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Review: It was Fifty Years Ago Today! The Beatles: Sgt Pepper and Beyond

It was Fifty Years Ago Today! The Beatles: Sgt Pepper and Beyond is a new documentary film celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album. It serves as a complement to the Making of Sgt. Pepper documentary from 1992 and also the recent PBS documentary, Sgt. Pepper’s Musical Revolution. While those films offer more of a focus on The Beatles’ recording process, It was Fifty Years Ago Today gives a more cultural context to the Sgt Pepper album.

This film was not officially sanctioned by The Beatles, and therefore no Beatles music was included. Instead it offers interviews with many people who were in the Beatles inner circle and also famous Beatle biographers. They all have some great insider stories and details to share.

For example, the documentary features rare interviews with The Beatles’ original drummer Pete Best, John Lennon’s sister Julia Baird, Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein’s secretary Barbara O’Donnell, Steve Diggle of the Buzzcocks, Beatles associate Tony Bramwell, Pattie Boyd’s sister Jenny Boyd, Hunter Davies, Simon Napier-Bell, Ray Connolly, Bill Harry, Philip Norman, Steve Turner, Andy Peebles, Freda Kelly and The Merseybeats.

Another plus is all of the rare historical footage of The Beatles that you don’t often see in “official” documentaries. However, the flow of the film is at times disjointed with one interview popping up in-between two other unrelated segments.

Also, the film title and DVD cover text leads you to believe that the focus is mainly on Sgt. Pepper. The film starts in August 1966 giving the background of why The Beatles stopped touring which led to their unlimited time in the recording studio. However, the film goes on for 2 hours, and covers material way past the release of Sgt Pepper in June 1967 to include the Beatles trip to India in 1968.

In this reviewer’s opinion, the film was about 30-40 minutes too long and all of the information about what happened after the death of Brian Epstein in August 1967 should have been omitted. The fact that it continues through 1968 leaves you to wonder where this “Sgt. Pepper” documentary is headed and wondering when it will end.

With that said, the interviews are very intelligent and interesting. There is also a second DVD of bonus extra footage of extended interviews with a few people featured in the original film. Highlights are the in-depth interviews with former BBC radio host, Andy Peebles, who interviewed John Lennon two days before he died, and Pete Best. Also included is a brief visual tour of Beatle-related sites in Liverpool and London, with a special stop at 34 Montagu Square, which has a special connection to John, Paul and Ringo.

For Beatles fans who like to get their hands on rare footage and interviews of The Beatles, then this DVD is for you. – T.Y.

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