All Together Now
The Beatles have been notoriously and understandably hesitant to license their music. You can’t find their music on iTunes, and they only just announced the forthcoming availability of their music on Rock Band. But in Las Vegas you can indulge in a glorious live production of their music via innovative sight and sound – Cirque du Soleil’s LOVE.
Much has been written here and elsewhere about the magnificent way The Beatles’ music is presented in LOVE, in terms of the sonic and visual expanse of the production.
Although there were a couple TV specials that aired around the launch of LOVE several years ago, this DVD documents in far richer detail the genesis of the project.
George Harrison met the main brain of Cirque du Soleil, Guy LaLiberté, on the Formula 1 circuit. The documentary picks up shortly thereafter, and describes the awesome challenge of trying to form a partnership among The Beatles and the Cirque. As Neil Aspinall points out from his role as head of Apple Corps, The Beatles is not a democracy. All four have to agree or it does not happen, then and now. With George’s death, that meant two widows were in the mix with Paul and Ringo.
It was agreed that only music recorded by The Beatles would be used in the production; quickly jettisoned was the idea of a live musical interpretation. The band’s longtime producer George Martin and his son Giles were given the enviable and scary challenge of trawling through the master tapes to develop a 90 minute collage. The result is a glorious mashup of classic songs interspersed with riffs, solos and sonic signatures that reveal themselves over repeated listening. Still a mystery to me is why the Martins did not pay homage to one of the original versions of sampling, when The Beatles sampled themselves during the slow fade out of “All You Need Is Love” with a refrain of “She Loves You.” The documentary shows in fine detail the creative tension of messing about with the iconic music.
Once the music was roughly in place, the Cirque began to choreograph. Yoko is shown rejecting a sensual interpretation of John’s “Come Together.” The delicate balance between The Beatles’ interests and the Cirque’s vision is shown throughout the documentary.
Without explicitly stating the sentiment, it is clear both in the documentary and in the live production that George’s music is given greater proportional exposure than he had on The Beatles’ albums. Indeed, George’s music shines the most gracefully in LOVE. A string section is shown recording a delicate new backdrop for “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Here Comes the Sun” is given a gorgeous coda.
The Beatles’ history is a subtle skeleton on which the production is built. Although I have seen the production three times, I did not realize until seeing the documentary the connection between a few disparate images. A VW Beetle is seen onstage, reflecting the one seen on the cover of Abbey Road. In one instance, the car flies into pieces. A visual treat indeed, but the documentary points out the reference is to the death of Julia, John’s mother.
The film has great vintage clips and detailed interviews with Paul and Ringo, as well as the widows Olivia and Yoko. Unstated in the film but glimpsing through the footage is the realization that the project probably brought the widows and the survivors closer. Especially interesting is seeing Paul and Ringo at the show’s opening. The camera peers down at the pair from above the scaffolding. Seeing their reaction to their music is a pure joy. Indeed, at one point Paul drops any façade and says in effect, ‘Hey, we were a damn good band.’
And it goes without saying that Cirque du Soleil is a damn good enterprise. I first saw them during the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics Arts Festival, in a tent on a parking lot in Little Tokyo. They extended their run after the Olympics, camping out by the Santa Monica Pier for weeks. (That is where Ringo says he first saw the Cirque). Dozens of Cirque productions now dot the globe.
The film is dedicated to Neil Aspinall, who died in April 2008. He was a childhood friend of George and Paul, and was the band’s road manager and eventually looked after the band’s legacy in fine form.
The 84 minute documentary is supplemented with another 45 minutes of material, much of it related to the reworking and delivery of the music in the theatre.