Paul McCartney Really Is Dead: The Last Testament of George Harrison (2010) Review
Paul McCartney Really Is Dead: The Last Testament of George Harrison is a film by Beatle fan Joel Gilbert. It's chock full of clues and miscues, but it's a fun watch for the maniacs.
I am a Beatle Geek, say it three times and I appear. I was a Beatle baby. My first words were yeah yeah yeah and I’ve been saying it since, though maybe not with same youthful exuberance. The Beatles were innovators. They mixed major and minor chords, played in odd time signatures, All You Need Is Love starts in 7, Revolution has one measure of five, Happiness Is a Warm Gun creates a false seven by pitting the guitars’ triplets against a steady four beat. But the Beatles invented progressive rock when they put 12 chords into a rock and roll pop hit, and not a I-IV-V among them. My real immersion into the Beatles was when they went dark. I was three when Eleanor Rigby hit, four when I had cranberry sauce in Strawberry Fields and five when Revolution 9 changed my mind entirely. The Beatles could be very dark. They could also be very funny. I always thought that it was this dark humor that was behind the Paul Is Dead rumors that frightened me as a kid.
The Beatles established themselves as comic actors in A Hard Day’s Night and Help and on TV skits. Their natural humor came out in interviews and was often caustic and dark. Lennon acted in the dark comedy How I Won the War. It could be that they were just as innovative with their comic artistry as with their music. It could also be that there was another message they were burying in different albums, like the illustrations in The Ninth Gate, that has been overlooked because of the Paul is dead subterfuge.
Paul McCartney Really Is Dead: The Last Testament of George Harrison is a spoof that takes itself seriously. Director Joel Gilbert establishes George Harrison’s voice in the beginning in a vintage interview about jelly beans. You don’t have to be familiar with George’s voice from interviews to hear the difference. The voice behind this impression might not even be English, but the filmmakers explain this away by saying they sent it to dozens of voice recognition experts who tested it, but testing of the CASSettes were inconclusive.
Highway 61 Entertainment received an unsolicited package from England. In it was a mini-recorder and tapes apparently made by George Harrison on his Royal Berkshire Hospital bed in 1999 after he was attacked by a madman who said he had been sent by god to kill a Beatle. George relays that on Dec. 1, 1980, John Lennon told him that he was going to go public with the truth about the trick they were forced to pull on the public. A week later he was dead. George was also about to go public with the truth and had told Paul McCartney about it just a week earlier.
The film runs through a quick retelling of the Beatles story from George’s friendship with Paul at the age of 14 through the taller-than-god phase and threats from the Ku Klux Klan and other enemies Lennon apparently made with off-the-cuff remarks to the press. On November 9, 1966 after a fight over some lyrics with John, Paul sped off in his Aston Martin. The Beatles were called to the scene of a grisly accident by a member of the MI5, the British spy agency, named Maxwell. They saw Paul’s head sitting near his decapitated body, his hair burnt off and an eye popped out. He had picked up a hitchhiker named Rita who went hysterical and drove him off the road. It was in the national interest to cover up the death of such a popular pop idol because fans worldwide might begin committing suicide. Maxwell punched Lennon in the stomach.
Tiger Beat and Dick Clark’s American Bandstand held a Paul McCartney lookalike contest and the winner would be the new Paul McCartney. William Campbell won. Billy’s Here. The MI5 used their best plastic surgeons to transform the contest-winner into a perfect double for Paul McCartney. They called him false-Paul, Faul. Lennon started a small rebellion within the band and wanted to put out clues so the fans wouldn’t turn on them later for messing with their impressionable minds. Ringo called the new bassist Rubber Paul. So they named an album Rubber Soul. The album actually came out before the accident, but that’s just one flub the filmmakers make. They set out to fool the poob lick. The band considered the new Paul to be soulless and that he had no heart. The design for the words Rubber Soul looked like an upside down heart. Ringo, a poker player and Monte Carlo regular, liked that because an upside down heart looked like the spade suit in a deck of playing cards. The ace of spades was the death card, since the days of the gangland slaying of Joe Masseria in the Castallamarese War.
On the album cover of Revolver, which was designed and drawn by Klaus Voorman, long-time Beatle friend and bassist for Manfred Mann, Paul is looking away, showing one eye, the way he looked after the accident popped it out and lopped off his head. There’s an open palm over his head. This wasn’t some Hindu sign of death, as it has been rumored. It was the last gesture the priest made when they buried Paul in a private ceremony attended only by John, George and Ringo. We see a photo of Paul screaming in agony. There’s a little figure sitting in Paul’s ear, which tells us to listen to the clues. Maxwell punched Lennon in the stomach.
The songs continued to clue us in. Paul was the “Nowhere Man.” “I’m Looking Through You” is spooky when you think of it as a song about replacing a beloved bassist. “I thought I knew you, what did I know?” “The only difference is you’re down there.” To cover for the songwriting bass player’s absence, John got heavily into special effects and George used Indian instruments. George wrote a song called Taxidermist about Paul, but Ringo convinced him to change it to Taxman because it was just too obvious. “Eleanor Rigby” was about the secret funeral. Originally Lennon wrote the priest as Father McCartney, but later changed it to Mackenzie who gives a “sermon no one will hear.” Ah, they were very lonely people without Paul.
The next album, which was released only in America, was Yesterday and Today and it had stronger clues. The original artwork showed The Beatles sitting in the middle of baby doll parts along with bloody butcher meat. Two decapitated dolls flank Paul’s head. George is holding up a severed doll’s head with its hair burnt off right next to Paul’s head. The filmmaker doctored the album cover to make it look like Paul has no teeth in his mouth. His teeth are on his arm. There’s an eye somewhere in the shot. Maxwell threatened John so the band hastily put together another album cover that showed Paul in a trunk that looks like he’s in a coffin. Maxwell punched Lennon in the stomach.
The film points out that if you look at the titles of the songs on the album they appear to tell the story. “Drive My Car” was what Paul was doing at the time of the crash, Rita found “a driver and that’s a start.” “I’m Only Sleeping” is what Paul looked like, although it’s tough to get into a comfortable sleeping position when you’re head’s been torn off. “Dr. Robert” tells the story of the plastic surgeon who made the fake Paul “a new and better man.” “Yesterday” was John being sorry that Paul “had to go.” “We Can Work It Out” tells how they would deal with the change in lineup. The band had to “Act Naturally” to keep the ruse alive. They should have run for their lives.
The next album was called Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band because John was lonely without his songwriting partner, although he did have fifty songs left over from their collaborations. The album was filled with clues. The album cover is a funeral. All the people Paul would have liked to see at his funeral. Jayne Mansfield had also been decapitated in a car crash. Bob Dylan had taken a year off from music after an accident, but the filmmakers claim he didn’t crash his motorcycle, he went into drug rehab. If you hold a mirror to the title on the drums you see 1 1 1 X he die, which means 11/9 he die. Paul had the accident on Nov. 9 (There’s an arrow that points up to Paul too, but they missed that.) Yellow flowers form a left-handed bass with three strings, meaning the three remaining Beatles. You can see the words “Here Lies Paul” if you stand back from the cover. You also see blood stained driving gloves and a doll with a split head. Stephen Crane holds his hand over Paul’s head. Crane wrote the novel “Open Boat” about four men on a boat in a storm, one dies, the other three cover it up. The inner and back sleeve looks like it is soaking up red blood. Paul faces away. The words “Without You” are seen by Paul’s head. George is pointing to the words “Wednesday morning at five o’clock,” the time Paul’s accident apparently occurred. The songs also have their clues. You can hear “Paul is dead He lost his hair, his head” and other clues if you play the album backwards. You also screw up your needle, according to George Carlin at the time. Maxwell punched Lennon in the stomach.
The band went to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi so he could perform a ritual that would pull Paul’s soul into William Campbell’s body. Didn’t work.
The Magical Mystery Tour cover and the booklet that came along with the album is chock-full-of-clues. Paul has a hole where his heart should be. (They left out a sign in front of Paul reading “I was,” blood-stained shoes, the words 3 Beatles, but if they put in all the clues it would be a six hour movie – which I would have watched.) There’s a phone number on the album, 527-1438, which when you called it was the number of a funeral parlor. A photo in the back of the booklet spells out RIP. You can hear “Ha Ha Paul is Dead” when you play the coda of “I Am the Walrus” backward. The Eggman is Humpty Dumpty who fell off the wall, cracked his shell and couldn’t be saved by all the king’s horses or men. Horse doctors must have been popular at one time. You also hear “Bury my body” and “Untimely Death” in the fadout. The recorded George claims he said them. They were from a BBC performance of King Lear. It’s still kind of strange to put in a pop song. You can hear the words “I buried Paul” in the second fade-out of “Strawberry Fields.” “Hello Goodbye” is a song about the change of Pauls, “You say goodbye. I say hello” and you hear “Please somebody. Get me out” if you play it backwards.
The next album, The Beatles, would have an all-white cover so MI5 listeners would think the rebellious rock ensemble had given up on putting more clues on album covers. Although again, if you hold a mirror in the center, you can make out the words “He Be Ice 3.” The band figured the spies would see the album cover, be satisfied and throw it out without listening. The clues would be hidden only in the songs. Maxwell punched Lennon in the stomach. At the end of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” George sings “Paul Paul” mournfully. In “Glass Onion,” Lennon sings “I told you about the walrus and me, man … Here’s another clue for you all. The walrus was Paul.” “Don’t Pass Me By” tells the story of someone who was in a car crash and lost their hair. “Paul really dead” can be heard if you play it backwards, along with “My fingers are broken and so is my hair.” “Revolution 9” tells the story of the crash if you play it backwards. The words “number nine,” when played backwards clearly sound like “Turn me on Dead man.” You can hear someone screaming “Help. Get me out.” And then there’s the end of “I’m So Tired,” where you can hear Lennon lament “Paul is dead, man, miss him, miss him.”
On the cover of the Yellow Submarine album you see the Lord Mayor pointing heavenward. The other Beatles point to the ground. The old group is buried right next to the Yellow Submarine. Yellow Submarine is a coffin buried in a sea of green, the grass that covered it. You can hear the words “I buried Paul” sung backwards at the end of “All Together Now.” George tells about John singing “the band’s not quite right in his song “It’s Only a Northern Song.” John’s Northern song? It’s a George song. They really should get their shit together.
The cover of Abbey Road shows a funeral procession. John is Jesus. George is dressed as a grave digger. Ringo wears the plain black suit of an undertaker and Paul walks on bare feet with his eyes closed as the corpse. Paul is holding a cigarette, a coffin-nail, in his right hand, not his left. Originally there was red-blood-colored paint splattered on the street making a body outline. But that was taken out. The license plate on a VW Beetle reads “LMS 28IF.” Paul would have been 28 if he’d have lived. Not really, but close enough. There is a crack in the sign reading “The Beatles” and there’s a Grim Reaper on the back cover. That’s Rita in the blue dress. In “Come Together,” John sings “One and one and one is three,” hmm, three Beatles. “Here come old flattop?” Paul’s head was Jayne Mansfielded.
On Oct. 12, 1969, Russell Gibb, a Detroit DJ, figured it out and announced on the air that Paul McCartney was dead. F. Lee Bailey also had a TV show about the Paul is dead rumors in December of 1969. Maxwell punched Lennon in the stomach. John announced that he was getting a divorce and was going to take off for America. Fake Paul got married in 1969. Linda had figured it out and rather than have MI5 kill her, William Campbell decided he should marry her and teach her to sing. The filmmakers say Ringo had no talent and no personality, that he was lucky just to be a Beatle and so had no problem going along with the ruse for the rest of his career. No personality? No talent? The Beatles decided to Let It Be, disband and get out of the whole thing before Lennon got punched in the stomach again. On the album cover, Paul’s background is red. The others are white.
After the breakup the band took part in decades of deception. John decided to pose as a crazy person, pretending to dig Yoko’s crazy sounds and doing peace demonstrations. This trivializes both their enduring relationship and Lennon’s commitment to peace and progressive politics. The fake Paul smoked so much cannabis dealing with the discomfort of the plastic surgeries, he got hooked on pot. Got busted. Linda got busted. All that cannabis. All those busts. Rita wanted to get paid off but is silenced by the MI5. She survived and winds up being Heather Mills. Again the math doesn’t add up.
The clues that the Beatles put on their records that started the Paul is dead rumors have been interpreted to mean a lot of things. On the internet you can find theories that prove the Beatles are the Illuminati, are freemasons who rule the world, that the Manson killings were a fucked up CIA operation to assassinate John Lennon because he had also stayed at Terry Melcher’s house when the Beatles were in LA. Paul McCartney Really Is Dead: The Last Testament of George Harrison was made by a Beatle fan for Beatle fans. It is a forced perception piece of conspiracy filmmaking that fudges quite a bit to make its point, but it does have some good footage and the filmmakers did find two clues that I hadn’t seen. The Beatles were clever lads. I’m sure there was some recurring joke they were telling, but until I see DNA evidence, I’m still waiting for the punch line.
Den of Geek Rating: 2 Out of 5 Stars