Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Backbeat (1995)

A Film Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005

In today's image-dominated world many celebrities found immortality through early death. James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, John F. Kennedy, Che Guevara and John Lennon are just some of the examples - people who became deities because, rather than in spite of their early demise. Sometimes that phenomenon can benefit people by mere accident. One of such tales is a BACKBEAT, 1995 biographical drama directed by Iain Softley.

The plot of the film begins in 1960 Liverpool when young and aspiring painter Stuart Sutcliffe (played by Stephen Dorff) happens to be the best friend of an aspiring rock and roll musician John Lennon (played by Ian Hart). Sutcliffe buys bass guitar and joins Lennon and the rest of the band called Beatles when they travel to Hamburg in order to perform in seedy clubs of Hamburg. The life is hard but fun, but Sutcliffe begins to have doubts about being in the band, especially after encounter with group of German beatniks that includes photographer Astrid Kirchher (played by Sheryl Lee). Sutcliffe falls in love with her and although she helps Beatles in developing their look, other band members, especially Paul McCartney (played by Gary Bakewell) use that affair as an argument to eject Sutcliffe from band. While Lennon tries to stand behind his best friend, Sutcliffe gradually decides to turn to painting rather than rock and roll music.

While the story of the "fifth Beatle" might not be of much interest to the Beatles fans, it is nevertheless a very good excuse for Softley to reconstruct the early years of the world's best known rock and roll band. The casting is somewhat unusual - American actors Stephen Dorff and Sheryl Lee play English and German character, respectively - but very effective. Ian Hart, a native of Liverpool, is very convincing in the role of Lennon. The other period details - clothes and scenery - are also in the film, despite the relatively low budget. The biggest problem for BACKBEAT is the simplistic plot which just happens to end when the other, more important, story was only about to begin. But the ending of this solid, and for the most part, fascinating reconstruction of the rock history only points to the tragic irony of immortality being achieved through early death.

RATING: 6/10 (++)


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