The Beatles made their one and only visit to my home state of Oregon as part of their 1965 tour, playing two shows on a Sunday in August. Alan Ginsburg even wrote a poem about it. Salem-based filmmaker Chuck Stenberg marked the 40th anniversary of the event with the release of this documentary, on a two-disc DVD set.
The documentary, at two hours or so in length, is about four times as long as any of The Beatles’ typical performances on that tour. It is packed with detail, and much of it is quite interesting, but as a whole the film is uneven in presentation. For the most part, it consists of interviews with dozens of people who were there that day, some of whom were involved in some official capacity or other: radio DJs, a reporter, a freelance photographer, a limo driver, a security guard. But mostly they’re fans. Lots and lots of fans, who were pre-teens and teenagers in 1965, and for some of whom it seems to have been the high point of their lives.
There are a lot of interesting details. The concert almost didn’t happen because of a conflict over scheduling at the Memorial Coliseum, and we hear how that was resolved. A couple of members of The Beach Boys drove up to Portland, where a local DJ succeeded in getting them backstage to meet their Liverpudlian counterparts, where they talked about cars. The plane carrying the Fabs had a fire in one engine on its approach to Portland, which created a tense landing — this was discussed in more detail in Larry Kane’s book, Ticket to Ride. One section details all of the gear the Beatles used on stage — what kinds of guitars and amps. Another introduces us to the backing bands, most of whom are long forgotten (who remembers Cannibal and the Headhunters?), although the leader of the King Curtis Band would later play saxophone on at least one Beatles record, “Lady Madonna.”
Much of what’s truly interesting is the subtext, which is never commented on. One of the women interviewed still has the dress she wore to the concert. Nearly all of the others have some kind of Beatles memorabilia — buttons, clothing, photos, posters.
The film includes more than 100 still photos taken that day, from the arrival at a little-used airstrip adjacent to the actual Portland Airport, through the press conference to the concerts. But there is no actual film footage of the event, which is a disappointment; if there was any, it was so short it didn’t register.
And many of the interviews, frankly, are pretty boring. Not many of the subjects have anything truly interesting to say, and some are almost embarrassing in their banality. A much more severe editing job would help immensely. The interviews do get more interesting and the editing better toward the end, when the actual concert is described.
Oddly, even though we’re told at the beginning that there were two concerts, after that nobody talks about that fact. It’s unclear which show any of the interviewees attended.
And the background music is truly awful generic instrumental studio rock, of the sort that was used by Hollywood in the Sixties to portray hip swingin’ rock ‘n’ roll parties. Yeah, baby!
The second disc is a gallery of supporting documents, including the concert contract and rider, ticket prices and photos of other memorabilia.
The Beatles in Portland is mostly an oral history on film. A valuable document for the Historical Society’s archives, but not all that entertaining unless you were there yourself, in which case I’m sure it’ll unlock tons of memories.
(CLS Productions, 2005)