Stephen Dorff plays the ‘tifth’ Beatle in Buck/war, the story of Stu Sutcliffe and the band in the early Hamburg days. Andrew Pulver traces the origins of the film.
hey may once have thought they were bigger than Jesus. but The Beatles’ story as told in Backbea! is no Biblical epic. Instead. the movie ~ produced by one-time Palace supremos Steve Woolley and Nik Powell — concentrates on the genesis of Britain‘s best—selling group. the pro-Beatlemania Hamburg days, and so it could be said to be not about The Beatles at all. At the centre is the triangular relationship involving John Lennon. Stuart Sutcliffe — the ‘ﬁfth’ Beatle who was to die of a brain haemorrhage after leaving the band in 1962 — and German photographer Astrid Kirchherr. who was principally responsible for developing the moptop style. ‘The starting point.’ explains director lan Softley. ‘was seeing the photos that Astrid had taken. There‘s a lot more you can get of a character from a photo than you can from a thousand words. The scenes we invented were also inspired from the same source — the beach scene towards the end came from a photo I’d seen of John and Stu building a sandcastle. But the more you talk to people. the more you piece
6 The List 8—21 April I994
together who a character was. Stu. in particular. was a very elusive figure. but over the years I met numerous people who kttew him: I met his mother in the early days of my research. and a lot of information came from Astrid herself. who is still living in Germany. But it’s one‘s instincts. formed early on. which are the bedrock of the script.‘
Fleshing out some of the world’s most famous faces is clearly a challenge for any production — even more so for a British film which requires famous names for mainstream status. Even though two Americans — Sheryl Lee of Twin Peaks fame and Stephen Dorff — have been pulled in to give the cast list some ballast. the result isn’t nearly as compromised as you’d expect. Dorff. who starred in The Power Of One makes a convincing Sutcliffe: while. although never completely shaking off her aura of gormless American teen. Lee delivers a passable imitation of Hamburg beat Astrid.
As for the Brits. Gary Bakewell is clearly
‘The Beatles had a massive impact on anybody who
grew up when I did. They were always there.’
Love me Stu: lennon (lan Hart) and Sutclltte (Stephen Dorff)
born to play Macca. and lan Hart is already a specialist in John l.ennon, having acted the role in (‘hristopher Munch‘s excellent The Hours rillt/ limes". ‘liveryone has their own version of who John Lennon was.‘ comments llart. ‘it‘s a very subjective thing. My versions of John in this and the last film are completely different. What you have to do each titnc is to create a character ~ formed by real events but. nevertheless. it‘s my own version. The Hours .r-lm/ 'li'mes took place when Lennon beginning to have a public image; this film takes place before all that. when they had no idea what they were going to become. l.cnnon is a young nineteen—year—old. your regular Joe. You have to treat the two characters differently »- otherwise I'd be an impressionist rather than an actor.‘
In many ways. llart has got the hardest job in the film; since Lennon is obvioust the most public figttrc of the central threesome. there is a lot more at stake. The emotional weight of the film. though. falls on the shoulders of Dorff who. as Sutcliffe. has to take on the mantle of the tortured artist and a scouse Jimmy Dean. ‘He was respected as one of the most promising artists of his generation by Eduardo Paolozzi,‘ says Dorff. ‘and his work became incredibly interesting to me. You get through his artistic sense a great amount of the torment involved in his life. what his passion was. Especially when the sickness starts to come through. his painting gets incredibly riveting. the emotion is on the canvas. You look at Stuart's mind. and look at other people — the Jackson Pollocks of this world — they have an immense
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