Shaun Phillips’ documentary refers to a statement by John Lennon that the Beatles were at their peak in the years when they were an underground music sensation in Liverpool and Hamburg. This half-hour documentary traces the circumstances that brought the band together and shaped their distinctive musical sound.
A great deal of the material here will be recognizable to old-time Beatles fans, but for younger viewers who are unfamiliar with their history – hey, the band broke up more than four decades ago! – this film provides a fascinating view of the band’s genesis from leather-clad (and somewhat unlikable) tough guys into the lovable mop-tops who charmed the world.
Arguably, the most startling aspect of the film is the story of Pete Best, the band’s original drummer. While the Beatles began to achieve a degree of success, a great deal of media and fan attention was focused on the handsome Best – much to the jealousy of the other Beatles. When the band was on the cusp of their big breakthrough, Best was abruptly fired by manager Brian Epstein and replaced with Ringo Starr, who is presented here as being an affable but inferior musician.
Phillips has expressed plans to expand this production into a feature length non-fiction film. That would be a wonderful idea – for starters, more detail would be given to hearing the Beatles’ songs recorded in that period (which are absent from this film) and to exploring Stu Sutcliffe’s rocky association with the group (which was shakily dramatized in the forgettable 1994 drama “Backbeat”). As it currently stands, “The Beatles at Their Best” is a fine achievement in short documentary filmmaking.