SILVER SPRING, Md (Reuters) - A new Beatles movie depicts surviving band members, widows and their producer reuniting to rise above a reputation for discord and collaborate on a lavish stage show with Cirque de Soleil.
The movie, "All Together Now," shows Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr working with Yoko Ono, George Harrison's widow Olivia and The Beatles' producer Sir George Martin to remix their music for the 21st century with the Las Vegas stage production of "Love."
"I wanted to tell this story about these people who are myths. They're mythic characters," said the film's Canadian director, Adrian Wills. "This was a way for them to sort of deal with their past in a way that was in the present."
The movie had its U.S. debut last week at the Silverdocs documentary film festival and was repeated by audience demand on Monday. Apple Corps Ltd executive Jonathan Clyde said there are only limited plans for more public showings, but a DVD release is in the pipeline.
"Love" is a $180 million show at a specially built theater at the Mirage Hotel. It opened in 2006. The Cirque de Soleil employs dance, acrobatics and fanciful staging to interpret the evolution of Beatles music from exuberant pop through utopian psychedelia, updating the 41-year old Sgt. Pepper's image with a high-tech sheen.
The idea sprang from the friendship of Beatle George Harrison, who died in 2001, and Cirque founder Guy Laliberte. Wills has filmed previous Cirque productions, and "All Together Now" was initially planned as a small-scale promotional film.
But Wills grew up a Beatles fan, and said he knew he was witnessing a rare moment following the band's bitter 1970 breakup. They were creating something new.
"It wasn't going to be definitive, but it was a new thing that they were working on, and I think it excited them," Wills said. "We were aware that we were capturing history."
The Beatles, through Apple, and Cirque de Soleil are both known as fierce protectors of their image. "Neither had ever compromised on the creation of something," Clyde said in an interview. "So it was a challenge, and there were moments of great difficulty."
Similarly, Wills faced long odds capturing the Beatles on screen. He said he filmed at a distance with a long lens and put a microphone on whomever he could. He got interviews with Paul and Ringo by first gaining the trust of Ono and Harrison. "We kind of stole the film," he said.
There are brief moments of discord. Ono is shown distressed over "Come Together," with dark-clad dancers gyrating suggestively. It looked "sleazy" for what her husband, John Lennon, had intended as a political song, she complained.
But mostly the film shows McCartney, Starr, Harrison and Ono working closely with Martin and the Cirque, and reliving a time when The Beatles dominated popular culture.
"What the film reveals is that the show, it brought them together again," Clyde said. The past discord, he said, was mostly a myth. "Any differences are so long ago."
The movie shows Martin's son, Giles, working alongside his father to mix The Beatles' individual studio tracks into a new soundtrack for the show. George's son, Dhani, is also shown to be closely involved.
McCartney compares the massive scale of "Love" with how he and Lennon composed the songs decades earlier on scraps of paper. "It's such a little process, and look what's happened to it," he says.
Starr recounts encouraging Cirque's director to go further in interpretation. "Each generation as it grows up finds the Beatles for themselves, and it will go on," he said.
McCartney looks back with amazement at The Beatles' status as one of the most influential music acts in modern history, and his presence in it. "Now I can say it -- we were a f------ great band," he said.
Editing by Todd Eastham