Film Review: Strange Fruit – The Beatles’ Apple Records

September 11, 2012

My boss offered me this DVD, and because I’m a huge music nerd with an insatiable thirst for arcane knowledge (and because I had nothing to do last night) I took it home and watched it. In short, Strange Fruit is a story about the birth and death of the attempted media empire known as Apple Records. What was more commonly known as The Beatles’ Record Label “came to exist under extraordinary circumstances, produced some extraordinary records, and was operated under the most extraordinary guidelines.”

That’s my review. That one paragraph. Look at me, I’m the next Roper At The Movies!

So, what did I think of this documentary? Let’s start with the bad, because I would be me if I didn’t find fault in everything I encounter each day of my life. The film runs kind of long. At 160+ minutes (that’s almost three hours for you non-mathletes out there) it kind of trails off after 1971, so really the filmmakers are spending an hour a piece on the first three years of Apple’s existence. And for all the information that is given about the artists who recorded for Apple, the only first-person perspectives we are privy to are those of Jackie Lomax, Joey Molland and Ron Griffiths, and Garyvon Scyoc. There’s no Mary Hopkin (who needs her, “Those Were The Days” only sold 8-million copies!), there’s no James Taylor (he only recorded one record for the label, but so?), there’s no Hot Chocolate (who cares if all they recorded was “Give Peace A Chance?”) and no Billy Preston (what do you mean he’s been dead for six years!?). I’m kidding, but only slightly. I accept that Badfinger was the most successful of the non-Beatles Apple roster, but that there are only a handful of perspectives writing the narrative hurts the overall product.

That said, there’s a lot to like about the film, like its lack of Beatles content. There’s but one clip of John Lennon actually speaking about the label, and it’s shown more than two hours into the film. There are only a couple of Beatles songs sampled. And the film didn’t pull any punches. It is made very clear that Apple was established to help the Beatles pay less tax money than they would have had to as world-renowned superstar musicians. Fuckin’ tax dodgers! They were like the Derek Jeters of their generation! Jackie Lomax (who I kept calling Alan Lomax in conversation with my boss today, HA!) seemed bitter as hell about how he was treated by the label. Furthermore, the band members’ fledgling interest in their own creation is harped on repeatedly. I never knew that David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were all taken into consideration as future Apple recording artists and none were ever signed. All of the artists who were signed — and who appear in the documentery — seem to agree that the Beatles’ decision to cease touring in 1966 actually hurt their own careers, as the label’s founders pretty much ignored touring as a means of supporting albums in any market, anywhere in the world. The fact that Strange Fruit is not an out-and-out Beatles propaganda documentary definitely makes it more enjoyable.

There. I’ve weighed the pros and cons. Now I’m going to retire for the night, as I’ve lost the will to live. That makes six times so far this week, and it’s only Tuesday!

Buy Strange Fruit – The Beatles’ Apple Records from Amazon.com

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