Blu-ray Review: PRODUCED BY GEORGE MARTIN Shines Spotlight On Musical Pioneer

Featured Critic; Toronto, Canada (@filmfest_ca)
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Blu-ray Review: PRODUCED BY GEORGE MARTIN Shines Spotlight On Musical Pioneer
The notion of a music producer is a relatively foreign one to most fans of popular music. While the rough understanding of how a Film Director gets their job done is old hat to even the most superficial of movie fans, the equivalent role in music production is often shrouded in mystery.

As even die-hard rock fans who was behind the boards for the early hits for, say, AC-DC, they may well draw a blank. While Harry Vanda and George Young aren't exactly household names, there's also the fact that the band's later producer, "Mutt" Lange, is more widely known for his marriage to Shania Twain, at least for casual audiences.

For every Phil Spector there's a Tom Wilson, both incredibly important in the history of popular music, and only the former a household name (a name sullied, again, by tabloid fodder).

Yet the luminance that the success the Beatles made for these sometimes esoteric positions to become fully part of the public's consciousness. When the names of a band's manager (Brian Epstein) or even their head roadie (Mal Evans) can transcend into general discourse, you know that things are a bit different with this most exceptional of recording groups.

Above all the trivium surrounding the band, there was one core individual who helped them shape both their sound and and the success. The world changed in 1963 when the head of the also-ran EMI division of Parlophone decided to take a chance on these boys from Liverpool despite the fact that he thought musically they were substandard. As George Martin has admitted for decades now, he fell in love with the lads, the music would come later.

Luckily, Produced By isn't simply a rehash of all things Fab four. In fact, it's nothing short than the definitive look at the man, tracing back his history to the war services, through his unique educational opportunities that eventually landed him an executive gig at EMI. Charged with recording Scottish Dance Music and the occasional children's record, he soon became the de facto recordist for an entire generation of Brit Beatnick comedians. The decade before those Beatles made their showing, Martin was providing scores for Peter Sellers and the rest of his Goon friends, on record radio shows that relied upon surrealism and shock rather than jokes that would tire after the first listen.

The documentary does a lovely job in tying these disparate yet remarkably salient parts of Martin's career to the enormous success he'd have in the mid-60s. His unabashed enthusiasm, mixed with a fearless sense of experimentation and the freedom brought on by reduced supervision elicited by an absence of expectation sewed the seeds for the mania that was to come.

The structure of the film is roughly chronological, but it does so by delightfully bouncing between a number of individuals drawn from Martin's varied career. The like of Rolf Harris and Bernard Cribbins show up to provide context, as do friends such as Michael Palin, who we find listening intently to Sellers' recordings, both he and Martin still laughing and the preposterous bits captured on record. Cilla Black speaks to the other side of the mid-60s recordings Martin was charged with ("Theme from 'Alfie'" among them, including some remarkable footage of Bacharach conducting in Studio 2), and Sir George's lovely wife Judy also makes a fine contribution to the film.

Tied to his work producing Bond theme Live and Let Die, we get also get to see Martin's deliberate if not retentive take on how to craft the perfect Martini.

The most engaging moments come when Martin's son Giles probes his famous father for deep insight into both the creative and commercial sides of his career. A noted producer himself (the two shared Grammy's for the "Love" cirque Beatles project), the interaction between father an son is truly a highlight of the film, reflecting extremely well on both of them.

Finally, we have the contributions of the surviving Ruttles Beatles. Of late, both Paul and Ringo seem to be much more comfortable providing an unvarnished look at their past (evidenced of late by their turn in Scorsese's Harrison doc). It's to their credit they've loosened up tremendously since their careful days with Anthology, and the both seem extremely comfortable in their skins in a way that's downright refreshing.

Sitting beside Martin, going over old photographs or listening to master recordings, you can almost peel away the years watching them relive these exceptional moments. For a film careful not to be yet another look at the Beatles phenomena, it's nonetheless the case that the work is at its most extraordinary when laying bare the relationship between band and producer, tying directly the success of the group to the chuztpah of their erstwhile producer.

The film does spend a brief amount of time accounting for the falling apart over the Let it Be sessions, and for all intents sidesteps some of the uglier disagreements that came up during the later years of their working relationships. Still, these travails aren't completely swept under a rug, and anyone looking for more salacious details about the "Yoko years" need not look very far.

The film does segué into recordings that Martin produced through the 70s, including hits for bands like America, and other more niche productions that were more whim than popularly received. One gets a sense that Martin continued to be experimental throughout the following decades, and, more importantly, he finally saw his hard work reap financial benefit in the glory days when the music business was flush with money.

Running a brisk 90 minutes, the film is as affable and engaging as its subject matter. Produced by George Martin is quite simply the definitive look at the man and his work, both an intimate and wildly diverse look at this remarkable individual.

The Disc

Bless Eagle Rock for once again bringing an exceptional music documentary onto shinydisc in such a remarkably good presentation.

As per other documentaries that Eagle releases, the film is comprised of the full broadcast film (90minutes), along with a slew of other, often more in-depth (read: nerdy) interviews and elements that were stripped for the more general audience.

The HD picture is more than acceptable, and on Blu-ray it will certainly look better than any broadcast version ever could.  Primarily composed of vintage archive footage and talking head interviews, this isn't exactly going to be demo material, but it certainly does the trick.

Audio wise, the disc includes a stereo, Lossless LPCM track. Dialogue is more than satisfactory, and the music is richly presented throughout. Like the visuals, there's not that much to distinguish the soundtrack save for its faithfulness at reproducing clearly and without noticeable distortion the musical performances, the studio playback interactions and various conversations throughout.

Supplemental Materials

The key supplement is a good hour of additional interviews, divided into separate chapters. When the likes of Rick Rubin and T Bone Burnett are relegated to the supplements, you know how rich the pickings are!

The additional interviews flesh out many of the stories included in the body of the main feature. Certain interviews between Giles and Sir George are allowed to pass without edit, providing further juicy details and behind-the-scene gossip. We even get to hear about some particularly gratuitous mid-70s extravagance, where a glider is recorded with an array of microphones in order to elicit a "whooshing" sound. Even Spinal Tap couldn't make this stuff up!

There's little in this additional, culled material that isn't as salient as the main feature, and the flow of it as a standalone addition works extremely well in providing further context and information. Even if you've seen the doc on television already, these additional moments are reason enough to pick up the disc for your collection.

Final Take

Long addressed in a larger context of other people's work, Produced by George Martin finally puts the spotlight squarely on this truly exceptional character. The evidence is clear that he remains spry and quick witted, all while his hearing continues to fail him as he grows older. Relaxed and open, this seems to have been the perfect time to reflect back on the life of this man, and with a fine presentation and class supplemental materials, the disc is very much one you should consider purchasing for your collection.

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