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Beatles Rishikesh photographer Paul Saltzman screens new documentary

by Katie Hickox

In early 1968, the Beatles spent several weeks in Rishikesh, India as part of a meditation retreat to study with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Many of the few photos taken of the Beatles at the Rishikesh retreat were taken by a 60s civil rights activist, Paul Saltzman, who had nearly gotten killed when he was in Mississippi in 1965 just 3 years before being in India.

Beatles fan Paul Saltzman has made a new documentary, "The Last White Knight", that has been showing at film festivals and most recently screened at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF). Paul worked for the American 60s civil rights organization, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Greenwood, Mississippi, which was not too far from Jackson, Mississippi, where black civil rights activist Medgar Evers was shot in the back in 1964.

In 1965, Saltzman was hit in the head by Delay de la Beckwith, the son of the man, Byron de la Beckwith, who was convicted of shooting Medgar Evers. Saltzman escaped further injury by immediately running away from the steps of the courthouse where he had been confronted alone by four angry men, and to this day feels says he was "very lucky to have escape being killed."

"The Last White Knight" is about Saltzman's trip back to Mississippi to revisit what happened many decades ago, to explore if personal reconciliation was possible between Saltzman and his attacker, Delay de la Beckwith, and understand what made Delay knock him down. During Saltzman's visits, he established a cordial understanding through non-violent communication with Delay, with Delay saying he would still do everything just the same again. Despite having Jewish and black friends Delay says he remains a life long member of the Ku Klux Klan.

While Saltzman was in San Francisco for the screenings at the SFJFF, he shared with Beatles News why he is filmed throughout the film with a baseball cap that has says "Beatles." He says, "I wore the Beatles baseball cap (in the film) to show my appreciation for the Beatles, and the huge impact they have had on my life."

Paul Saltzman wearing Beatles cap talking to Delay de la Beckwith

Saltzman says that even before he met the Beatles in Rishikesh, India, which was pure coincidence because he was there to recover from a broken heart by learning Transcendental Meditation, he had been "listening to the Beatles" for many years, and their music helped him with his inner spiritual journey, especially the song "Tomorrow Never Knows".

When asked if he knew how the Beatles' song "Blackbird" was written, he said that he had discussed with John Lennon his 60s civil rights experiences of being a SNCC volunteer, and that it was Paul who wrote the lyrics and melody for "Blackbird" at Rikiesh, as part of the many songs written for the White Album, and that he came to understand that John had been talking to Paul about what was going on down in the deep south regarding the civil rights movement. Whenever Paul has played Blackbird at concerts such as Outside Lands and Coachella, he frequently introduces the song by telling the audience that he was inspired by the civil rights movement.

In an interview with Diane Sawyer on ABC News, Paul McCartney revealed the symbolism of the lyrics of that song, which includes the lines, "Take these broken wings and learn to fly, all your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise." Paul said, "I wrote it in the '60s, when the civil rights movement was at its height. I liked to think of a blackbird as being a kind of symbol for a black woman."

Saltzman was in India in 1968 because he was working as a sound engineer for the Canadian documentary "Juggernaut", and was able to spend some time at Rikiesh, where the Beatles gave him permission to take their pictures. Those photos did not get published until 2001, and several of them are currently on display at the John Lennon Liverpool airport. Since meeting the Beatles, Saltzman has continued to be a prolific film maker, and is a two-time Canadian Emmy Award-winning film and television producer-director with more than 300 films to his credit.

The documentary, "The Last White Knight" can now be purchased for viewing online here. For more info about Saltzman's experiences with making the film, click on this article from the CBC.


Published August 13, 2013

This article is Copyright © 2013, Katie Hickox, and may not be reproduced on other web sites or in print, in whole or in part, without expressed permission



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