It has been over 40 years since the Beatles' infamous break-up. They remain popular as evidenced by the recently re-released albums, a video game, and even a Cirque du Soleil show in Vegas in their honor. They have been the subject of countless documentaries and books. Parting Ways: The Beatles is a forgettable and poorly produced documentary that does nothing to stand above the crowd. In fact, it gets trampled by the multitude of superior documentaries available.
Parting Ways covers the split of the Fab Four and their lives that followed. The documentary begins with perhaps the most famous Beatle, the late John Lennon. It tells the story of how he began pursuing non-Beatles interests in the Plastic Ono Band with Yoko Ono and Eric Clapton among others. It then quickly discusses how John Lennon and Yoko Ono's relationship was one of the root causes of the Beatles' break up and then follows Lennon's solo career and assassination after.
The documentary then moves on to Paul McCartney, beginning with his notorious "It's a drag, isn't it" comment when asked about Lennon's death hours after it occurred. It then outlines McCartney's career as a solo artist, giving surprisingly minimal coverage of his time with Wings. It also covers his personal life with Linda Eastman, her battle with cancer, and then McCartney's relationship with model, Heather Mills.
The notoriously media shy, George Harrison, is given a good deal of coverage. His solo career, noted to be far less successful than Lennon and McCartney's, is given fair treatment. The documentary mentions all of Harrison's solo albums including, Brainwashed, which he worked on with his son, Dhani. As with all the Beatles, the writers spend a great deal of time detailing Harrison's love interests Patti Boyd and Olivia Harrison.
In the final segment Parting Ways covers Ringo Starr. While Starr never came close to achieving the solo success of the others, he collaborated with all three former Beatles on their solo projects. Finally, the feature makes sure to include recent footage of Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney's promotion of Beatles: Rockband and their Cirque du Soleil show, Love.
Parting Ways: The Beatles does not cover any new material for Beatles fans. Most of these topics have been thoroughly discussed in countless other Beatles documentaries and books. It glosses over most of the facts, giving only a bird's eye view of the Beatles break up, their solo careers and personal lives that followed. A few topics that are briefly introduced grab your attention, such as John and Yoko's temporary separation, Lennon's time with May Pang, and Paul McCartney's career with Wings. Unfortunately, Parting Ways just mentions a few straightforward facts and moves on rather than offering up some depth on the juicy details.
The feature splits its 51 minute runtime fairly amongst each of the Fab Four. It's easy to fall into the trap of focusing on John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Even though George Harrison and Ringo Starr did not match the solo successes of the other two, the producers spent nearly half of the documentary covering their post-Beatles lives.
I have seen high quality documentaries such as Imagine: John Lennon and The Beatles Anthology multiple times and will watch them again many more times. The facts presented in Parting Ways are, for the most part, well known and mere bullet points of the actual details. While I know most of the information in the documentary, I usually never get tired of hearing it. However, even with a 51 minute runtime, Parting Ways could have dived into the details a little further and made it interesting. Also, they could have gotten someone a little more excited to be doing a documentary about the Beatles. The narrator, Peter Kent, is about as charismatic as a local news traffic reporter. It's an incredible feat to take a subject near and dear to my heart, The Beatles, and make it dull. It's the freaking Beatles, man, and you're getting paid to talk about them! Life is good, Peter Kent. Live it.
The production quality of Parting Ways is incredibly lacking. Most notable is the horrendous background music. Future producers, take note: you don't go to www.royaltyfreemusic.com to get the soundtrack for a Beatles documentary. It's an act of blasphemy to put generic clap-clap 60's beats in the background of feature about the band that was "more popular than Jesus." It's laughably pathetic to hear the narrator talk about John Lennon releasing his greatest single, Imagine, and then playing some nondescript, vaguely-similar-to-Imagine tune in the background. Seriously, you're better off just keeping it silent.
Audio: The audio is 2.0 stereo and, for the most part, it is variable depending on the source material. The overall volume is low; I had to crank up my receiver to hear it. The voices tend to be a little distorted with static. A dull narrator and the atrocious music round out the unforgivably poor audio track on this Beatles documentary.
Video: The documentary and special features are presented in non-anamorphic 4:3 aspect ratio. There is a lot of archival footage from news reels and older interviews used in the feature, so the quality is highly variable. There is a lot of film grain, dust, and specks in many of the clips. There are compression artifacts and line noise present in all the clips, including the newest clips from the Microsoft E3 press conference in 2009. Overall, the video quality is below average.
Extras: The special features include four separate clips that I assume were cut from the 51 minute documentary. The four clips cover three personalities close to the Beatles, Stella McCartney, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Yoko Ono, and give a brief glimpse at Beatlemania itself. The four clips carry on the Parting Ways tradition of dull narration, neutral, quick-hit fact dropping, and awful music. The clips about Stella and Yogi were more intriguing only because they haven't been covered to the extent that Yoko Ono and Beatlemania have. Still, the facts presented were only enough to whet your appetite for more details.
Final Thoughts: Parting Ways is a subpar Beatles documentary at best. There is nothing new in the main feature, although the information in the special features on people such as Stella McCartney and Yogi were interesting and at least new to me. The production quality is highly lacking, but in the documentary's defense, it stays focused on the topic at hand: the Beatles' careers during and after their infamous split. There's nothing here about the Fab Four that any Beatlemaniac doesn't already know and new Beatles fans will be frustrated by the lack of depth. Rent It.