It is impossible not to ache for Pete Best. The Liverpool musician was the original drummer for The Beatles, but he was abruptly kicked out of the group at the moment they were on the cusp of superstardom. Over the years, Best was the subject of unflattering speculation and the reason for his firing was blamed on everything from allegedly inferior drumming to refusing to acquiesce to a romantic overture from Beatles manager Brian Epstein.
Best never got a straight answer on his dismissal (there was no hint of its coming) and his former bandmates never spoke with him after Epstein gave him the bad news. This documentary may not solve that puzzle, but it nonetheless offers a fascinating look at how the Beatles came about and the role that Best played in their formative years.
Best came to know John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison as a teenager in Liverpool of the late 1950s when Best’s mother ran a club in the cellars of the family’s rather large house. The Beatles were initially the Quarrymen, but they never had much luck keeping bandmates (especially drummers). By 1960, they convinced Best to join them as a drummer for a gig in Hamburg, Germany. Joining them was Stu Sutcliffe, an art student with limited musical talent but a wealth of personal style.
Pinballing between Hamburg and Liverpool, the Beatles were able to build something of a fan base. Sutcliffe dropped out of the group, and when several musicians declined the invitation to join the band it was decided that McCartney would take Sutcliffe’s place as bass player. Within a short time, they had a manager in Epstein (Best’s mother was previously managing them), and Epstein decided to bowdlerize the leather-clad scruffy look and bad boy stage antics that the band employed for a more polished and presentable image.
“Best of the Beatles” provides Best with an ample opportunity to recall his association with the band. Contrary to longstanding rumor of being anti-social, he is a genuinely gregarious and warm raconteur. While details of his friendship with and opinions of the other Beatles are somewhat limited, he manages to share a few amusing anecdotes (including a weird incident when the group attempted to mug a sailor on the Hamburg docks).
The film also provides interviews with a variety of people from the Beatles’ world of the early 1960s, including Cynthia Lennon and Julia Baird (John Lennon’s first wife and sister, respectively), photographer Astrid Kircheer and singers Tony Sheridan and Gerry Marsden. While there is no concert footage of the Beatles from that era and the few pre-Ringo recordings they made are not included here, the wealth of stories being shared makes it seem the younger, unpolished Beatles were infinitely more entertaining than the lovable moptops the world came to cherish.
Considering the lost opportunity, Best is remarkably free of bitterness and rancor. He is the ultimate gentleman, never sullying anyone’s reputation or brooding over what could’ve been. While some people insist he was not good enough for the Beatles, this film may suggest that in terms of personality and humanity, perhaps the Beatles weren’t good enough for him.