When we think of the Beatles, we think of black-and-white television footage, 45s playing on a turntable, and their reluctance to embrace streaming.
With the help of VR app Jaunt, McCartney is in the process of broadcasting the six-part VR documentary series Pure McCartney VR, which began on 24 May with the first two episodes and will continue weekly until 10 June. The latest segment, Early Years – which focuses on the recording of Love Me Do and when Paul, John, and George met Ringo for the first time – launched this week.
The noted music video director Tony Kaye (best known for directing American History X) filmed McCartney telling the stories behind some of his most famous singles while hanging out and playing instruments in his home studio. Viewers can watch online at Jaunt’s website, but to get the full experience they should download the app and either watch on a cellphone with a Google Cardboard or fancier VR headsets.
Each clip, which ranges from three to six minutes, is filmed in 360 degrees. When watched with the app, viewers can swivel their head around and change directions to see all the details around the room. In all the clips there are little bits of animation – such as a magic light pen drawing pictures of the Beatles, or diagrams of chord progressions that appear and disappear – that are sprinkled throughout the environment.
Kaye works some wonders with the technology, though viewers will have to get over the idea that if they’re looking at one part of the room (or even the floor) they’re going to miss what is going on somewhere else. Just like Twitter, there is no way to witness everything that is going on at once and give it proper attention.
Right now the real wow factor is in the technology, not in the content. Being in the room with McCartney is less like 90s VR movie The Lawnmower Man and more like living in the David Bowie Is exhibition that the V&A mounted in 2013. There are old movies and bits of effluvia sprinkled about while McCartney tells us about how he played all the instruments for the song Coming Up, or how a chance encounter with a mandolin in a London shop led to composing Dance Tonight.
There have been few people in contemporary culture who have been as filmed, interviewed and examined as McCartney. These cute anecdotes are the slightly amusing things you might hear from a celebrity at a dinner party, but there is nothing especially new or insightful about his life or creative process that is revealed.
Instead, what newcomers to VR can experience is just what the medium is capable of: the way that even these slightly boring tales can be rendered with mind-bending immediacy as suddenly their entire view is taken over by black-and-white images of stringed instruments or strange scarlet drawings of John Lennon.
Virtual reality is set to become a billion-dollar industry. Most young people are going to be introduced to its wonders through videogames (or, more likely, porn) but this series might be just the thing to get baby boomers to strap on some goggles for the first time and figure out how this new-fangled technology works. And once this excites them, like playing Love Me Do once did on a phonograph, just wait until they get their hands on something really good.
This article was written by Brian Moylan, for theguardian.com on Friday 3rd June 2016 16.19 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010