Scorsese or Stone: Owning Your Mistakes

A few weeks ago an alert reader, Todd, alerted me to a mistake in The Beatles and the Historians where, in the section in Chapter Four examining the impact of George Harrison’s death, I misidentified the director of “Living in the Material World,” the 2011 Harrison documentary. The director was Martin Scorsese, but in my book, I mistakenly identified Oliver Stone as the documentary’s director. (1)

(Erin attempts to contemplate a George documentary directed by Oliver Stone. Erin utterly fails).

I already had contacted my publisher over a year ago regarding that particular error, as well other errors in the book, and requested they be fixed, so I was surprised when Todd alerted me that they were still on his recently-purchased 2018 kindle edition. However, my editor at McFarland explained to me that, while my list of corrections had been applied to the new print edition, they cannot correct them in the kindle edition. So the error is evidently permanent, at least until some sort of revised edition comes out, which is not on the horizon at this time.

To those who purchased the kindle edition, I apologize for that and any other errors you encountered in my work. I noted myself in the afterword to The Beatles and the Historians that Beatles fans have a very low tolerance for errors — as they should. Since I cannot correct the errors in the kindle edition, I will try and do so on this blog. First off, if any of you, like Todd, find an error, please let me know. It may have been one that was already corrected in the print edition, or not. Second, I will do my best to thoroughly read through my own book and find errors and alert readers to them … although that probably will admittedly be a rather slow process, given the other demands on my time.



1: The obvious question is then “How could you mistakenly identify Stone instead of Scorsese?” And the only answer I have is, unfortunately, completely unhelpful: I have no idea.

I knew the documentary was by Scorsese. I had watched it, and Scorsese was the name written in my notes. Somewhere in between the journey from my brain, where I knew it was Scorsese, to my fingers when I typed it out, Scorsese became Stone. Worse, I didn’t catch it when I edited or indexed the book, and neither did any of my unofficial or official editors. But I’m not casting blame on them: none of the individuals who edited my manuscript were Beatles experts, for the simple reason that I didn’t really know any Beatles experts to ask. (My McFarland editor was their resident Beatles expert, but it slipped through his net as well). It was edited by multiple PhD’s, history majors, an attorney (to evaluate the section on the legal issues surrounding the Beatles’ trial) and a professional magazine editor before it ever went to my official editor, but none were terribly well-versed on the Beatles or their history, and the primary concern for most involved the proper application of historical methodology. Regardless, the mistake is there, and its mine.

17 thoughts on “Scorsese or Stone: Owning Your Mistakes

  1. Hologram Sam says:

    I would expect an Oliver Stone Beatles documentary to fully explore the “Paul Is Dead” controversy. It might even be the entire focus of his film.

    He would call it a counter-myth to the “Paul Is Still Alive” conventional wisdom.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Erin says:

      “I would expect an Oliver Stone Beatles documentary to fully explore the “Paul Is Dead” controversy.”

      That sounds spot on.

      The only major book I’ve read on the “Paul is Dead” issue, Andru Reeve’s “Turn Me On, Dead Man,” is pretty good. I like how Reeve focuses on the varying reactions to PID: from Paul’s brother Mike, who clearly got angry when asked about it on a tv interview, to the press’s reaction, to an essay written in that time period theorizing why Paul, and not any of the other Beatles, was the focus of the rumor.


  2. Hologram Sam says:

    John Lennon is trending on twitter, but not in a good way.

    Bette Midler unfortunately tweeted “Woman is the n** of the world” and there’s been a million replies that the title is bad now, and was bad then. And I agree.


    • Erin says:

      Well, I think John admitted later he “fucking well goofed” with STINYC … no arguments here.

      I agree that it was a bad title then, and is almost toxic now. At the same time, I hope there’s not a rush to anachronistic judgment. People can correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding is that the word, while certainly provocative, wasn’t as toxic in 1972 as it is now; some of the comedy of the period, including “Blazing Saddles” (1974) incorporated it, as did “All in the Family,” I believe, which began in 1971. In fact, there’s an interesting article here from NPR, discussing the reaction of younger generations to AITF:

      Now obviously that’s comedy, not music. But it gives a good brief look at how the boundaries of certain words have shifted over the years, from acceptable to taboo.

      Paul also used the word in his 1966 interview with Maureen Cleave, when he was criticizing America’s segregationist practices, calling America a “rotten country” when they treat anyone with dark skin like a dirty (*).


      • Karen Hooper says:

        I read the thread. About a zillion unforgiving milennials piled on, most of whom never heard of the song and thought she was simply being racist. When older tweeters tried to carefully explain the political climate in which it was written, they piled on them.

        Bette Midler gave up and apologized–and they STILL piled on.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. beatletodd says:

    Who’s Kevin?

    I like the idea of Stone doing a “Paul is Dead” movie. But if he does it can we get Seinfeld to do a Stone like recreation of the Paul is Dead movie like they did with Kramer and Keith Hernandez?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Erin says:

      “Who’s Kevin?”

      Oops. I’ve been corresponding with a Beatles fan named Kevin, at the same time Todd and I were e-mailing each other back and forth, and accidentally referred to Todd as Kevin later on in the post. I’ll edit it.

      Did I mention I have a three month old, and that sleep deprivation results in many of the same symptoms of being under the influence of alcohol?

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Hologram Sam says:

    The subject of Beatles and film is a fascinating one. Not all the post-1970 documentaries. I mean A Hard Day’s NIght, Help!, Magical Mystery Tour, Yellow Submarine & Let It Be.

    If I recall correctly (I haven’t read it in years) A Cellarful of Noise touches on the possible future of the group, as seen from 1964. Brian wonders if “movie stars” will be a career path. He was probably thinking of Elvis, and maybe looking back at people like Bing Crosby or Dean Martin.

    It could have happened, but didn’t. A Hard Day’s NIght is the “Citizen Kane of jukebox musicals” but then Help! is released and …. I think it’s much better than other rock ‘n roll movies of its time, but it doesn’t get the same respect as AHDN.

    Then Magical Mystery Tour which is Paul’s DIY project, and nothing wrong with that, but it’s not what Brian envisioned in his book.

    Yellow Submarine, as beautiful as it looks, always seemed like a lost opportunity to me. The voiceover actors always creeped me out. I wish the Beatles had shown more interest in recording and adlibbing their own dialogue (like the Xmas records). What a wonderful and subtle movie it would have been, instead of just a visual spectacle.

    I always found it interesting, in a “road not taken” sort of way, the idea of the Beatles acting their way through a string of Hard Day’s Nights, like a ’60s version of Hope and Crosby. In 1964 Brian Epstein apparently thought it was a possibility.


  5. beatletodd says:

    “A Hard Day’s NIght is the “Citizen Kane of jukebox musicals””

    I was thinking about A Hard Day’s Night and Help over the weekend. I love A Hard Day’s Night- but I think if I get my choice I put on Help first. The jokes and word play between The Beatles and the actors is so much better and in some ways less stagey. Like when they are in Scotland Yard and John says “Only Paul and I know we are here” and George says “I know we are here!”

    I feel like when they are trying to find the ring and one devotees says “Has no one looked on the washbasin?” that is directly akin to what Monty Python did later in the Holy Grail when they say “Camelot!” “Camelot!” and someone else says “It’s only a model”.

    Anyways for my money- I love them both but I will watch and quote Help first!


  6. Rose Decatur says:

    If it consoles you at all, Erin, the connection is not as tenuous as you think. Martin Scorsese was one of Oliver Stone’s teachers at New York University.

    “(Erin attempts to contemplate a George documentary directed by Oliver Stone. Erin utterly fails).”

    I think it would be fascinating. I admit to not liking Scorsese’s Living in the Material World, not least because I suspect most of the actual filmmaking fell to Scorsese’s assistant directors and not the man himself. But I also find Oliver Stone fascinating as a filmmaker. I suppose that’s meant to be at odds with my background as an historian, but as an artist, Stone’s hits are really great and his misfires are never less than entertaining. Movies like JFK, Nixon and W. fail as documents of history, but I do think they capture something intangible about their subjects that straightforward documentary can’t. (Weirdly enough considering what a hardcore leftist Stone is – and I am too – I think his movies about both Nixon and Bush gave me flashes of empathy for both men. I presume Stone probably hated both presidents yet he made projects where he found humanity in them, which I think is kind of astonishing.) I have not seen Stone’s sole documentary (The Untold History of the United States) so I don’t know how his kinetic filmmaking style translated to that medium.

    One thing both Oliver Stone and George Harrison share is that they’re Western converts to Eastern religion (George to Hinduism, Oliver to Buddhism). Scorsese, on the other hand, still identifies as Catholic, so on that topic alone I wonder how interesting a Stone film on George would be. Stone has a very interesting background and his films always reflect some aspect of self. He had a fairly comfortable, upper middle class upbringing, was hugely influenced by his stockbroker father, went to a posh boarding school, summered in France (his mother was French), and got admitted to Yale…but dropped out twice. First to volunteer as an English teacher to kids in South Vietnam, then to do a short stint in the Merchant Marines. The Stone came back to Yale and shortly thereafter dropped out again to voluntarily enlist the U.S. Army. At age nineteen he served as a private in the 25th Infantry in the Vietnam War, was wounded twice in combat (earned two Purple Hearts) and received the bronze star for bravery under fire. By his own account, his combat experience changed his entire being, “ripped his heart out,” caused him to distrust the government and gave him a massive case of PTSD. Stone credited the G.I. Bill with basically saving his life, as he used it to enroll in NYU’s film school and used writing and directing to cope with his trauma. For example, Platoon is Stone’s heavily autobiographical film about his experiences in Vietnam; Born on the Fourth of July was heavily influenced by his PTSD and return from the war; Scarface was about his drug addiction; Wall Street was about his relationship with his stockbroker father, etc. The paranoia in JFK (that Kennedy was killed so intervention in Vietnam could continue) is influenced by Stone’s feelings of paranoia upon return from the war…even the mother/son relationship in Nixon and the father/son relationship in W. could be read as Stone being influenced by his own history.

    Whew! Sorry for the detour into film history! It’s just kind of an interesting thought experiment. I don’t know how attracted Stone would be to George’s story, although certain aspects like his religious conversion and the stabbing I do think Stone might find intriguing subjects. He is deliberately provocative, but when it comes to the non-political real world subjects he’s tackled, they are frequently people who’ve been through trauma.


    • Erin says:

      I’m always so pleased to see a post from you, Rose: you always bring such good depth and information to the discussion. I didn’t know virtually any of that regarding either Scorsese or Stone: thanks for providing it. The only Stone movie I’ve seen is JFK: I found it a bit of a slog, honestly, although that may have been because it was for a college assignment.

      Like you, I am not overly fond of “Living in the Material World.” (Why do you think it was more of a product of Scorsese’s assistants rather than him?) My primary issue with it is that its obviously too much of an official, approved history; its so determined to give us a surface level image of George that it ignores evidence — even well-known evidence — and gives us an inaccurate picture. If that documentary was your introduction to George, you would be under the impression that George and Yoko got along great, that Klein was a non-entity regarding the Concert for Bangladesh, and any other number of issues. It didn’t go in-depth enough in areas that I think need more nuanced examination: How did George — certainly the most introverted, and also the youngest of all the Beatles — deal, or not deal, with this crushing amount of fame?

      The only two moments that stuck out for me in the whole documentary came from Paul and Ringo: Paul’s admission that George came up with the “And I love her” riff, and especially Ringo’s description of George as a very extreme personality: he was either “a big bag of love, or a big bag of hate.” What a description! And one that could also be applied to John, who was well known for his volatility. Where was the examination of that element to George’s character? It wasn’t in the film.


  7. Rose Decatur says:

    I just have a hunch, not least because the interviews were clearly done by an assistant and the documentary itself bears so little of Scorsese’s hallmarks as a filmmaker, it always just smacks of me as something done out of friendship to Olivia and more of a “Scorsese brand” project than something Scorsese tackled himself. (See No Direction Homes, his Dylan documentary, for a bit of a contrast.) I agree that the best parts of the movie are the interviews with Ringo and especially Paul (I think it was the New York Times who noted that Paul’s natural charisma once again inadvertently outshined George in the doc). The best sequence I think was the one where Olivia and Dhani are simply on-camera recounting the horror of the stabbing attack – it is filmed very straightforwardly and simply and just lets the terror of what they’re saying stand for itself.

    I have always considered JFK a master of editing, and as a movie it captures a very important facet of of the American 1990’s and how baby boomers in particular shape history. Of course, as factual history of the Kennedy assassination there are huge parts which are utter bullshit – but I would argue that people forget the film is meant to be Jim Garrison’s story, not JFK’s, and on that account it succeeds splendidly. Whether you think Garrison was right and a standard bearer of truth or just a kook, the movie still works, in my opinion. There’s also a lot that can be delved into with it as a work made by a baby boomer – Oliver Stone graduated high school I think in 1966, so he was of prime age to both idolize Kennedy and be significantly impacted by the assassination. Then he of course became one of the young men who went off to Vietnam and had their entire worldview changed by combat, and he admitted to struggling for years with reconciling notions of patriotism and official government stances on the war with his own experience (which he put explicitly into the movie Born on the Fourth of July). JFK comes firmly on the side of Kennedy as a hero who was thwarted by the evil military-industrial complex so that they could continue the Vietnam War. It is such an important document of capturing that moment of the zeitgeist – the conspiracy tinged 90’s, the idolization of Kennedy, the new field of forensics to examine crime, the peak of boomer interpretation of history, etc. Now we’re very much into a time when Kennedy is being evaluated more even-handedly, there’s a mythbusting of Camelot, an improvement to LBJ’s legacy, and a swing back to the lone gunman theory. It’s all so interesting.


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