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The Bootleg Files: Braverman’s Condensed Cream of Beatles

BOOTLEG FILES 612: “Braverman’s Condensed Cream of Beatles” (1974 film essay).

LAST SEEN: A copy can be found on Veoh.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: The Liverpool lads had it pulled.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Unlikely.

A few weeks back, this column dug up “The Compleat Beatles,” a popular documentary on the Fab Four that can only be seen today via unauthorized online postings or out-of-print VHS videos and laserdiscs. Today, the Beatles are back with another once-ubiquitous film that has also been removed from commercial release. But whereas “The Compleat Beatles” offered a traditional straightforward nonfiction film approach, today’s offering is something much more fanciful.

“Braverman’s Condensed Cream of Beatles” sums up the rise and dissolution of the Beatles in a 14-minute span. The “Braverman” in the title is Chuck Braverman, a filmmaker who scored his first major notice with the 1968 short “American Time Capsule,” a fast-cut montage piece that summarized American history within three minutes. That project led Braverman to a string of educational and industrial film work, and he repeated the “American Time Capsule” style for the opening sequence of the 1973 Charlton Heston flick “Soylent Green.” Braverman’s decision to put his name in the title made him (pardon the obvious) a braver man than most filmmakers at his level, considering he was hardly a household name. The corporate remains of the Beatles approved the project, which is prefixed with a fanciful Apple Film logo.

“Braverman’s Condensed Cream of Beatles” opens with the perfect musical slice from the band: the “Can You Take Me Back” outro from “Cry Baby Cry,” a rueful lament for a more serene time. From there, the film becomes a kaleidoscope of song sampling, bits of film and television footage and a swirl of photographs covering the Beatles’ career. The band’s early years receive a very brief acknowledgment – Stuart Sutcliffe can be seen for a nanosecond, Pete Best is nowhere to be found, and the montage gives the impression that the Beatles were an immediate success, jumping from the leather jacket rough trade boys to “Love Me Do” to the film version of “A Hard Day’s Night” instantly.

A bespectacled Ed Sullivan is shown in an interview explaining how he learned about the Beatles on an October 1963 trip to London, adding that he paid them $10,000 for three appearances on his television variety show. From there, the band is playing to a massive audience at Shea Stadium and goofing about in the film “Help!”

The montage then mixes animation and a selection of photographs of celebrities and images with no connection to the band – the Lone Ranger, Arthur and Kathryn Murray, Bogart and Bacall, artwork from Norman Rockwell and Rene Magritte, and the National Lampoon dog with the gun to its head – populate the screen. Chronology is thrown out of whack when “Her Majesty” is inserted into the mid-60s section (and the royal shown with the Beatles is Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret, not Her Majesty the Queen) while the Beatles’ girlfriends-turned-wives abruptly show up, and Ringo is paired with Peter Sellers in a still from their 1970 film “The Magic Christian.”

Some visual witticism is found in juxtaposing the four Beatles with the Yellow Brick Road foursome of “The Wizard of Oz,” and the line “he blew his mind out in a car” from “A Day in the Life” is pegged to death imagery and the “Paul is Dead” hoax. Clips from the promotional films for “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “Penny Lane” and “Revolution” are included, along with snippets of “Yellow Submarine” and two stills from “The Beatles” TV cartoon series, but no footage from “Magical Mystery Tour” or “Let it Be” is included. The song “Black Bird” is illustrated with an abstract black line undulating in a simulation of avian flight.

Oddly, the film skips from the “Abbey Road” album to George Harrison’s post-Beatles “Concert for Bangladesh” in 1971 and then to a Geraldo Rivera interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono from the same period regarding their immigration woes. That leads to John performing “Instant Karma,” followed to a return to Beatlemania with “The Ballad of John and Yoko.” The film ends where the band ended musically, with the overly symphonic “Long and Winding Road,” with a rapid recap of the previously seen imagery plus blink-and-you-miss-them images of Brian Epstein and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi are belatedly thrown in. The closing credits include John’s “pass the audition” joke from “Let it Be” on the soundtrack.

Of course, one can quibble over the selection of imagery and tunes that Braverman collected for this work. (Why is “Black Bird,” of all things, included, and not “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” or “Get Back”?) Relegating Brian Epstein to afterthought status is dreadful, and the absence of George’s sitar-influenced music or his ethereal “Here Comes the Sun” is a shame. Paul and Ringo’s post-Beatles work is barely acknowledged, and Yoko haters could hardly be pleased that so much footage is given to her intrusive presence. It is unclear what influence the ex-Fab Four had in creating Braverman’s work, but there is no evidence of their voicing any disapproval over the final result.

“Braverman’s Condensed Cream of Beatles” had its premiere on July 30, 1973, on the ABC program “Geraldo Rivera: Goodnight America.” The film was picked up by Pyramid Films for the 16mm non-theatrical educational market and was a staple of high school and college film studies classes well into the 1980s. But when the home video era dawned, “Braverman’s Condensed Cream of Beatles” vanished. Apple Corps Ltd., which controls the rights to all things Beatles, has blocked the film’s return to commercial distribution, and it is unlikely that it will ever see an official re-release. The old 16mm prints can be found for sale online, and these were also the source of bootleg DVD copies sold on a collector-to-collector basis. Apple Corps Ltd. has successfully forced the removal of unauthorized postings on YouTube, but a faded version can be located in a two-part posting on Veoh under another title.

Some online sources claim that “Braverman’s Condensed Cream of Beatles” won the Academy Award, but it was never eligible for that prize. Braverman was Oscar nominated for his 2000 documentary short “Curtain Call,” and he most recently served as executive producer of “Tempest Storm,” a documentary on the legendary stripper that is now playing on the festival circuit. His website, for no clear reason, fails to make any mention of “Braverman’s Condensed Cream of Beatles.” Go figure.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: While this weekly column acknowledges the presence of rare film and television productions through the so-called collector-to-collector market, this should not be seen as encouraging or condoning the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either through DVDs or Blu-ray discs or through postings on Internet video sites.

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