The latest addition to the shelf of books by best friends of the Beatles comes from Denis O’Dell, who produced band-related film projects such as “A Hard Day’s Night,” “The Magical Mystery Tour” and “Let it Be.” His is an entertaining if over-fawning first-hand account of the pain and the pleasure of working at the core of Apple Corps in those heady years.
Formed in January 1968, Apple Corps was a sprawling mess from the get-go. The wishful thinking behind its formation was for the Beatles to take charge of their own rapidly expanding music, film and publishing empire. In the wake of Brian Epstein’s sudden death, a vacuum needed filling. However, Apple did not fill that gap. In fact, it expanded the chasm.
O’Dell gives a vivid account of the disparate and conflicting strands within Apple. From Apple Electronics, run by an unqualified maverick named “Magic Alex” to Apple Boutique, a store on Baker Street selling psychedelic tat by Dutch design collective, The Fool, the conception was too vague too often.
While Apple’s aims were virtuous, it soon grew rotten: “If Apple was … an idealistic experiment to prove that open-handed ideals, trust and goodwill would be self-perpetuating within the enlightened and anti-materialist sub-culture of hippydom,” O’Dell writes, “then one can only conclude that it failed miserably.” The insider’s honest account puts flesh on the bones of Lennon’s famous remark that Apple’s business ventures were “like playing monopoly with real money.”
O’Dell’s dealings with the Beatles were relentlessly frustrating. In 1967, he had funding from United Artists in place to make the “The Lord Of The Rings” and needed to land a major director. His first choice, David Lean, was busy making a “little love story” which was to become romantic epic “Ryan’s Daughter.” O’Dell sent the Tolkien classics to Stanley Kubrick. Hopes were high, only for Kubrick to persuade the Beatles over lunch at the Lion that he considered the books “unmakable.” (Producer Saul Zaentz, of course, finally mobilized an animated version that misfired in 1978 — decades before New Line’s live-action juggernaut.)
O’Dell’s hopes were dashed and his disappointment is tangible. Long before Godard made “One Plus One” with the Stones, we are told O’Dell had spoken to him about a project with the Beatles tentatively entitled, you guessed it, “One Plus One.” O’Dell clearly had immense problems getting the Beatles all on the same page. The problems worsened as the divides within the Beatles became rifts. The list of aborted projects outstrips the humble successes.
O’Dell’s book suffers from the authors inevitable lapses into idol-worship. O’Dell is clearly a huge fan, and while this enthusiasm can be infectious, it can become tiresome and sycophantic. “Wonderful and enchanting melodies seemed to flow effortlessly from them,” he murmurs, “as though they were the involuntary channels for some supreme musical power source.” You can’t help feeling if O’Dell had been more of a movie producer and less of a best friend, Apple Films might have made a few more pics and Ringo might have played Frodo after all.
For a lifelong Beatlemaniac, “Core” is a must-buy if only for O’Dell’s own previously unpublished photographs. Its strength lies in its portrayal of a day in the lives of the biggest band that ever was. The rest of us may have a tougher time following “Core’s” long and winding trip down memory lane.