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By Merle Bertrand | February 15, 2001

Rock and roll rumors just aren’t what they used to be. When the best we can manage these days is the one about Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” album doubling as a “The Wizard of Oz” soundtrack, you know we’re in trouble. Next, someone’ll be saying that the Milli Vanilli guys don’t sing on their own albums.
It was a different story for Tobias (Sebastian Schmidtke) however, back in 1980 West Germany. Tobias is a Beatles fanatic who also daydreams about the group Nozzle Box. This fictional band, comprised of himself, his older brother Til (Vasko Scholz) and his shy friend Helmut (Martin Reinhold), exists only in Tobias’ fertile imagination.
With his mother away on business and Til hopelessly infatuated with his girlfriend Tessa (Myriam Abeillon), for whom Helmut pathetically pines as well, Tobias is often left to amuse himself. That’s how Nozzle Box came to exist in his mind. It’s also how he stumbles across the Englishman in the strangely familiar white VW beetle…and recognizes its license plate as matching the one on the white VW beetle found on The Beatles’ “Abbey Road” album cover. This remarkable coincidence leads him directly into investigating the infamous “Paul is Dead” rumor; an epic conspiracy alleging that Paul McCartney had been killed in a car crash in 1966 and replaced by an impostor.
Tobias decides that Nozzle Box can wait as clues and circumstantial evidence are everywhere; clues that seem to implicate his gruff school janitor as the “cute” Beatle’s supposed killer. With Helmut’s reluctant assistance, Tobias sets out in hot pursuit of his unlikely prey.
This quirky, yet oddly charming coming of age story is a kind of scaled back German “Dazed and Confused” without the drugs and alcohol. Set to an ear-pleasing late ’70s/early ’80s soundtrack — songs from the last stages of what we now call “classic rock,” just before the New Wave and Punk crazes hit — director Hendrik Handloegten’s film perfectly captures the essence of male life just before and immediately after the onset of adolescence. Til and Helmut are a couple of walking hormones, as shy and clumsy as they are equally fixated on Tessa’s (barely) more sophisticated charms. Tobias, meanwhile, totally immerses himself in his investigation in that annoyingly earnest and excitable way of little brothers everywhere, blissfully unaware, if not openly disdainful, of the hormones raging all around him.
One shudders to think of the enormous rights clearance hassles that Handloegten needed to overcome; his film featuring not only Beatles songs, but images and radio clips of the Fab Four all over the place. If those rights HAVEN’T been cleared and you happen to be reading this, Paul, George and Ringo, go easy with the lawsuits. Because even though “Paul Is Dead” isn’t a perfect movie by any stretch of the imagination, it is a charming and worthwhile addition to the ever growing Beatlemania phenomenon.

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