By Chaz Lipp
Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Produced by George Martin on Blogcritics.
One of the few record producers who can genuinely be considered a household name, a documentary about the life and career Sir George Martin has been long overdue. Filmed, produced, and directed by Francis Hanly, Produced by George Martin is precisely that. A good portion of its 86 minute running time is devoted to Martin’s famed production work with The Beatles. But by spending time detailing his pre- and post-Beatles work, Hanly provides a breezy, informative overview that allows viewers to appreciate the startling stylistic variety of Martin’s clients.
The film assumes a rather loose chronological form, every now and then skipping back and forth in the timeline of Martin’s career to emphasize or foreshadow certain aspects. We learn of Martin’s teenage years in war-torn England as well as his early years with EMI’s Parlophone Records, producing classical recordings. It was the comedy records he produced with Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers that initially endeared him to The Beatles when they were first signed to the label.
Both Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr sat for recent discussions with Martin about the old days. Beatles fans will love the loose, casual feel of these segments. Martin still harbors some grudges against EMI for his paltry salary in the early ‘60s and doesn’t shy away from discussing it. He also shares his hurt over George Harrison and John Lennon’s decision to hand over the tapes for what became The Beatles’ Let It Be album to Phil Spector. But the story doesn’t end with the break-up of The Beatles. We hear from members of the band America (for whom Martin produced several hits, including the number one “Sister Gold Hair”). Jeff Beck turns up to reminisce about working with Martin on his 1975 fusion classic, Blow by Blow.
Produced by George Martin is also a bit of a subtle love story, as Martin’s wife of 46 years, Judy, is featured in many of the contemporary interview clips. Their son, Giles (a successful record producer in his own right), conducts many of the recent interviews. Martin comes across as a highly intelligent man with a remarkably agile mind and excellent memory, all the more impressive given that he’s 86 years old. There’s also some recent material dealing with the hearing loss that has robbed Martin of his ability to enjoy music. He speaks frankly about the first time he realized his ears were failing him (in the ‘70s, while he was still very much an active, in-demand producer). It’s this kind of honest, intimate approach to all aspects of Martin’s life that makes the film such a fascinating, informative, and entertaining experience.
Eagle Rock’s 1080i presentation is excellent when it comes to the newly shot material. Contemporary footage of Martin’s home and property display a high level of fine detail and razor sharpness. The archival footage, be it stock footage filmed in the ‘40s and ‘50s or Beatles-related TV clips, is understandably quite varied in quality. That’s simply the nature of the mixed bag of sources. But the newly taped interviews look perfect. The audio is presented in LPCM 2.0 stereo. This might be a letdown for some, given that the subject of the film is music. But music, though ever-present, is rarely featured by itself at length. The focus here is the interview footage, which is well served by the simple audio mix.
There are 52 minutes of bonus interviews. Anyone who feels 86 minutes simply isn’t enough time to elaborate on Martin’s illustrious career will be happy to see this material. There’s plenty of additional information about his work with The Beatles, but we also hear from a variety of producers, including Rick Rubin, T-Bone Burnett, and Ken Scott (a former Beatles engineer), about the impact of Martin’s work. Monty Python’s Michael Palin discusses comedy recordings with Martin in another bonus segment.
Produced by George Martin is highly recommended, not just for fans of The Beatles, but for anyone with an interest of the role a producer plays in the creation of recorded music.