Hindustan Times (West UP)

When myth and music make it to the movies

- Get Back, The Beatles: Get Back, Let It Be (Nowhere Boy (Bohemian Rhapsody Beauty Not There Backbeat American 1917 I’m

We do not want to be dictated to by any force. So while we remain an important friend to the US and Europe, they should not preclude us from being friendly to one of our important neighbours,

precisely China

At various points in the documentar­y series The Beatles, also known as the Fab Four, are seen sitting in perfect harmony, wearing their iconic mop-top hairdos and taking on reporters. One reporter asks George Harrison: “George, do you think all this success is a one-night stand?” He responds, “I mean, it can’t go on the way it has been going on.” Another one asks: “Any of you have any ambition left at all?” And he says, “Yeah, I wanna be an astronaut.”

The complexity of the band and the idiosyncra­sies of its members accompanie­d by cryptic lyrics and a flare for countercul­ture only make it a herculean task at hand for director Sam Mendes — to capture the essence of Beatlemani­a in spirit and in cinema. Ever since Sony Pictures announced that Mendes would direct and produce a biopic each on the Fab Four, upping the hopes of fans on the internet and elsewhere, the world of Beatlemani­a has been on the edge.

This is the first attempt at a biopic on each of The Beatles — and the stakes are both commercial and sentimenta­l, the legacy of Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. It comes with consent from the surviving members — McCartney and Starr — and the families of Lennon and Harrison.

Even at the peak of their musical careers in the 1960s, surrounded by the press and fans, The Beatles were eerily familiar with the perils of stardom. Perhaps it was an awareness brought on by the brave new world that individual­ised the band and its members. They dealt with their art, and political and personal lives with the same gusto.

The glory they attained was not a matter of chance for The Beatles. It came with reimaginin­g the individual in a society that thwarted any semblance of it, one that was only loyal towards a collective sense of statehood. It was little after the mid-20th century that The Beatles took over the English rock scene — something they continue to dominate decades later. The band played a role in jolting the UK out of its uppity stupor while invading the music industry in other parts of the world.

the three-part documentar­y TV series directed and produced by Peter Jackson, came out in 2021. Comprising edited versions of 60 hours of film footage and 150 hours of audio, the series — most of which is the making of The Beatles’ 1970 studio album

— acts like a premonitio­n. It is disconcert­ing for a fan to watch the undoing of a heroic band, to witness a tangible hostility between its members.

But unlike a documentar­y, a biopic makes room for explanatio­ns for the hostilitie­s. Just like it makes room for the love and the friendship­s. A biopic is not a product of yesteryear­s in which its protagonis­t flourished but one that is made decades later, influenced by the politics and cultures of the contempora­ry. Biopics seek to canonise the icons they depict in an attempt to uphold a larger sense of unity among the viewers, subsequent­ly reconstruc­ting what is out there as public history. However, for Mendes, the challenge will be to replay and recast some of the same events from the perspectiv­es of four luminaries — to produce a work of cinematic realism shrouded by what is understood as the “Rashomon effect” — one that possibly serves contradict­ing versions of a given incident.

In popular culture, Lennon’s has been the most dramatic life of the four while Starr’s has been the least. Starr is better understood as the most innocuous member of the band even though his personal life was as tumultuous as the others.

Notably, small-scale biopics have been made on Lennon and the band previously

in 2009 and in 1994), but they caused barely a ripple. Biopics on musical legends such as Freddie Mercury

in 2019) were a commercial success because they depicted “safer plots”, as many fans pointed out.

Mendes is a master storytelle­r who uses tools of symbolism and cinematogr­aphy — cases in point are his directoria­l debut

(1999) and his war film (2019). His strength has been the focus on developing characters over advancing his plots, something that may come in handy in the case of The Beatles. In the four films to be made by Mendes, it will be interestin­g to see each main character become a supporting character as the story shifts from one protagonis­t to another. It will also be interestin­g to witness a shift in what might be a layered fandom alongside a shift in a layered stardom. May we recommend Mendes watch Todd Haynes’

for starters?

The views expressed are personal

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