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Review: The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story – What’s all the fuss about?

fifthbeatle-coverWhat is all the fuss about the graphic novel by Vivek J. Tiwary, Andrew C. Robinson and Kyle Baker about Brian Epstein, The Beatles’ manager? This book has been getting a great deal of attention due to the fact that it not only will be made into a feature film by Simon Cowell’s Syco Entertainment, but also a multi-part television series with Sonar Entertainment.

The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story is a visually elaborate re-telling of  Beatles’ history as seen through the perspective of their manager, who many including Paul McCartney have called “The Fifth Beatle.” However, that title is not an exclusive one. Recently, after Beatles’ producer George Martin died, Paul McCartney also deemed him “The Fifth Beatle.”

However, Epstein may deserve the title more since without him, The Beatles may have never made it out of Liverpool. It was Brian who persevered in acquiring The Beatles a record contract in England after repeated rejection. It was Brian who negotiated their debut in America with Capitol Records and Ed Sullivan. It was Brian who encouraged them to clean up their act to be presentable to the public. Brian may have believed in The Beatles more than they themselves did.

To tell the complete history of The Beatles, a graphic novel can be a challenging format. Due to the comic book layout, The Fifth Beatle tells its story through more of a screenplay or storyboard format rather than a traditional book, which explains why it can easily be envisioned for the screen. Unlike other graphic novels, The Fifth Beatle leaves out a narrator. As a result, the characters are required to explain much more through their words than they probably did in actuality.

A key drawback of a biographical film adapted from a book is that it leaves out many important facts and details. In some instances, the film creates new truths to satisfy dramatic effect in order to make the movie more entertaining – what is commonly known as “dramatic license.”

Unfortunately, right off the bat, author Tiwary admits that the truth wasn’t a priority to him in his book in telling Brian Epstein’s story: “Almost everything in the pages you’ve just read actually did happen” Tiwary writes. “But conveying the truth – while important – has never been my primary goal.”

Tiwary’s goal was “to reveal not just the facts but the poetry behind the Brian Epstein story.” He certainly finds inspiration and admiration for Epstein in all the obstacles he faced, not only in promoting The Beatles, but dealing with his closeted homosexuality. But that doesn’t excuse perpetuating detrimental myths back into Beatles’ lore. These “truths” used for drama are harmful to the legacy of The Beatles.

For example, The Fifth Beatle depicts Brian Epstein as purposely buying 10,000 copies of The Beatles first single “Love Me Do” in order to get it higher on the UK charts. Great for dramatic effect, but not so great if you’re into the truth.

Beatles historian and author, Mark Lewisohn, definitively states in his recent book, Tune In: The Beatles: All These Years, Volume 1, that Epstein did not do this and that this nasty rumor “unfairly casts a blight on his integrity.”

As John Lennon stated: “It [Love Me Do] sold so many in Liverpool the first two days — because they were all waiting for us to make it — that the dealers down in London thought there was a fiddle on. ‘That Mr. Epstein feller up there is cheating.’ But he wasn’t.”

Tiwary further implies that Epstein also overbought quantities of “Please Please Me” for his NEMS record shops to help it reach number one. Mark Lewisohn’s research refutes that explaining that “in 1962, it made no difference how many copies a shop sold of any record because the charts weren’t computed that way.”
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Another depiction that is greatly exaggerated is Brian Epstein’s dealings with Elvis Presley’s manager, Colonel Parker. In The Fifth Beatle, the Colonel is depicted as devilish and horribly unfair to Elvis for taking 50 percent of his earnings.
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However, the 50/50 contract, which only applied to side deals, was not signed until 1967, three years after the meeting between Parker and Epstein took place in 1964. The 50/50 split did not apply to all of Presley’s earnings until 1976, a year before Presley died. Another case of dramatic license, and yet the movie hasn’t even been made yet.
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Unlike what is presented in The Fifth Beatle, Colonel Parker was reportedly a big help to Brian Epstein and they got along well. Author Ray Coleman describes Colonel Parker as being generous in his advice to Brian about The Beatles touring in the States.

“Elvis has required every moment of my time, and I think he would have suffered had I signed anyone else,” Parker told Epstein, as recounted in Coleman’s biography of Brian Epstein. “But I admire you, Brian, for doing it… But remember, too, that when Presley soared to fame I was 44. When the Beatles happened, you were 28. That helps.”

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While Tiwary succeeds in passionately giving credit to Epstein for his role in promoting the biggest band of all time, he also raises concern by presenting inaccurate facts in his graphic novel, which may then be carried over into the forthcoming movie and TV series.
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It’s true that many films adapted from nonfiction books sometimes rearrange or embellish the truth in order to get the main message or theme across. However, something so detrimental to Epstein’s reputation as “buying” The Beatles’ popularity should have been researched more thoroughly. Hopefully, the film version will redeem itself by still exuding Epstein’s passion without sacrificing his integrity. — Trina Yannicos
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Note: A special Collector’s Edition of The Fifth Beatle was recently released which includes a unique textured cover and a section of bonus materials with rare Beatles and Brian Epstein memorabilia, artist sketches and alternate covers.
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