With the title “Produced By George Martin”, I was hoping for an in-depth look at the production work of George Martin, who, as most folks will know, was The Beatles’ producer and who went on to work with Jeff Beck, America and Cheap Trick. Instead, this BBC-produced documentary focuses on George Martin, the man, who, while seems to be a nice-enough chap, is not as interesting as his work.
This 85-minute film spends an inordinate amount of time discussing the 86-year-old producer’s early years, as a member of the Royal Navy and as an up-and-coming producer at EMI’s Parlophone label during the 1950s. Nothing the filmmakers have to say or show us is remarkable in any way. After what seems like an eternity we finally get to The Beatles. While Paul and Ringo are on hand to chat with Martin, nothing new is revealed about what happened at Abbey Road studios or the three men’s relationship. The same old tired stories are trotted out one more time.
I was really hoping that there would be some serious time given to the work Martin did during the 1970s as a producer. I would have loved to have heard how working with Jeff Beck or America compared with The Beatles…what techniques he carried on using from his days at Abbey Road, how he felt about changing technology and about music in general. None of that is addressed. Jeff Beck, John McLaughlin and America’s Dewey Bunnell appear briefly to tell us how wonderful George is, but they say very little about the music they made together.
While the interviews with George are thin on musical details, he is candid about a couple of things. He still sounds bitter about the way EMI treated him back when he was producing, not only The Beatles, but Cilla Black, Gerry & The Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas, and many more acts simultaneously. These records made a lot of money for the company, but little of it trickled down to him.
He was also stung by the decision of John Lennon and George Harrison to take the tapes the Martin produced for the Let It Be album and allow Phil Spector to, in Martin’s words, over-produce them.
There is quite a bit of time spent at the end of the film on Martin’s studio he built at Montserrat, in the Caribbean. Although a good number of major acts recorded there (The Police, Robert Palmer), the studio was destroyed by a hurricane a decade after it was built. Martin and his wife Judy survey what is left of the studio, which seems, with hindsight, to be quite a folly.
The DVD comes with 50-some minutes of bonus footage. Aha!, I thought, maybe this is where the good stuff is buried. Sure enough, we see producers like Rick Rubin, T Bone Burnett and Ken Scott talking about Martin and his work, but unfortunately, only in the most general of terms.
Judging from this film, Martin is a lovely guy whose low-key demeanour was an integral part of his success as a producer. But that same quality doesn’t make for very interesting viewing. If you came into this film knowing nothing about George Martin and his work, then I would recommend it. But anyone with a relatively keen knowledge of music history will have heard most of this before.