Saturday, May 7, 2011

Beatles Backlog

Readers who have been reading may notice that I haven't been keeping up with the blog very well. Since I watch ~3 movies a week, I should be posting about 3 times a week. But it has been much less, hasn't it?

One trick I use when I get behind like this is the omnibus post - combining several movies that I have recently watched with a shared theme. This one starts with Magical Mystery Tour. We'd never seen this 1967 Beatles movie, for a couple of reasons. The album was released when I was 11, and I considered it somewhat creepy: "Yellow matter custard/seeping from a dead dog's eye". The booklet that came with the album has a gross illustration of a fat woman being fed spaghetti with a shovel. Plus, it wasn't supposed to be very good.

I needn't have worried about the grossout factor, but I guess it wasn't very good. The idea was for the Beatles and a bunch of regular folk to ride around in a tour bus, goof around and see what came out. And that's pretty much what they got. Ringo comes off best, spending most of the ride fighting with his fat auntie (she's the one who gets the spaghetti - filmed quite tastefully). Paul looks very naff in a colorful cardigan, but doesn't have much to do. John and George don't do much at all.

The Beatles songs are performed with visuals that would not have hacked it on the earliest days of MTV - oh well, this was a long, long time ago. My favorite is "Blue Jay Way", performed by George, sitting on the floor, playing a keyboard drawn on the floor like a mystical diagram.

Probably the high point of the film comes when the bus stops to take in a strip show, with the Bonzo Dog Band performing their Elvisesque "Death Cab for Cutie." Now that's entertainment!

Seeing Neil Innes in the Bonzos got us psyched to see The Rutles - Eric Idle and Neil Innes' Beatles spoof. Along with John Halsey and Rikki Fataar, they are the Rutles, subject of this documentary , narrated by Eric Idle. The band, its history and especially their songs are remarkably similar to another British band. We get interviews with people like Mick Jagger who knew them when, and interviews of the Mississippi bluesmen from deep on the Delta, who stole all their material from the Rutles.

But the best part are the songs - spot on Beatles pastiches. Some are funny, some are just too well-done: Is it a parody if it is just as good as the original?

So we went back to the original to find out: A Hard Day's Night. The Beatls 1964 film debut is directed by Richard Lester. It only seems like they put the Beatles on a train with a bunch of people and filmed what happened. Actually, it was carefully scripted to find and enhance the Beatles characters - responsible Paul, snarky John, thoughtful, iconoclastic George and Ringo, friendly, insecure, a bit dim but very sweet. In fact, my favorite part is Ringo, playing hooky from rehearsal, wandering around town, kicking rocks by the river, and meeting up with a lad, 10 and 3/4s, who is also deserting. Their banter is the loveliest - the kid mentions his friend Ding-Dong, and Ringo says, "Ding-Dong Bell?" because of course anyone named Bell will get nicknamed Ding-Dong. Listen close and you'll get to hear a lot of the vernacular.

In fact, George uses the term "grotty" and glosses it as grotesque - possibly the first use of this term in the media. He uses it to a swinging marketing man, trying to sell shirts to the youth market. It seems strange to me that prefab youth culture marketing was so well known as to be parodies in 1964, before even I, aged as I am, was a teenager.

Anyway, we were now on a roll. We streamed Richard Lester's How I Won the War, an odd WWII comedy with John Lennon in a small role. Lennon plays a sneaky little private to Michael Crawford's Lt. Goodbody. Crawford is a terrible officer in a stupid army who nevertheless wins the war for the British with a bad check. Strange, funny and a bit depressing.

And I'm going to wrap this post up now. We still have a ton of Beatles-related material queued up, like Ringo's Caveman and Lester's The Bed Sitting Room and The Knack ... and How to Get It, but we'll save it for later - or just skip over it.

In conclusion, Yellow Submarine does not appear to be available, disc or streaming.


Mythical Monkey said...

I have always thought in the back of my mind, cheese and onions.

I have always thought that the world was unkind, cheese and onions.

Do I have to spell it out?

C.H.E.E.S.E.A.N.D.O.N.I.O.N.S. Oh no!

Actually, I think "I Must Be In Love" would fit very well on any of the Beatles first three albums. And for some reason "Let's Be Natural" has always appealed to me.

As for The Magical Mystery Tour, I think I first saw it in a church basement in Nashville somewhere back in the mid-70s. That was back in my Beatles obsession days. If I had studied, say, the law as religiously as I did the Beatles, I'd be a Supreme Court justice by now.

I'll bet you there aren't more than fifty million people who could say the same thing ...

Beveridge D. Spenser said...

I bet there aren't more than 500 people who saw MMT in a church basement in Nashville! What did you think about it at the time? Impressed, thrilled to see the boys in a "candid" setting? Disappointed that it wasn't as cool as it should have been?

We came in with low expectations, and really liked it. As always, Ringo has the best role.

Mythical Monkey said...

I went in with virtually no expectations so it was pretty pleasant -- the music is great, and there are some bits that work, like John shoveling spaghetti and the strip tease.

You're right about Ringo. He was always the most engaging of the four, I think.

I saw most of the Beatles movies in odd places. Saw a revival of A Hard Day's Night in a drive-in in Hendersonville, a suburb of Nashville. It was right next to Mansker Creek which would flood practically every time it rained -- the entire theater parking lot would wind up underwater and all you could see would be the screen and rows of speakers sticking up out of the water.

Let It Be I saw at a midnight showing in a one of the local theaters -- must have been around 1981, judging by who my date was.

She was not nearly as thrilled to be there as I was. What can you do with a girl like that, who isn't fascinated by a six-minute version of "Dig It"?