Backbeat (1994)

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Released 11-Feb-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Menu Audio
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1994
Running Time 96:04 (Case: 100)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Iain Softley

Magna Home Entertainment
Starring Marcelle Duprey
Stephen Dorff
Ian Hart
John White
Bernard Merrick
Nicholas Tennant
Finola Geraghty
Rob Spendlove
Charlie Caine
Jennifer Ehle
Gary Bakewell
Chris O'Neill
Frieda Kelly
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $14.95 Music Chuck Berry
Eddie Cochran
Don Was

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.70:1
16x9 Enhancement
Not 16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

When the Fab Four were actually a Fab Five

    Ask anyone with even only a passing interest in popular music history to name the four Beatles and the names John, Paul, George, and Ringo will roll off the tongues of most people without them even pausing to think. Likewise, ask them to name who the original drummer of the band was before Ringo joined and most could still identify Pete Best as the man who almost made it to the big time. But in one of those really interesting cases of a person effectively becoming a trivia question, ask those same people to identify who the mysterious and little known fifth Beatle was, and the name Stuart Sutcliffe would certainly draw blank looks with most. Backbeat attempts to shed some light on the early period of The Beatles and explain just what impact Stuart Sutcliffe had on the world's best known rock 'n' roll band.

    In the early 1960s, Stuart Sutcliffe (Stephen Dorff) was John Lennon's best mate during their time at art-school in Liverpool. But the talented Lennon (played with great passion here by Ian Hart) always had the hankering for a life in music and when he formed his new band, he insisted that Sutcliffe join them as bass player, despite Sutcliffe's first love being painting. The band, to be known as The Beatles, was formed, with Lennon and Sutcliffe joined by Paul McCartney (Gary Bakewell), George Harrison (Chris O'Neill), and Pete Best (Scot Williams) on drums. Unable to find a decent gig in their hometown, the band headed to the German city of Hamburg, to effectively pay their dues, playing long nights in seedy bars in the red light district known as the Reeperbahn. It soon becomes apparent that the driving forces behind The Beatles are opinionated Lennon and the ambitious McCartney, while Sutcliffe ambles along, mostly disinterested with the band thing, much to the chagrin of the meticulous McCartney.

    A turning point occurs for both Sutcliffe and The Beatles when they meet local photographer Astrid Kercherr (Sheryl Lee), a lovely young lady who sweeps Sutcliffe off his feet and earns the wrath of Lennon for taking away his best mate. Astrid battles Lennon's jealousy and Sutcliffe's volatile temperament throughout the group's time in Germany, all while capturing much of it on film (her photos remain to this day the definitive account of the famous group's early days). She also has much influence on the look that will become known as the band's mop-top period. As the band slowly begin to earn respect and better gigs, it is becoming obvious that Sutcliffe would rather be somewhere else - either painting or spending time with Astrid. Lennon is getting more and more bitter as he is seeing less and less of his best friend, while McCartney is pushing to have Sutcliffe dumped from the band for good.

    What follows is an account of the early embryonic days of one of the world's best known groups, a period not familiar to most people. The purists may find the constant looking forward by Lennon as he tells Sutcliffe "We're going to be famous you know", and the use of well known Beatles songs in lines of dialogue, to be a little sloppy. When Lennon states they've been so busy working it's like it's been "a hard day's night" or they've been at it "eight days a week.", you know that the writer isn't fully conversant with just where these famous lines came from. What saves this film though, is the acting. The lead role of Lennon is played by an actor who bears an uncanny resemblance to the great man, and Stephen Dorff provides just the right mix of suave aloofness required for the troubled artist Stuart Sutcliffe.

    I won't spoil the ending for those unaware of what became of Stuart Sutcliffe, only to say this is an important chapter in the history of The Beatles and the man certainly deserves to be better known than just as the answer to a trivia question.

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Transfer Quality


    This transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.70:1 which from what I am able to determine is not the correct aspect ratio. It should be 1.85:1. This transfer is also hampered by NOT being 16x9 enhanced.

    While not the sharpest of transfers, it is adequate enough, but certainly not in the category of something more modern. Shadow detail is handled well and is probably the best aspect of the transfer, as there are many scenes where this could be compromised. Grain is thankfully not an issue and there is no low level noise.

    Colours are fairly drab and nondescript. Much of the action takes place in dim interiors and smoke-filled clubs. The only real splashes of colour occur whenever Stuart Sutcliffe's paintings are on display and these scrub up quite well. The skin tones hold up reasonably well, but the black level tends a little to the grey side.

    There are no MPEG artefacts. Aliasing pops up a couple of times, but in reality the transfer is not sharp enough for this to be a problem. Unfortunately, film artefacts are abundant throughout the whole film with some being quite large. A splotch at 8:14 probably takes the cake as the biggest. All up, this is a source print best described as grubby.

    There are no subtitles available.

    This disc is single sided and single layered so there is no layer change.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There is only one audio soundtrack on this disc, this being an English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo soundtrack.

    It is a reasonable soundtrack that actually offers some excellent low range bass during the many rock 'n' roll numbers performed by the band. I must admit the quality of the low end took me a little by surprise. The dialogue and vocals are clear and easily understood and there is no distortion or noise evident.

    Amazingly there is not a single Lennon/McCartney composition in the soundtrack. It must have been a rights issue or something, so what we get is a whole range of early 1960s cover songs (that the group would have no doubt been forced to play anyway during their Hamburg time). Songs such as Long Tall Sally, Good Golly Miss Molly, Rock and Roll Music, Love Me Tender, and Please Mr Postman certainly capture the early 1960s period.

    There is no surround channel or subwoofer use.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Menu Audio

    Aside from a little menu audio there are no real extras on this disc.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    100 per cent reliable information is a little difficult to come by, especially for the aspect ratio and soundtracks, but from what I can determine it definitely appears the Region 1 disc comes complete with a swag of extras.

    The Region 4 disc misses out on:

    The Region 1 disc misses out on:

    Considering the local product can be purchased for the bargain basement price of just $14.95 (and probably lower in most retail outlets), if you are on a tight budget then it is hard to pass. But for a true Beatles or fan of this film, the fully featured Region 1 disc is certainly the one to pick and my choice in the region battle.


    Fans of The Beatles will appreciate this look at the group's Hamburg days, an era often overlooked in the history of the Fab Four. They will also probably cringe at some of the lines of forced dialogue linking the characters to the successful Beatles period and the ever-present "we're going to be famous you know" attitude the boys take. It's all just a little too neat at times. The strength of the film lies in the acting, especially Ian Hart's solid performance as the cynical John Lennon.

    The video transfer is disappointing, considering the Region 1 disc is 16x9 enhanced.

    The audio does the job, but is also quite unremarkable.

    There are no extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Darren Walters (It's . . . just the vibe . . . of my bio)
Saturday, February 28, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDLoewe Xemix 5106DO, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Calida (84cm). Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL).
AmplificationHarmon/Kardon AVR7000.
SpeakersFront - B&W 602S2, Centre - B&W CC6S2, Rear - B&W 601S2, Sub - Energy E:xl S10

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Comments (Add)
Stuart Sutcliffe was not a good musician - Anonymous