Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 19, 2010)
In the band’s prime, Beatles fans interpreted everything they did/said/wrote for “deeper meaning”. Along the way, some listeners discovered “clues” that Paul McCartney had died. And thus was arguably the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll urban legend born! It started in 1969 and never really went away. Heck, Macca himself even had fun with the myth when he titled his 1993 concert album/video Paul Is Live.
Despite the utter absurdity of the idea that McCartney could die and be replaced by another left-handed bass player with an identical voice and equal songwriting talent, the rumor won’t vanish. It gets yet another examination in a “documentary” entitled Paul McCartney Really is Dead: The Last Testament of George Harrison. Here’s how the DVD’s case divulges its content:
“In the summer of 2005, a package arrived at the Hollywood offices of Highway 61 Entertainment from London with no return address. Inside were two mini-cassette audio tapes dated December 30, 1999 and labeled THE LAST TESTAMENT OF GEORGE HARRISON. A voice identical to Harrison tells a shocking story: Paul McCartney was killed in a car crash in November of 1966 and replaced with a double! British intelligence, MI5, had forced the Beatles to cover up McCartney’s death to prevent mass suicides of Beatle fans. However, the remaining Beatles tried to signal fans with clues on album covers and in songs.
“Until now, the Paul is Dead mystery that exploded worldwide in 1969 was considered a hoax. However, in this film, George Harrison reveals a secret Beatles history, chronicling McCartney’s fatal accident, the cover up, dozens of unknown clues, and a dangerous cat and mouse game with Maxwell, the Beatles MI5 handler, as John Lennon became increasingly reckless with the secret. Harrison also insists that Lennon was assassinated in 1980 after he threatened to finally expose Paul McCartney as an imposter!
“Highway 61 Entertainment has corroborated most of George Harrison s stunning account of the conspiracy to hide McCartney s tragic death. Harrison s complete audio tapes narrate this film that includes all the newly unearthed evidence. The Last Testament of George Harrison may prove to be the most important document in rock and roll history, leaving little doubt that PAUL MCCARTNEY REALLY IS DEAD!”
Um. Yeah. Okay.
I’m tempted to leave my review at that, as I’m not sure what to make of Really. Two possible interpretations arise:
1) It’s a total farce that intends to parody the “Paul is Dead” myth and poke fun at obsessive Beatles fans;
2) It actually intends to convince us that McCartney died in 1966.
Neither explanation satisfies, though I hope Possibility 1 is accurate. I tend to think it must be the case given the nature of this disaster. Director Joel Gilbert apparently has an MBA from George Washington University and he’s a major Bob Dylan buff. Could someone with that intelligence and that knowledge of rock history produce a “documentary” as inherently flawed and idiotic as this one?
Maybe. After all, Oliver Stone seems to believe all the nonsense he shoved out the door with 1991’s JFK, so it’s entirely possible that Gilbert thinks he’s giving us the hidden truth with Really.
If so, it’s a “hidden truth” built on a mountain of lies. Much of the program’s “credibility” stems from the nature of the audiotapes that give Really its narration. Gilbert claims that he attempted to have them authenticated, but the results were inconclusive.
Heh. Deaf people won’t be fooled by the horrid Harrison impersonator. Heck, that’s probably Gilbert himself doing the voice. Whoever pretends to be George, he can’t even pull off a decent British accent, much less a nice reproduction of Harrison’s tones. Even if you’re willing to invest in the “Paul is Dead” story, you can’t believe anything from the “George Harrison” we hear here.
Of course, that doesn’t even get into the fact that the micro-cassette recordings of “Harrison” sound awfully clean and clear for that format, and it remains befuddling that “George” feels the need to spell out the Beatles’ history in detail. Helpfully, he even makes sure he uses the last names of his bandmates in case we might get confused!
It’s also interesting that “George” has an incredible memory for events but gets the chronology totally wrong. “Harrison” has it right for a while, up through the alleged demise of McCartney in late 1966.
And then he goes into a tailspin. “George” discusses the “clues” found on Rubber Soul and Revolver, both of which came out before Paul’s rumored demise. “George” also discusses Yesterday… and Today as the band’s follow-up to Revolver, even though a) it came out before that album, and b) it was nothing more than a compilation created for US consumption. No Beatle would ever think of it as a regular LP of theirs.
Of course, “George” doesn’t even know that he wrote “Only a Northern Song”, so why expect him to remember the albums he made? Many, many more mistakes in facts and chronology occur along the line, though the stretches in logic prove the most dazzling. I’d enjoy a fairly serious documentary examination of the “Paul is Dead” legend, and if Really took a hard look at the accepted “clues”, it could’ve been an interesting diversion.
Really does bring up the standard “hints”, all of which are presented as fact even though many never made sense. For instance, conspiracy theorists cited the Abbey Road cover license plate that read “28IF” as a clue; they claimed it signified Paul’s death because at the time of the album’s release, he would’ve been “28 if” he’d lived.
Which was inaccurate, as Macca would’ve been 27 when Abbey Road hit the shelves. Of course, nimble theorists came up with poppycock to make sense of the term, something like a claim that some cultures count time in the womb and McCartney would be 28 under those rules. (“Paul is Dead” fanatics could always be counted on to find some obscure explanation for all the “signs”.)
Really doesn’t bother with the fancy footwork, though. It just says “Paul would’ve been 28 at the release of Abbey Road” and leaves it at that. Of course, Really also thinks that the Beatles recorded Abbey Road before they made Let It Be. Sigh.
The most insane parts of Really come from the theories it appears to invent on its own. Granted, I’m no student of “Paul is Dead” lore, so I can’t say for sure that the program’s creators didn’t lift all the “clues” from elsewhere. I know enough about the Beatles to recognize some of them – like “28IF” and whatnot – but there were many outrageous ones that were new to me.
Man, I’d need days to get into all of them. Arguably the craziest one? The notion that during the 1966 drive that would claim his life, he picked up a woman who would later come back to haunt him.
A woman who would turn out to be…
Paul’s second wife, Heather Mills!
For real? The program wants us to believe that Mills greeted McCartney on the motorway in 1966 even though she wasn’t born until 1968?
For all of these reasons and many more, I find it next to impossible to accept that Really exists as anything other than a spoof. However, nothing in its release tips off prospective viewers that the show’s producers aren’t serious, and all the viewer interpretations I’ve seen appear to accept it as a serious examination of “Paul is Dead”.
Is this some sort of crazy performance art experiment meant to have a laugh at the viewer’s expense? Probably, though only the utter absurdity of the content gives us a clue that the filmmakers want to poke fun at the topic.
If viewed as attempted comedy, Really works better, though not much. It’s just too stupid, and I find some aspects of it to be offensive. In particular, it really bothers me that Really trivializes the deaths of both Lennon and Harrison. I don’t care for the way it makes tragedy into fodder for its silliness.
On the positive side, Really includes some interesting news footage of the Beatles. A full DVD with those elements would’ve been quite enjoyable, as it gives us a good mix of well-known and semi-obscure clips. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough of these to redeem Really.