Stu,’’ she says, and you can almost believe her.
The Beatles appear only in archival footage, and for that many will be grateful. It’s a journey back in time that eschews the familiar to profile a mystical friendship that might have changed the world.
A match made in Hamburg: Stu Sutcliffe and Astrid Kirchherr