Harvey Weinstein: The fifth Beatle?
For all of us Beatles fans, the news earlier this week that the Weinstein Co. had acquired "Nowhere Boy," a coming-of-age tale about John Lennon's tumultuous teenage years in Liverpool, was cause for high hopes, especially because the script, written by Matt Greenhalgh, offers a bracingly unsentimental portrait of the fabled artist as a young scamp -- sensitive but bitingly sarcastic, smart but achingly soulful, wildly ambitious but without a ruthless bone in his body. The script, which I've read, has a host of the most vivid moments from early Beatles mythology, but always plays them in the right key, capturing John's artistic drive and caustic wit.
When Lennon and Paul McCartney first meet, at a Quarrymen rehearsal at the St. Peter's Church Hall, a friend shows up with Paul, who's come armed with a guitar. The friend says, "Paul plays too." Lennon immediately responds: "With himself?" After he gets a round of giggles, John takes the edge off it, adding "I do. All the time. Good for the wrist muscles."
But for Weinstein, who turned 57 today, the acquisition of the film -- now shooting in and around Liverpool -- was more personal. For the veteran film impresario, being involved with a Beatles project was the equivalent of coming full circle. Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when Weinstein was a skinny, long-haired, bell-bottomed teenager, he worked at Apple Records' New York office. The highlight of his job involved running errands for Paul McCartney and picking up Lennon at the airport. For a 16-year-old Beatles fan, full of Hollywood dreams, it was nirvana.
"My mom knew somebody at the Villanova restaurant on 47th Street, whose owners knew people in show business, so they helped me get a job at Apple," Weinstein told me yesterday. "I did everything that needed to be done -- carrying boxes around, mailing out records, working backstage at 'The Concert for Bangladesh.' I remember picking up Lennon at the airport one night, who flew in with Eric Clapton, and I had them both in the back of my car."
The day of the Bangladesh benefit concert, a limousine full of Apple staffers pulled up outside Weinstein's home to take him to the show. "As I went out of the house, my mother, in true Jewish mother fashion, yelled out, 'Don't forget to brush your teeth and wash your face!' which destroyed whatever semblance of cool I might have had forever," he recalls. "But being around the Beatles, I learned that I was never going to be cool because they had a monopoly on it. They were the most relaxed guys about everything. I mean, the whole world could be falling apart and they'd still be totally cool about it."
After Weinstein and his brother Bob launched Miramax, one of their first releases was "Rock Show," a 1980 concert film from one of McCartney's Wings tours. Weinstein has stayed friendly with McCartney over the years, friendly enough that when Weinstein began to organize "The Concert for New York" the day after Sept. 11, the first person he called was McCartney. "I told him, 'You know, if you do it, everyone else will follow,' " he remembers. "I have to admit that I still pinch myself that having started out as Paul McCartney's assistant, I'm now Paul McCartney's friend."
So what's going on with "Nowhere Boy?" Keep reading:
The film, which is already two weeks into production, follows Lennon from his days as a cheeky 15-year-old to the moment, in 1960, when the Beatles take off for Hamburg, Germany, where they transformed themselves into a world-class band. The young Lennon is played by newcomer Aaron Johnson, while Lennon's Aunt Mimi, who raised him, is played by Kristin Scott Thomas. The film is directed by Sam Taylor Wood, who has been a hot commodity after making the 2008 short "Love You More," about a pair of late-1970s-era teenage Buzzcocks fans.
The film fits snugly in the Weinstein library of projects focusing on the interior lives of artists, be it "Shakespeare in Love," "Finding Neverland" or "My Left Foot." "It's really a film about how John found the music that was always inside him," Weinstein says. "When you get to experience his early years, you get to understand what the songs are about, because you see the streets and the scenes and the people that ended up being a part of the songs themselves."
The film is slated for an end-of-the-year awards season release here. "I haven't even called Paul yet, but I know that he's read the script," Weinstein says. "God knows what it means to him, having lived through it all. But it really hits close to home for me. It captures a lot of memories for everybody."
Of course, if Lennon were still alive, he'd probably be appalled to hear so much sentiment applied to his life. So let's end with another moment from the script, taken from a scene in which Lennon and McCartney first appear on stage as the Quarrymen. Introducing their version of a Chuck Berry song, Lennon says, "I present to you ... Mr. Paul McCartney!" Relieved, since he never knows what Lennon might say next, McCartney says, "Thanks, John. Kind words." Lennon's reply: "I didn't mean them."
Photo of John Lennon (top) from St. Martin's Press
Photo of Harvey Weinstein by Jason Decrow /Associated Press