If nothing else, Paul McCartney seems to like to record his history for posterity. Each of his last three original studio albums has been accompanied by a documentary about its making. 1989’s Flowers in the Dirt came with Put It There, while 1993’s Off the Ground brought us Moving On. Although no full-length piece resulted from 1999’s Run Devil Run - which consisted mainly of covers - the DVD of Live at the Cavern Club featured a fair amount of information about the creation of that album.
Not surprisingly, McCartney’s last - as of August 2001 - record of original tunes also came with a documentary. 1997’s Flaming Pie birthed a program called In the World Tonight, a look at the making of the album as well as a number of other aspects of McCartney’s life at that time.
Those latter aspects of the show surprised me. I expected to see a lot of material about Pie, but I didn’t think I’d get so much material about other topics. To be certain, Pie dominated the program, though not always in a terrific manner. Most of these elements were fairly predictable. Paul discussed a little background for some of the tunes - nine of the record’s 14 tracks make an appearance - and we heard snippets of the songs. Usually these were accompanied by shots of McCartney as he rode a horse, or walked on the beach, or wandered through the woods, or did whatever homey things 50-something rock legends do. The information about the album was passable but unrevealing, and the images of a lone McCartney as he plodded about were quite dull.
In addition, some of the Pie tracks were accompanied by music videos. As he explained in one part of the documentary, Paul made these all on the cheap, and it really showed. All of them looked like material created by a high school AV club. Actually, I take that back; when we were in school, we could have done a better job. They’re embarrassingly amateurish, and they made it look like Paul just didn’t want to invent any effort.
Most of the discussions of Pie seemed free from passion or spontaneity. However, at one point we saw a McCartney interview intended for his radio show, “Oobu Joobu”. During that piece, Paul romped about the studio and played with different instruments. These segments were quite entertaining, as McCartney seemed casual and disarmingly fun. He usually comes across as very rehearsed and without much spark, but these moments offered a surprising amount of naturalness.
Probably the only other Pie-related snippet came when McCartney performed “Hold You” live in the studio. Actually, this clip intercut with shots from Macca playing in front of a campfire, but while indoors, he did the song as a solo acoustic number while wife Linda watched. The piece would have been touching under any situation, but Linda’s death not long after this made it resonate even more strongly. It was a sweet and moving moment.
Unfortunately, we rarely got to hear live material. Even when we saw McCartney sing in the studio, the finished recordings covered the raw footage. As such, we never were able to receive a rough glimpse of the man at work, which made those sequences less valuable. Also note that almost all of the songs were presented as excerpts; a few ran to their completion, but most were interrupted or partially hidden by dialogue.
Probably the best Pie-related moment in regard to background information came toward the end of the show. At that time we watched some of the recording of “Beautiful Night”, a large project that involved famous former cohorts Ringo Starr and George Martin. This kind of information should have comprised more of the program, as it offered some nice glimpses of these legends at work.
In addition to the material about Pie, we heard about some other Macca projects. We learned a little about his classical material, and we also got information about an animated project he wrote. Although it was generally related to Pie, one of the show’s stronger segments took snippets from a VH1 “Town Meeting” in which a crowd peppered Paul with questions. None of these were stellar queries, but it was a fun and interesting part of the program. However, I had to raise an eyebrow when Paul discussed the negatives of touring; he mentioned staying at Holiday Inns. Somehow I think the man can afford nicer digs while on the road.
Ultimately, In the World Tonight was a decent but inconsistent look at the world of Paul McCartney circa 1997. It combined some good material in the studio and elsewhere, mainly when Paul interacted with others. When left alone, the program became more boring and less revealing. The piece also lacked much coherence, as it bopped from topic to topic with little rhyme or reason at times. Nonetheless, it was a generally useful look at a legend, and his fans should enjoy it.
Paul McCartney In the World Tonight appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The show offered a fairly typical example of a videotaped program, which meant that it suffered from a variety of concerns and never seemed better than average.
Sharpness usually appeared to be acceptably clear and accurate, but the DVD delivered a vague and edgy look that befalls many videotaped pieces. The lack of resolution inherent in the format meant that things seemed pretty rough at times. Quite a lot of jagged edges and moiré effects occurred, and I also saw examples of edge enhancement. The show betrayed a harsh appearance that lacked the depth we’d get from film. It looked as though World was shot on less-than-top-of-the-line cameras, which led to the rough visuals that are common for the format.
Colors were generally decent, though they lacked much life. They seemed to be fairly typical for video, as they represented the hues with acceptable accuracy but they failed to offer any vibrancy or boldness. Black levels were similarly drab, while shadow detail could seem rather muddy. Ultimate, In the World Tonight remained watchable throughout the program, but it never went above that level.
The Dolby Stereo 2.0 mix of In the World Tonight provided a stronger impression, but it still seemed somewhat disappointing. Dialogue and effects were acceptably natural and accurate; speech varied depending on the setting, but I always found those elements to appear intelligible and clear. As one might expect, music dominated the program, and the forward spectrum showed the strongest aspects of the track. While some variation existed, for the most part the tunes displayed good stereo separation, and the surrounds contributed minor ambient reinforcement.
Musical quality appeared to be somewhat erratic, though most of the songs seemed to resemble the original recordings. At times the reproduction sounded a bit thick, though some of this resulted from the production; Jeff Lynne-headed tracks usually favor a dull, thudding aura, and the DVD replicated that fairly accurately. Nonetheless, I thought the dynamic range could have been broader. Bass and highs sounded reasonably clear and bright, but they could have been more vibrant. Ultimately, In the World Tonight offered an acceptable but unspectacular soundtrack.
In regard to extras, the DVD includes none. However, I must note that it features an unusual chapter selection. Instead of simply listing the disc’s 40 chapters, they’re split into different categories: “People”, “Projects and Events”, “Music”, and “Memories”. Want to skip straight to the part where Paul refers to “Lenny Craddock”? Hit “Lenny Kravitz” under “People”. It’s a cool way to partition the chapters, though it does lead to an unwieldy number of the things.
As a longtime Beatle fan, I’ve seen enough interviews and “behind the scenes” material with Paul McCartney to recognize we’ll likely never see anything that truly goes deep; his chats always stay fairly superficial and glib. In the World Tonight didn’t really deviate from that standard, but it offered a generally entertaining program nonetheless. While many parts of it dragged, there was enough fun stuff to make the show worthwhile. Shot on videotape, picture quality seemed relatively weak, while sound was good but unexceptional. The DVD lacked any extras. While I thought this was a decent program, it probably should be left for more serious Beatle and McCartney fans; those with less interest likely will feel bored by it.