We all love conspiracy theories like the assassination of JFK, the real cause of 9/11, and the reason for the success of Jersey Shore. Despite clear evidence to the contrary, certain people still hold fast to these fantasies. Conspiracies are like modern myths, something that some individuals need to believe in no matter how outlandish the stories. One conspiracy theory that has floated around since the late ’60’s is that Paul McCartney died in a car crash during the height of the Beatles and was subsequently replaced by a look-alike. Supposedly, the remaining members of the band placed clues in their songs and cover artwork for the fans to piece together and learn the truth. This urban legend went by the wayside as nothing more than a humorous curiosity, until a documentary came out in 2010 called Paul McCartney Really Is Dead: The Last Testament of George Harrison that makes the case that, as the title states, Paul really is dead and those rumors about his demise are true.
This is heavy stuff. If true, that means that the front man of Wings, twice-Oscar-nominated songwriter (not counting sharing the win with the rest of the Beatles for 1970’s “Let It Be” for Best Music, Original Song Score), two-time Emmy nominee, three time Golden Globe nominee, recipient of seven post-Beatles Grammys, and composer of a symphony is an imposter. It also means that John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr are very good liars. It is that very issue, in fact, that the documentary says brought about Lennon’s murder and the attack on Harrison. Those two were going to reveal the truth to the public, so they met the consequences. You see, Britain’s spy agency, MI5, was behind the McCartney impersonation (in order to save the lives of hundreds of teenage girls who were surely going to commit suicide upon learning of the singer’s tragic auto accident), and threatened the remaining Beatles with their lives if they let the secret out.
That logic is shaky to say the least–we’re going to cover up a death in order to save lives by threatening death to others that might cause the very suicides the original coverup was intended to prevent. Try to wrap your brain around that without getting a headache. As the story goes, Lennon told Harrison in 1980 that he was sick of living the lie and was going to go public. Two weeks later, Mark David Chapman shot him, claiming (according to the documentary, at least) that the devil told him to do it. Of course, we know that it wasn’t the devil, but an MI5 agent. “Nearly 20 years to the day” of Lennon’s murder (well, 19 years later and happening at the end of December rather than in the beginning of the month), Harrison also decided to come clean with the deep, dark secret, and similarly he was attacked by a crazy man who broke into his home and stabbed him. Harrison survived the attacks and supposedly recorded the entire conspiracy story on tape the next day from his hospital room. He wanted to make sure that an accurate account of the events surrounding the public wool-pulling would survive and eventually be made available for the world to hear.
These tapes (allegedly) were sent to Highway 61 Entertainment, a Hollywood production company that has made numerous videos about Bob Dylan, a couple of anti-Muslim political documentaries, and one piece purporting that Elvis is still alive. The company’s owner and resident filmmaker, Joel Gilbert, explained at the beginning of Paul McCartney Really Is Dead that the tapes arrived anonymously with London postmarks and he spent five years trying to confirm that it’s really George Harrison’s voice on the tapes. The results were inconclusive, but that didn’t stop Gilbert from taking the story at face value and making a documentary to support this claim. He really wants people to know that he made this video, too, since his name shows up three times in the credits as producer and director (while Highway 61 Entertainment appears four times, including a shot of the production offices). The obvious question is why anyone (presumably Harrison’s widow or family member) would send something as critical as this to a random, little-known production company in California rather than simply turning it over to the press. The answer is equally as obvious–the tapes were generated by Highway 61 Entertainment.
It’s really sad that people are making a living off of trashing celebrities, but of course we see that all the time with tabloid magazines, TMZ, and reality TV (though in that case, the celebrities are trashing themselves). If the recent cell phone hacking scandal has taught us anything is that media scavengers have no barriers and no ethics when it comes to digging up dirt on the rich and famous, or in some cases people who suffered tragedies and found themselves in the limelight through no choice of their own. Is it any surprise that Gilbert is attempting to cash in on the carcass of a titillating yet long dead rumor that is absolutely ridiculous now that so much time has passed? What’s next, revelations that FDR knew about the impending attack on Pearl Harbor or that the Lindberg baby is alive and well in Florida? I’m sure there are other media sensations that Gilbert can sink his teeth into.
Paul McCartney Really Is Dead plays the recording labeled “The Last Testament of George Harrison,” and the voice does sound a lot like the former Beatle–but then again, how hard is it to find someone who can do a Liverpudlian accent? It’s amazing that even though this was supposedly recorded the day after he was nearly fatally stabbed, his voice is calm and robust with a clear, professional sound quality. You’d think someone with that serious of a wound would sound weak and, you know, injured. He also has amazing recall, remembering every single detail of the coverup and all the clues they left on their albums, yet somehow gets major events in the history of the Beatles wrong, such as the dates of when John Lennon’s first marriage ended and when he began his relationship with Yoko Ono (of course, he left Cynthia because he was concerned about her safety) and the events surrounding the recording and release of the albums Abbey Road and Let It Be. However, there are a lot of details that “Harrison” states that amazingly matches up with archival footage the director/producer was able to dig up, like McCartney’s double’s penchant picking his nose. Essentially, if a royalty-free video of something in the life of the Fab Four exists, then “Harrison” remembered it. Convenient.
The nitty gritty of the conspiracy is ridiculous. As the story goes, McCartney had picked up a girl named Rita, who overreacted when she realized who the driver of the car was and caused the accident that decapitated him. A government agent rouses Lennon, Harrison, and Starr to bring them to the scene of the accident to identify the body (where McCartney’s corpse is compared to a walrus). The MI5 agent in charge is named Maxwell. Considering these players are featured in the names of songs, it seems to be a major oversight that those two songs (“Lovely Rita” and “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”) are never discussed while countless other songs are mentioned as having clues in their lyrics. A replacement Paul (or Faul for “Fake Paul”) was arranged by a Paul McCartney look-alike contest hosted by American Bandstand and Tiger Beat Magazine. Apparently MI5 has a long reach. A man named William Campbell was chosen, but since he was not a duplicate of McCartney, he had to undergo a series of plastic surgeries. In order to hide the scars, he grew his hair long and wore fake facial hair; because of this, the others had to follow suit regardless of the fact that this was a typical look of the day. Faul had to learn how to play musical instruments (occasionally slipping up and playing a guitar right-handed). His training must have been exemplary, since McCartney’s first solo album featured him performing all the instruments (or was it really him?).
The documentary never addressed the issue that McCartney was arguably the most successful of the Beatles after the band broke up, or that he continued to be a highly creative musician. One would think that an imposter would disappear from public view fairly quickly. Instead, this film indicates that he married Linda because she had found out his true identity and pressured him into making her part of Wings. After Linda died, he was blackmailed by Rita, the woman who caused his accident–who underwent her own plastic surgery and was given a new identity by MI5. Faul called agent Maxwell (who must have still been in a position of power after 30-some years after the accident), who then tried to have Rita killed via being run over by a motorcycle. She lived, but had to have her leg amputated. She succeeded in marrying the fake McCartney–yes, Rita was none other than Heather Mills. Though why would someone who’s supposedly in hiding become a model? Wouldn’t MI5 squash that? Another thing this film addresses is McCartney’s marijuana use, claiming that his addiction was due to the plastic surgeries. Apparently, he was the only Beatle who partook in the illegal substance.
Despite this silliness, the one good thing Paul McCartney Really Is Dead does is illustrate all the zany “clues” in the song lyrics and album artwork, though the idea that Rubber Soul was originally going to be called Rubber Paul in reference to his plastic surgeries is a bit much. The backward masking in various songs is cool to hear, though. It’s also interesting to hear the origins of this conspiracy theory, that an American DJ “discovered” all the clues and pieced together the subterfuge and F. Lee Bailey jumped on the bandwagon with a TV broadcast of a “trial” to get to the bottom of this rumor.
It’s too bad that Joel Gilbert didn’t make a documentary about the urban legend and everything surrounding it, how it originated, how fans reacted to it, and pointing out how ludicrous much of it is. Instead, he chose to take the position that it was all true (the title of the documentary says it all). Even if–and this is a big if–he is telling the truth about receiving the tapes, he takes them at face value. A better approach would have been to be skeptical of the tapes and show the process he went through (theoretically) to find out if the tapes were fraudulent. He dug up archival footage, so couldn’t he have found interviews with the parties involved or conducted some himself? He would have had a much more successful film if he shined a light on the rumor itself rather than being sensationalistic and proclaiming it to be real, presenting the material objectively and letting us reach our own conclusions. It also doesn’t help that the documentary has non-stop music that’s sort of reminiscent of Beatles songs without ever being distinguishable as the real songs (a clear money-saving measure to avoid paying royalties). Too much of the film is insulting to anyone with a semblance of intelligence. While this is an intriguing topic, the presentation is laughable. Gilbert and his Highway 61 cohorts chose to go the sensationalistic route rather than treating its audience and subject matter with respect.
copyright © 2012 FilmVerse
- Documentary Video | ‘Paul McCartney Really Is Dead’ (popxploit.com)
- Paul McCartney Announces New Album for 2012 (wcbsfm.radio.com)