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Mark Haefeli
Paul McCartney
Writing Credits:

As a member of "The Beatles", Paul McCartney helped to launch the British Invasion and bring rock and roll onto the global stage. Though banned from Russia, The Beatles' music offered hope and inspiration to a beleaguered people. Finally, on May 24, 2003, Paul McCartney ended decades of anticipation with his first-ever concert in Russia, wowing a crowd of over 100,000 people jammed into Moscow's legendary Red Square.

Rated NR

Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1
English Dolby Stereo 2.0
Not Closed-captioned

Runtime: 100 min.
Price: $24.95
Release Date: 6/14/2005

• Bonus Concert: Live in St. Petersburg
• “Behind the Curtain: Memories of Red Square” Featurette
• “Russia and the Beatles: A Brief Journey” Featurette
• Resource Guide
• Booklet


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Paul McCartney In Red Square: A Concert Film (2003)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 31, 2005)

With Paul McCartney soon to start his first American tour in three years, expect plenty of related product to hit the shelves. Macca himself will release a new album - his first since 2001’s Driving Rain - and I’m sure we can expect other items as well. A&E launches the first salvo with this June 2005 DVD release of In Red Square, a program originally aired in September 2003.

As one might expect, Square presents a May 2003 concert McCartney played in Moscow. Or at least parts of that show. The DVD offers 20 performances of 19 songs; “Back in the USSR” pops up twice due to an end of the concert reprise. This means we lose 21 songs from the original concert’s 39 numbers. (“Things We Said Today” only showed up in a soundcheck, which is why it doesn’t count as part of the show’s 39 tunes.)

Most of the songs appear in their entirety, but the program occasionally mars some of them. We hear speaking over the start of both “I’ve Just Seen a Face” and “Let ‘Em In”, while dialogue pops up in the middle of “Fool on the Hill” and “Calico Skies”. In addition, the program clearly truncates “Getting Better” and “Band on the Run”, and I also suspect some slick editing shortens numbers like “Maybe I’m Amazed”.

All the speech comes from the non-concert parts of Square. Not content to simply depict the landmark performance, the program works half as historical documentary. We get a perspective that looks at the repression of the Beatles’ music in the USSR and the band’s impact on the country. We hear comments from McCartney, author/sociologist Artemy Troitsky, author Timothy Ryback, musicians Seva Gakkel, Boris Grebenshikov, Olga Pershina, and Andrei Makarevich, Russian defense minister Sergei Ivanov, St. Petersburg Conservatory rector Sergey Roldugin, playwright Sergei Volynets, former Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and early Beatles fan Kolya Vasin.

These elements occasionally shine. It’s fun to see McCartney with Gorby, and Ivanov’s remarks are particularly revealing. I also like a few of the shots that show Macca as he toddles around Russia.

However, a little of that goes a long way, and we get way too much of these images. In addition, the historical perspective goes way over the top throughout the show. At times, the commentators give us the impression that the Beatles single-handedly brought down the Iron Curtain. I know the band did play a role in the USSR’s trend toward openness, and the Sixties regime definitely felt threatened by the band, but this thing really exaggerates their impact. (Oddly, the show fails to talk about McCartney’s 1987 covers album that was originally released only in the USSR.)

Over the last four years, Macca’s turned into a real road warrior. After nine years off the highways, he put on a full US tour in 2002 and also played some shows in Japan and Mexico. He did substantial numbers of European dates in 2003 and 2004. As already mentioned, 2005 finds him back in the US for an extended trek.

Maybe one of these days Paul will give us a well-produced concert DVD. Unfortunately, Square ain’t that product. It suffers from virtually all the problems that mar prior McCartney concert videos. Most concert videos focus on the band, but not Macca’s. Instead, we get tons of the usual shots of geeked up fans. They scream, they dance, they genuflect - and they annoy. Is Paul’s ego really so fragile that he needs to constantly remind us how much everyone loves him?

Perhaps that’s not the problem, and instead the directors of these programs think the action onstage isn’t exciting enough to hold our attention. Admittedly, Macca’s no Jagger, and he doesn’t offer a searing stage presence. Some visual spice is fine, but the constant shifts to the audience and other elements get old rapidly. It’s probably a combination of the two factors, but whatever the case, it ends up as an unsatisfying visual experience.

Worse yet, the editing of Square moves things at an absurdly dizzying pace. The program looks like a hyperactive chimp edited it, as literally the only bits that last longer than two seconds are sweeping crane shots. I guess the editor thought those moved enough on their own, though I’m surprised he could go more than two seconds without a chop. More sedate tracks like “Two of Us” get calmer cutting than “Can’t Buy Me Love”, but the camera still refuses to sit still. During “Live and Let Die”, matters became so frenetic that I worried the visuals would induce an epileptic fit. Even a simple soundcheck performance of “Things We Said Today” flits all around and cuts in tons of extraneous - and pointless - shots.

On the positive side, it really is a treat to get rare tracks like “Two of Us”, “I’ve Just Seen a Face”, “Calico Skies”, and “She’s Leaving Home”. We also find at least one unintentionally amusing moment: McCartney encourages Putin to sing along with “Hey Jude” but he simply stands there and looks peeved

Unfortunately, such highlights occur only sporadically. Of course, In Red Square presents plenty of good music, and McCartney’s current band performs the tracks well. However, the half-assed history and the poor visual depiction of the concert mar this program much of the time. As a lifelong McCartney fan, I’m happy to have this DVD, but it remains a decided disappointment.

The DVD Grades: Picture C-/ Audio C/ Bonus B

Paul McCartney: In Red Square appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The absence of 16X9 enhancement came as a letdown, and the spotty visuals exacerbated that disappointment.

Sharpness appeared acceptable at best. Close-ups usually presented decent definition, but anything wider than that tended to be dicey. Actually, some broader shots looked fine, but most were ropy and rough. Jagged edges were close to the norm, as they dominated much of the program. Shimmering was of a problem but it occurred. Did edge enhancement occur? Probably, but the shots flew by so rapidly that I couldn’t tell. At least the program lacked source concerns; outside of some light video artifacting in a few darker shots, this was a clean piece.

Colors looked passable. The concert sequences used a subdued palette without too many bright hues. The lights added some color, and McCartney occasionally donned red shirts to contrast the basic blacks worn by his band. I thought colors neither excelled nor collapsed, as they were fine but no better. Blacks looked a bit inky and flat, and shadows tended to be a bit dense, though the program didn’t offer a lot of low-light shots. In the end, much of Square was serviceable, but the preponderance of blocky images knocked down my grade to a “C-“.

Note that my comments applied to the main program: the concert scenes, the interview sequences, and the shots around Russia. Square also included a mix of archival bits that demonstrated a variety of flaws. I didn’t think it was fair to alter my grade because of their presence, but I did want to mention their existence and why I didn’t factor them into my rating.

Although the audio fared better, it didn’t do so by much. Just like Back in the US, In Red Square boasted both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. Unlike Back in the US, however, I discerned virtually no difference between the two. Both the Dolby and DTS mixes sounded identical to me.

Though subdued, I didn’t have too many complaints about the soundfield. As expected, the forward spectrum dominated, which made sense for a concert presentation. Stereo imaging was decent but unexceptional. Guitars and crowd noise popped up in the requisite spots but the general impression seemed a bit mushy. There wasn’t great delineation for the various instruments and they blended together a little too much. The surrounds stayed with musical reinforcement and some cheering, another appropriate outgrowth of the concert format.

Square lost points due to the spotty quality of the audio. Again, the word “mushy” sprang to mind. The audio seemed perfectly serviceable but without much dynamic intensity. Bass tended to be loose and slightly muddy, while highs appeared somewhat tepid and without bite. Overall, it’s not a terrible track, and it did remain listenable at all times. It simply failed to deliver a particularly high quality experience, as it could - and should - have been livelier and more vivid.

A pretty good helping of extras rounds out In Red Square, and these open with a real treat: excerpts from a June 2004 concert in St. Petersburg. This 53-minute and 40-second piece includes 12 of the show’s songs. We get “Jet”, “Got to Get You Into My Life”, “Flaming Pie”, “Let Me Roll It”, “Drive My Car”, “Penny Lane”, “Get Back”, “Back in the USSR”, “I’ve Got a Feeling”, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)”, “The End” and “Helter Skelter”.

“St. Petersburg” starts with a decent nearly 10-minute introduction that looks at the production and tour. From there it launches into the show, which we comes with Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1 and Dolby Stereo 2.0 mixes. The audio seems a little clearer than what we hear for the main program, as it presents peppier high end. However, bass is somewhat weak and the track lacks terribly substantial bottom. Nonetheless, the greater clarity and bite makes this the stronger auditory experience, and I can’t call the bass bad; it just needs a stronger impact.

Visual quality remains about the same as Square, though “St. Petersburg” boasts somewhat better editing. Yeah, it’s still hyperactive and offers too many crowd shots, but at least it sticks with the events at the show itself and doesn’t bother with extraneous nonsense.

While I wish this piece included the entire concert, at least it mostly avoids retreads of songs already heard in the main program. Of course, we get the inevitable “Back in the USSR” - for the third time on this DVD - but none of the other 11 tunes pop up in Square. That makes “St. Petersburg” more valuable, especially given the presence of real rarities like “I’ve Got a Feeling”, “Flaming Pie” and “Helter Skelter”, all songs that never showed up on prior Macca tours. They also do a quick instrumental take on Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxey Lady”. My main disappointment: “St. Petersburg” lacks “You Won’t See Me”, “In Spite of All the Danger”, “She’s a Woman”, “I’ll Follow the Sun” and “For No One”, real rarities prior to 2004. Nonetheless, this is a very cool addition to the set and it clearly makes the DVD much more valuable for fans.

Two featurettes come next. Behind the Curtain: Memories of Red Square lasts five minutes and 57 seconds. We see Paul as he plods around Russia and tells us about his experiences. McCartney talks about his feelings toward Russia and his impressions of the show. Should you expect anything revealing or provocative here? Nope, as Paul does little more than talk about how wonderful everything was.

In Russia and the Beatles: A Brief Journey, we get a five-minute and 45-second program that gives us an odd overview of the two subjects. Essentially it acts as a timeline that presents the events in the USSR and in the Beatles from 1964 to 1970. It makes little sense.

A text Resource Guide lists some web links. We get addresses for the State Hermitage Museum, Novasti, Embassy of the Russian Federation, the Center for Slavic and East European Studies, the World Music Center and A&E’s McCartney page.

Lastly, Square comes with an eight-page booklet. This presents a few photos and extremely laudatory quotes along with tracklistings for both the Red Square and St. Petersburg shows. Although the latter is correct, I think the same hyperactive money who edited the show wrote the details for the Moscow concert. Oddly, the text adds an “It’s” to “Getting Better” and renames “Let ‘Em In” as “Someone’s Knocking on the Door”. Even weirder, it mistakes “Things We Said Today” for “Every Little Thing”.

Even after 14 concerts – with seven more to go this fall - I still get a little charge when I see Paul McCartney walk onstage. He’s not my favorite artist or the best live performer I’ve seen, but my affection for his material stretches back longer than any of my other faves, and I can’t help but think “That’s Paul McCartney!” when he appears.

Too bad the lackluster In Red Square does little to convey that sense of excitement. Half concert film and half historical examination of the Beatles’ impact on the Soviet Union, it doesn’t greatly succeed in other dimension. The musical bits work best but the frenetic presentation lessens their impact.

Both picture and sound seems mediocre at best, but the package includes some good extras highlighted by excerpts of a 2004 concert; those elements work better than those in the main show. The inclusion of quite a few McCartney rarities makes this a definite must have for diehards, but casual fans will likely feel less satisfied with this erratic and mostly unsatisfying program.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5405 Stars Number of Votes: 37
4 3:
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