Friday, March 26, 2010

One of several Fifth Beatles

A few nights ago I sat down and watched Brian Epstein: Inside The Fifth Beatle (2004), a documentary about The Beatles' very hard-working and consequential manager. At roughly an hour in length, it doesn't explore the various stages of Brian's life in great detail, and much of what it does cover seems like it would be familiar territory for those fairly well-versed in Beatles history. Inside The Fifth Beatle starts with Brian's birth and efficiently moves from there to his young adulthood, noting his stint in the army,* his thespian training, and then his return to Liverpool where he found himself running NEMS, a record store owned by his father Harry. While working there, the documentary continues, he eventually caught wind of The Beatles, took to them, and then maneuvered his way into being their manager. He fulfilled this duty with huge success and oversaw many other acts (who are given scant mention here) until his tragic death in 1967, which was the result of a sleeping pill overdose.

Mixed in with this straightforward narrative is some insightful, firsthand commentary on Brian and the ways that he affected The Beatles. For instance, though it's widely known that Brian enforced strict measures on "the boys" to clean up their presentation - the matching suits, the polished stage etiquette, etc. - , thereby making them much more marketable, I'd never before heard this described as fundamentally transforming the band from a rock act suffused with John's lusty personality to a professional group more in line with Paul's refined sensibilities. Having now heard this point, it seems obvious. But it is a perceptive observation.

I also appreciated that the people interviewed for the documentary - Alistair Taylor, Alan Williams, Sid Bernstein (who could lull you to sleep with his soothingly avuncular manner), and others (though no Beatles) - were permitted to broach the touchier aspects of Brian's life: his homosexuality and how it factored into his relationship with John, his weakness for drugs and gambling, and his insecurities about living outside of the limelight.

These details, coupled with the more loving description of Brian as a good-hearted and genteel "class act" who didn't care for pop music but was tremendously devoted to The Beatles, show him to have been a complex individual who was, in a way, brought down by what he enjoyed most.

Overall: a worthwhile, though incomplete, watch.

* - Why was he kicked out, again? I've come across explanations both PG and salacious.

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