Universal Home Video
Cast: Stephen Dorff, Sheryl Lee
Extras: Featurettes, Interviews, Deleted Scenes, Casting Session, Director’s Essay, Photo Gallery and more
’Backbeat ’ is a movie about Stu Sutcliffe who could have been in ’The Beatles.’ As every fan of the Fab Four knows, of course, that Stu Sutcliffe has always been referred to as the fifth Beatle and director/write Ian Softley decided to make a film about Stu the part he played in the early days of the Beatles.
It chronicles the close friendship between Stu (Stephen Dorff) and John Lennon (Ian Hart) as they try to escape the poverty of Liverpool and travel to Germany with their band to play in filthy night clubs on Hamburg’s Reeperbahn. For John, Paul McCartney (Gary Bakewell) and George Harrison (Chris O’Neill) the experience is a thrill ride without comparison and they flourish at the chance to grow the band’s reputation and repertoire. Stu on the other hand is an artist at heart and when he meets Astrid Kirchherr (Sheryl Lee) he quickly integrates with her clique, a group of weird artsy pseudo-intellectuals on Speed. As his relationship with Astrid evolves he is removing himself more and more from the band and becomes detrimental to their efforts. Eventually he has to make a decision whether he would like to become a painter or a musician.
One of the things that are immediately striking about ’Backbeat’ is the flair of authenticity it emanates. Starting with a cast that looks very much like the real deal, locales that also look and feel like the real Reeperbahn at the time, and music that is raw and energetic, the film firmly establishes itself as a serious tribute to the subject matter.
Universal is presenting the movie in its original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio in a transfer that is enhanced for 16×9 TV sets. The picture is clean and free of blemishes or defects. Colors are strong with vibrant hues and very good shadow delineation. No bleeding is evident and highlights are balanced and clear. Slight edge-enhancement is evident in a couple of shots but it is not distracting for the most part. The compression is free of artifacts making sure all the image detail and coloring remains intact.
The audio on the DVD comes as a 5.1 channel Dolby Digital track that rocks. It takes a bit of getting used to the mix however, as during live performances, occasionally the mix shifts to focus in on particular players as they take in the frame. Personally I find this approach very distracting and unbalanced – after all my sound field doesn’t drastically change like that when I look from one player to the next in real life either – but it was the filmmaker’s choice to do so and I am in no position to argue. The wide frequency response gives the track a lot of power and manages to recreate a real live flair when the band is playing. Dialogues are well integrated and always understandable.
The DVD also contains a few extras, such as deleted scenes and interviews with the director and actor Ian Hart as they share the experience of revisiting the past for this movie. As a highlight a conversation with Astrid Kirchherr is also included on the disc as she remembers the events of the time and her relationship with Stu Sutclffe. Rounded out by a TV promo featurette, some casting footage and other little extras, the DVD offers a balanced look at the film.
’Backbeat’ is a great music film that tells on of the often-forgotten stories of one of the world’s greatest bands. It is well put together with some cool extras and makes for some great entertainment and memories.