Since I wasn't around during "Beatlemania Sweeps America!" some forty-five years ago, I've remained relatively aloof in regards to the band's earlier years. Before the final line-up of John, Paul, George and Ringo, fans of The Beatles may also recall the names of Pete Best and Stuart Sutcliffe (among others): the former was the original drummer, fired from the band and replaced by Ringo; the latter was the original bassist who died of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 21. Sutcliffe left the group under his own power shortly before then, choosing a promising art career and the love of his fiancée, Astrid Kirchherr, over a spot in the now-legendary band. It's been debated that not only was Sutcliffe credited for naming the band, but also for influencing their early "look" with a mop-top haircut given to him by Kirchherr.
His good looks and charismatic presence were what drew a young John Lennon to him, some three years earlier at the Liverpool College of Art. After a sale of one of Sutcliffe's paintings earned him enough money to buy a bass guitar, he was officially "in the club". Though critics of Sutcliffe often downplay his musical talent, Lennon always thought him to be a valuable member---if not for his looks and style alone. Either way, the early years of The Beatles (also known as "The Quarry Men", "Johnny & The Moondogs" and "The Silver Beetles") were spent in close quarters with one another in questionable neighborhoods, laced with drug addiction to keep them awake during gigs. During a period spent in Hamburg, Germany, Sutcliffe first met Kirchherr, where the pair mutually grew close almost immediately. Eventually, his love for art and the young woman led him away from music.
It's no surprise that his subsequent death remains the focal point of Stuart Sutcliffe: The Lost Beatle (2005), a made-for-TV documentary featuring interviews with Kirchherr and several other friends and loved ones. His relationship with The Beatles is obviously near the forefront as well, as are a number of questions surrounding his life and death. His sister, Pauline Sutcliffe, hints at a fight with Lennon that resulted in a head injury that could've led to Stuart's later health problems. Other participants also suggest a more intimate relationship between the two young Beatles, but it's hardly a trashy tell-all. More than anything, The Lost Beatle offers a poignant look at a talented young man and the choices he made during his lifetime; thankfully, it's more "what was" than "what could have been".
For the bulk of its 60-minute running time, The Lost Beatle does a fine job of walking the line between objective account and subjective tribute. The first segment starts a bit slowly as we get caught up with The Beatles' earlier years in Hamburg, though the documentary eventually blossoms into a more fitting portrait of a young man torn between different career paths. It's also interesting to hear a few of Sutcliffe's personal words---read aloud by a narrator in the third person, of course---though these breaks in the action get a bit too frequent by the feature's end. All things considered, it's a potent blend of insight from a number of close friends and objective witnesses---and for that alone, The Lost Beatle is an interesting piece that fans of The Beatles (and music history) should enjoy. Though earlier dramatizations of the same subject---such as Backbeat (1994), for example---paint a passionate enough picture, what we have here is a more grounded work that seems all the more genuine in execution.
Presented on DVD by Kultur, The Lost Beatle is a relatively light release that is, nonetheless, worth looking into. Though the bonus features are a bit thin---especially considering the main feature's brief running time---it's still a fine release that benefits from a quality technical presentation. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Presented in its original 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio, The Lost Beatle looks quite good from start to finish. The newer interview footage obviously appears cleaner and sharper than the vintage material, but this is still a fairly balanced presentation. Several instances of digital combing can be seen during the main feature, which creates a small amount of ghosting and blurring during scenes of action. The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix is basic but serviceable, offering clear dialogue and music throughout. Unfortunately, no optional subtitles or Closed Captions are offered during the main feature, making a few of the thicker British and German accents a bit hard to follow.
Though it's a light release, The Lost Beatle is a well-crafted documentary that fans should enjoy. With an equal emphasis on Sutcliffe's love for art, his fiancée and a certain rock band, it's an interesting portrait of a promising young life cut short by tragedy. Though fans of The Beatles may already be familiar with Sutcliffe's legacy, the retrospective comments by his friends and loved ones make this one worth watching. It's worth a rental at the least, but those who enjoy passionate documentaries should add The Lost Beatle to their permanent collections. Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.