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Beatles Biopics: 'Two of Us'

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Beatles Biopics
'Birth of the Beatles' | 'John & Yoko: A Love Story' | 'The Hours and Times'
'Backbeat' | 'Two of Us' | 'The Linda McCartney Story' | 'In His Life: The John Lennon Story'
'Nowhere Boy' | 'Lennon Naked'

Two of Us is a The Beatles biopic that is closer in style to The Hours and Times than any of the other Beatles dramas, in that it consists mainly of two men in a room having a discussion. It opens after a brief interview sequence which sets the time and theme of the film – whether Paul McCartney and John Lennon can get back together – not as the Beatles, but more importantly, as friends.

The opening caption, as with The Hours and Times, stresses the fictional nature of the film:

This fictional film is not endorsed by any person depicted herein and neither such persons nor their families, heirs or related parties have participated in the making of this film.
Legend has it that in 1976 – six years after the bitter breakup of the Beatles – Paul McCartney paid a surprise visit to John Lennon at his apartment in New York City.
This film makes no attempt to document what may have occurred at such a meeting. Rather, it is a work of fiction, in appreciation of two blokes from Liverpool, and the gifts they gave us.

Like The Hours and Times, the scene is set with a few establishing shots, in this case of New York City and the area around the Dakota Building1, Central Park, where John Lennon lived.

Also similar to The Hours and Times, where John converses with Cynthia only by telephone, all we hear of Yoko is her answerphone message.

The first line, The fans are great, seems not only in character with Paul McCartney but also comes across as an attempt to placate fans into liking the film.

Let It Be

One of the main advantages of Two of Us is that Michael Lindsay-Hogg, a director who actually knew Paul and John, directs it. Michael Lindsay-Hogg spent time with John and Paul during the most stressful period of their lives as Beatles, the Let It Be sessions. For Let It Be they planned to film the making of an album, initially to be called Get Back from start to finish, the finish to be held at a concert venue, and Michael Lindsay-Hogg was the director chosen to film the making of the album. However, it was during the Let It Be sessions that the band began to split up, with George Harrison temporarily quitting the band during the sessions.

This experience is used to the film's best advantage in ensuring that Paul and John act the way that the real Paul and John did. With convincing lookalikes who are actually good actors in the lead roles, it is surprisingly easy to be drawn into the drama. That a director of a Beatles film directed Two of Us is not only made full advantage in the marketing of the film, but also its title.

Two of Us

The title, Two of Us, shares its name with a Beatles song that was performed during the Let It Be sessions. Paul McCartney wrote it about his relationship with Linda, but the song, performed with John, sounds like it is about the two of them. Some of the song's lyrics are particularly apt for the film:

Two of us riding nowhere
Spending someone's
Hard earned pay
You and me Sunday driving
Not arriving
On our way back home.
You and I have memories
Longer than the road that stretches
On ahead

As the song's lyrics suggest, at the end of the film when Paul and John are tempted to travel to do a live appearance, in fact they 'ride nowhere' and therefore are 'not arriving' on their way 'back home', home in this case symbolised by a reformed Beatles. And, as the song lyrics imply, Paul and John do indeed have memories longer than the road that would have taken them to the Saturday Night Live studio.

Coming to terms and recapturing those memories is what the film is about. Two of Us therefore very cleverly incorporates those themes, bringing them to the fore, while using a title that emphasises that this is a film about the Beatles. Two of Us is the only biopic to use a Beatles song as its actual title.

One line in the film even mentions the title, Two of Us. Paul McCartney states They're always going on about the two of us being locked in some horrible feud, referring to the press. As this line mentions the film's title, it is therefore of extra importance.


Aidan QuinnPaul McCartney
Jared HarrisJohn Lennon

Beatles and John and Paul References

One of the joys of watching this short film is spotting the number of Beatles references that the film subtly contains. These are an added bonus for fans to spot and are done is such a way as to not detract from the feel of the film. Many of the references are done very much in character, especially from John Lennon's point of view.

John frequently refers to Paul McCartney's songs as 'nursery rhymes' in a dismissive way. This not only fits in with the style of his anti-McCartney song 'How Do You Sleep?' but also refers to the 1972 Paul McCartney single, 'Mary Had A Little Lamb'. Indeed, when John talks to Paul about Paul's farm and his daughter Mary, John asks 'does Mary have a little lamb?' again as a reference to this song.

Similarly when Paul asks what John thinks of his latest composition, John replies: Well you know I'd think that people would have had enough of silly love songs. Impressive, man, muzak to my ears. This response is very much in character with John Lennon, wittily quoting both the first line of Paul's song 'Silly Love Songs', yet adding a teasing twist, adding to the insult by him referring to Paul's songs as 'muzak'2. This, and the line that follows, is a reference to 'How Do You Sleep?' and the line the sound you make is muzak to my ears.

Many of the phrases John comes up with in the film, such as 'back by popular dementia' and 'no skin off my teeth', are the sort of phrases that John really enjoyed. This can be seen in John's books In His Own Write and A Spaniard In The Works.

John and Paul both discuss Madison Square Garden. John refers to singing with Elton John at Madison Square Garden, which he did in November 19743. John joined Elton John to sing three songs to celebrate 'Whatever Gets You Through The Night', a John Lennon song that Elton John played piano on and provided vocals for, getting to number one in America4. This was John's last public performance. Paul McCartney and Wings played Madison Square in May 1976, and Paul returned to perform at the venue in 1989, 2001 and 20025.

When discussing the other band members, John mentions that he has been invited into the studio by Ringo Starr, but wasn't sure whether he would go or not. John did indeed record two songs for Ringo's Rotogravure album in June 1976. The songs were 'A Dose Of Rock 'n' Roll', with John playing piano, and John's composition 'Cookin' (In The Kitchen Of Love)'6. These were John Lennon's last recorded work for four years. Also mentioned in the film is George Harrison in connection with Monty Python. In April 1976 George did perform 'The Lumberjack Song' for Monty Python's Flying Circus, at the New York City Centre venue, appearing in the chorus. George later financed Monty Python's Life Of Brian film.

One scene that doesn't fit in with the drama is the scene in which Paul said that he has been having dreams with John in. Paul states that he is also dreaming of Brian Epstein, the Beatles' first manager who died in 1967, Mal Evans, their road manager who was shot dead by Los Angeles police in January 1976, and his own mother, Mary McCartney, who had died in 1956. The implication is that the dreams are foretelling that John will be the next to be killed. This sequence ruins the drama of the scene, taking the audience out of the story set in 1976 and reminding them of events that occurred in the drama's future.

There are several small details that show how well researched the film is. The flat in the Dakota, decorated in white just as the real apartment was, has a white piano. This is intended to be the famous white piano that John wrote and performed 'Imagine' on, which John gave to Yoko as a present on her birthday in 1971. His shirt has the slogan 'This is not here', words inscribed in the window of Tittenhurst Park, his Berkshire home between 1969 - 19737 as well as the name of Yoko Ono's 1971 art exhibition.

The importance of Bob Gruen and his photographs in inspiring the film's scenes and look is referred to in the credits. He was a photographer who first met John and Yoko at an Attica Benefit concert in Harlam in 1971. He was invited to take photographs of John and Yoko for the Elephant's Memory album, and then became John and Yoko's official photographer from 1972. His photographs were used on the Walls and Bridges album, and one of his photographs was the cover of the Live In New York City album.

At one point, Paul gives a real Paul McCartney anecdote to John about being offered elephant tranquilliser drugs by Harry Nilsson. Curiously, in real life, John was present when that actually happened in 1974.

Paul, when in disguise, is introduced by John as 'Ramone', which is based on the pseudonym 'Paul Ramon' that Paul used on the Beatles' early 1960 Scottish tour with Johnny Gentle. Paul also used the name Paul Ramon8 to record a track for the Steve Miller band. Part of John Lennon's disguise is a badge saying 'Elvis'. This is something he frequently wore in 1975. When John tells Paul he is giving up the game he is quoting the spirit of the John Lennon song 'Watching The Wheels'. Yoko did indeed seriously purchase farm animals, as she and John owned 1,600 acres of farmland in America. One of the cows she owned later sold for $265,000 and was the world's most expensive cow at the time, and John did live on a macrobiotic diet during his 'house husband' period.

The time that Paul describes in the film when he last saw John in 1974 did actually happen, and John did indeed remember it. In an interview in 1974, John said:

He [Paul] was here in New York recently. We spent two or three nights talking together about the old days. It was cool, seeing what each other remembered about Hamburg and Liverpool.

Paul has described the event by saying:

[John] was doing Pussy Cats9 with Nilsson and Keith Moon and Jesse Ed Davis, to name but three total nutters... We went round to a session and sat there for a bit. It was a little bit strange, John and I, seeing each other at that time. But then we dropped by their house the next day for a cup of tea or something.

Paul not only 'sat there' for a session, but also helped arrange a take of 'Midnight Special', and visited again the following Sunday when not only were he and John present but also Stevie Wonder, Jesse Ed Davis and Bobby Keyes. The musicians jammed for a while on a few numbers, recordings of which were made. The results were considered poor.

Other references include the Where are we going? Straight to the top! speech used by the lads as a motivational speech before concerts. Versions of this speech are in Birth of the Beatles and Backbeat. In this case, the speech refers to the lift that John and Paul are taking to the roof of the Dakota Building. The rooftop scene itself is strongly reminiscent of the rooftop scene in The Hours and Times.

The Truth

The central idea of the film, that Paul visited John in New York in mid-1976, is in fact true and based on real life events. Although in real life the meeting was between Paul and Linda and John and Yoko, in Two of Us only Paul and John are present. The film's depiction of the meeting taking place with only Paul and John present emphasises the drama and makes for a stronger story.

Paul and Linda did visit John and Yoko on Saturday, 24 April, 1976, and all four of them watched Saturday Night Live on television, when producer Lorne Michaels asked if the band could turn up and perform some numbers for them. Although they were tempted, in the end they decided that they were too tired. Paul, when interviewed for the biography Many Years From Now, stated:

I recollect that John said, 'It's only downtown, we could go now. Come on, let's just show up. Should we, should we?' And for a second it was like, 'Yeah, yeah!' But we decided not to.

When asked about the potential trip to the Saturday Night Live studio, John simply described the event by saying: We nearly got a cab, but we were actually too tired.

John, later in 1976, described meeting up with Paul again with the words:

He [Paul] visits me every time he's in New York like all the other rock 'n' roll creeps. He comes over and we just sit around and get mildly drunk and reminisce.

Paul tried visiting John again the following day, and was surprised to not be allowed in. When interviewed about turning Paul away, John later said:

That was a period when Paul just kept turning up at our door with a guitar. I would let him in, but finally I said to him, 'Please call before you come over. It's not 1956, and turning up at the door isn't the same any more. You know, just give me a ring'. That upset him, but I didn't mean it badly. I just meant that I was taking care of a baby all day, and some guy turns up at the door with a guitar.

John's last face-to-face words to Paul on that, the last occasion they ever saw each other, according to Paul are: Think about me every now and then, old friend, followed by a friendly pat on the shoulder.

Beatles Biopics
1The Dakota Building was commissioned in 1884 and was New York's first block of flats built with a lift. The Dakota Building famously is where the horror film Rosemary's Baby is set. John and Yoko Ono bought their first apartment there in 1973, eventually owning five apartments and seriously considering trying to purchase the entire building. It was outside the Dakota Building that John Lennon was shot.2'Muzak', named after the Muzak Holdings Company, is a term used to describe the background tunes often played in shopping centres and elevators. 3John had performed at Madison Square Garden before, in a charity concert in 1972, which was to be his last solo public performance, rather than the guest appearance with Elton John two years later. This concert is available on DVD and CD as Live In New York City.4In Britain it only reached number 24.5At Paul's 2002 appearance at Madison Square Garden the New York Police Department made him an honorary detective, to thank him for his 2001 concert at Madison Square Garden in aid of the victims of the World Trade Centre attack. To date, Sir Paul has not arrested any New Yorkers.6Paul asked if he could contribute a song for the album and wrote 'Pure Gold', with Paul and Linda on backing vocals. George Harrison allowed Ringo to use an old song he had written but never released, 'I'll Still Love You'.7When John sold Tittenhurst Park to move to the Dakota Building, Ringo bought it. In 1979 Ringo sold it to Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, ruler of Abu Dhabi.8Not to be confused with 'Ram On', the third and eleventh tracks on Paul McCartney's Ram and Thrillington albums.9A Harry Nilsson album that John Lennon produced. During production, John, Harry Nilsson, Keith Moon, and for a short period, Ringo Starr, all shared a rented house for the duration of the recordings. Klaus Voorman also performed for the album.

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