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The Beatles, Boxing & Bob Dylan: Joel Gilbert Speaks

Exclusive Interview by Geno McGahee

“It appears that Floyd Mayweather, JR., has lost interest in facing any stiff competition. His biggest challenges right now seem to be the IRS and the Las Vegas Police Department.” – Joel Gilbert

In 1999, I went to go see THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and a lot of hype surrounded it. Many contended that it was real footage and that those involved were, in fact, dead. Although I knew it was all nonsense, I allowed myself to believe in the story and it became a really fun experience. Over ten years later, I have had the same experience with PAUL MCCARTNEY REALLY IS DEAD: THE LAST TESTAMENT OF GEORGE HARRISON.

Joel Gilbert, an American filmmaker, produced a film contending that George Harrison made some audio recordings stating that Paul McCartney died and was replaced with a lookalike. The Beatles did put a lot of hints in their artwork and music, which did give credibility to this documentary, and it was so well done, that you can’t help, but to get immediately drawn into it. Gilbert used a mixture of history and rumor to create something memorable. It is easily one of the most remarkable films I’ve seen in years.

Gilbert is no stranger to controversy, releasing FAREWELL ISRAEL: BUSH, IRAN AND THE REVOLT OF ISLAM, a history of Islamic – Jewish relations from the 7th Century to today. On top of being a moviemaker, Gilbert is a musician, leading a Bob Dylan tribute band “Highway 61 Revisited.” His next documentary is actually about Dylan by the title of: “BOB DYLAN REVEALED,” featuring some great footage and the attention to detail and storytelling that Gilbert is known for.

Joel Gilbert, filmmaker and musician, shared his thoughts about the movie world, music scene, and the sport of boxing, which he also has ties to…

GM: You are a musician and a filmmaker. What do you prefer and why?

Both are creative and enjoyable pursuits, they really go hand in hand and can be very complimentary. As a musician, I have a strong appreciation for the use of rhythm and sound to create drama in film. In my band are world-class musicians from Bob Dylan’s bands, including violinist Scarlet Rivera, guitarist John Jackson, bassist Rob Stoner, and drummer Winston Watson. They also perform on my film soundtracks. Performing with the band, I get immediate gratification and feedback from an audience. Then it’s over. Films take months to produce, but the feedback continues for years.

GM: What is the first thing that you ever filmed?

A 35-minute promotional video for my Bob Dylan tribute band was my first real project. I edited it on an Avid System for a few weeks. When I submitted it to the House of Blues in Los Angeles, they booked the band right away. We’ve performed at House of Blues venues around the USA about 50 times in the past 10 years.

GM: You have done a lot of film work concerning the Middle East and War. What prompted you to do this?

At the University of London, I studied with some of the greatest professors and experts in the fields of Middle East history and Islamic studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science and School of Oriental and African Studies. I was also fortunate to live and travel extensively in the Middle East.

GM: What are your thoughts about the Presidential run of George Bush and the current run of President Obama?

I have written many articles on these subjects as a Contributing Editor for Family Security Matters, a foreign policy opinion website. Both Presidents are very weak in their understanding of foreign policy, which unfortunately is the realm where the President of the United States has the most influence. At first, President Obama’s world view appeared to be mired in naivety, with Obama insisting all the world’s problems could be solved by “talking.” In fact, upon taking office, he appealed to Iran, stating that Americans and Iranians have “shared values” and “common aspirations.” In fact, Western secular goals and values are completely incompatible with Islamic Law and society. Obama’s world view presupposes that people of all cultures, religions, and nationalities are essentially the same, and only desire what Obama says Americans want, “opportunities, education, and jobs.” However, Obama’s world view now seems indistinguishable from Reverend Jeremiah’s Wright’s philosophy – that the world’s problems are caused by American economic and military power, and that justice will only be achieved with a weakened America leaving the world stage. This philosophy is fatally flawed – a strong America helps maintain world peace, while a weak America will lead to regional conflicts as players with expansionist agendas, like Iran, fill the vacuum in the balance of power left by American self-doubt.

GM: With your knowledge and the popularity of the topics of 9/11, have you considered making a movie covering the conspiracy side of the event, either debunking or backing the 9/11 Truth Movement’s stance?

The very idea of the 9/11 Truth Movement, that the US was behind the attacks, is such utter nonsense that a film to debunk this theory is unnecessary. What needs further investigation is the role of Iran in 9/11. There are Iranian fingerprints everywhere. The failures of US policy regarding 9/11 are threefold: 1) successive US administrations knew about the threat from Al Qaeda and did nothing about it, 2) after the US routed the Taliban and Al Qaeda, it decided to stay and create a democratic nation-state in Afghanistan. This was, and is, an impossible task due to the realities of religion and tribalism in Afghanistan. This mistake has cost the US thousands of lives and billions of dollars. Instead, the US should have left Afghanistan and instigated clandestine operations and aerial attacks at any sign of Al Qaeda activity. And finally, 3) George Bush played into the hands of Al Qaeda by adopting the Islamist agenda for free elections in the Middle East, helping to bring Islamists to power everywhere, and harming US interests and allies.

GM: You’ve done a couple of films about Bob Dylan and recently, you covered the Beatles. Are these your favorite artists?

I’m not a huge Beatles fan, I don’t think they were good singers nor were they good live performers. They were great recording artists for sure, with George Martin producing. Bob Dylan was and is a great live performer, however his recording style was to simply show up for a day or two to lay down a record. Spontaneity was always the best way for Dylan to capture his music on records.

GM: Do you feel that today’s music has lost the idea of messages within the music of the 1960s? Do you think today’s music has any point outside of sounding good (sometimes)?

The decline of quality in today’s music can be tied to two phenomena that occurred in the mid-eighties to early 90’s. First, hundreds of radio stations changed formats to classic rock, then talk radio. This reduced accessibility for new acts to reach an audience. In fact, if you look at the schedule for any major live performance venue, you’ll see the acts are mostly from the 60’s and 70’s. My Bob Dylan tribute band, Highway 61 Revisited, once opened for Blue Oyster Cult at the Canyon Club in Agoura Hills, California. BOC only had 1 original band member, while I had three of Bob Dylan’s original players! I said to BOC, “hey, who is the tribute band tonight, and who should open for whom?” The other phenomena was the consolidation of the record industry as smaller labels were bought up by the larger labels. I have a personal story for this – I was managing an alternative rock band in Los Angeles called “Low Angels” in 1994. I negotiated a record deal for the band with Chrysalis Records, but the day before the signing, Chrysalis was bought by EMI and our A & R rep at Chrysalis was fired – end of deal!

GM: You’ve done all documentaries from what I have researched. Is this what you see yourself doing permanently, or are you planning to branch out into other genres?

I have written two scripts for action films that I hope to get to one day. For now, I’m enjoying the documentary film genre, its very rewarding to share a message and educate people.

GM: You have just released a movie called: PAUL MCCARTNEY IS REALLY DEAD: THE LAST TESTAMENT OF GEORGE HARRISON. It covers the rumored death of Paul McCartney. How has the reaction been to it thus far?

It’s been very interesting. On Amazon.com for example, there are 20 five-star reviews and 20 one-star reviews – with nothing in between! Essentially, if you are open minded and want to enjoy a mysterious, comedic, and eerie romp through Beatles history, you’ll love the film. Meanwhile, those who give it one-star typically say “I’m angry that they made this film because I think its not real, but it was very interesting and I recommend it.”

GM: Some would contend that you are marching on sacred ground and should leave the Beatles alone, rather then present something like this. What do you say to those people?

The surviving Beatles, whomever they may be, would be the first ones to tell their fans to lighten up and not take the Beatles too seriously – its entertainment, its pop culture, its fun! And you have to remember, it was the Beatles themselves who invented and propagated the “Paul-is-Dead” urban legend.

GM: What do you classify this Paul McCartney film as? A documentary, a mockumentary, or something else?

I would like to think I’ve invented a new film genre called “Rock-U-Mystery.” I’m actually producing another one right now that will be released this summer.

GM: Did you have any issues producing this movie? Any notable obstacles in creating it?

There were no real obstacles until the attorney for George Harrison’s estate got wind of it when pre-release publicity for the film began. Harrison’s attorney sent a nasty letter threatening to sue my company, Highway 61 Entertainment, because in his words “I was infringing on Harrison’s estate’s exclusive rights to the use of Harrison’s voice.” I had my attorney respond by saying that the usage of Harrison’s voice is legal because the film is a both journalism and a documentary. And, if he wanted to take us to court, in order to win the case, he would have to prove that Paul McCartney Really Is Dead! We never heard back from him after this.

GM: Do you believe that Paul McCartney really is dead?

There is no question in my mind that the Beatles intentionally placed many many clues, in their music, lyrics, album art, and in songs played backwards, that Paul McCartney was killed in a car crash. The Beatles’ denials over the years the clues even exist, or that they are were mere coincidence, are simply not credible. Let’s call this the “official theory.” So my film is the “alternate theory.” Either the Beatles were playing a massive inside joke for 4 years, or Paul McCartney Really is Dead! Everyone should see my film and decide for themselves. The website is paulreallyisdead.com.

GM: I felt that your film was very compelling and creative…something that is lacking in Hollywood. Are you trying to bring back the “experience” of film, giving the viewer something to think about and discuss later rather than the fluff that seems to saturate the market?

Unfortunately, there are precious few mind-bending films that challenge, tantalize, and make audiences really think. People just forget about most films immediately. I think I’ve made films that people think about for days and months, and that change their perception. To me that’s what makes a great film!

GM: What do you think of the film industry today?

It’s a wonderful business to be in, but it takes a lot of perseverance to be successful. I’m proud of my independent documentary film company. I never studied film, but I studied business, history, politics, and traveled the world. If you know how to choose a story and tell a story, you can make a great film.


In the words of John Lennon, “Paul is Dead, Man. Miss Him, Miss Him, Miss Him…”

GM: What is your next project?

I’m well into another Rock-U-Mystery and I have two political documentaries in development as well. I always keep details under wraps until a release date is announced, so stay tuned!

GM: You have spoken of involvement in boxing. Who is your favorite boxer of all time and why?

Asking someone to name their favorite boxer is like asking someone to name their favorite Beatles or Dylan song! In every weight class and every era of boxing, I have favorites. Most boxers have good and bad eras. Who didn’t love Evander Holyfield in his heyday? I love boxers with a lot of heart, even if they are not hugely successful. I promoted professional boxing for about a year and got to meet and work with many boxers. Simon Brown is one of my favorites.

GM: What would be your favorite fight?

Sugar Ray Leonard versus Tommy Hearns comes to mind, as well as the Holyfield-Bowe trilogy. I was involved in promoting a cruiserweight title fight in Israel where Wali Muhammad was painting Richard Hardface Mason with his jab for 11 rounds. The referee was about to stop the fight because he was a bleeding badly. Then Hardface came out in the 12th with a peekaboo style and snuck in a thunderous uppercut that knocked Wali Muhammad out cold. There is nothing more exciting than a sudden knockout comeback.

GM: Do you follow boxing currently?

Unfortunately, not much. What makes any sport interesting for a fan is its competitive nature. Who is going to win? Because I was involved in professional boxing promotion, I was exposed to the inner workings of the sport. The corruption and manipulation of match making make it hard to take professional boxing seriously as a competitive sport. Anti-competitive elements exist in other sports, such as major league baseball with its disparity in team revenues and rampant performance enhancing drug use. And, would the New England Patriots have won those Superbowls if they hadn’t stolen defensive signals? Its hard to be a big fan when cheating and competitive disparity are deciding factors.

GM: Do you think that Pacquiao-Mayweather will happen in 2011?

It appears that Mayweather has lost interest in facing any stiff competition. His biggest challenges right now seem to be the IRS and the Las Vegas police department.

GM: Have you ever considered doing a documentary about boxing and why or why not?

I would consider doing so for the right concept. However, general interest in boxing seems to be at an all-time low, so it does not bode well for any new boxing documentary at this time.

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