The Beatles in MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR (1967) – Kind of a bad trip

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Supposedly, a major source of inspiration for Magical Mystery Tour was some home movies that Paul McCartney had been making at the time — and a home movie is certainly what the film resembles.

Had this movie been secreted away in a box for decades and found only yesterday, it would probably have been regarded as an unsung (ahem) Beatles gem. Unfortunately, it aired on BBC1 on Boxing Day 1967 and had been touted as a major event, which it definitely was not.

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Paul’s original “storyboard” for the movie.

The movie follows a British tour bus whose stops are filled with supposedly zany events dictated by five skybound magicians (the Beatles and their roadie Mal Evans). But none of it amounts to very much. Actions that could have been cute if they’d been only throwaway gags or short skits are stretched far beyond their worth. In one scene written by John, he plays a restaurant waiter who plies Ringo’s plus-sized and voraciously hungry aunt with, literally, shovelfuls of spaghetti. It gets pretty gross to watch.

On the plus side, there are mildly funny appearances by Beatles film veteran Victor Spinetti, and the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band (including Neil Innes, later to make his mark with Monty Python and the Beatles parody The Rutles). And the Beatles’ songs, of course, are wonderful. Probably the movie’s best song visualization is its appropriately wacko take on John’s surreal “I Am the Walrus.”

In the end, it’s a spotty effort best noted for its wasted potential. As with Charlie Chaplin’s last couple of feature films, Beatles completists will want to see Magical Mystery Tour just to say that they’ve seen it — but it’s not likely to be held dear in their hearts.

The Beatles in HELP! (1965) – No HARD DAY’S NIGHT, but a nice ticket to ride

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The following is my second of two entries in The 2nd Annual British Invaders Blogathon, hosted by the blog A Shroud of Thoughts. Click on the above banner, and read some great critiques of a wide range of British and Britain-related movies!

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The Beatles’ Help! has just as wispy a plot as its predecessor, A Hard Day’s Night, and probably much less reason for its existence. But if you’re willing to give yourself over to it, it’s very good-natured and funny.

Perhaps it helps to see it a half-century after its creation. The spirit of Monty Python and other British comedy has become so firmly embedded in our subconscious that Help!’s endless string of non-sequitor gags somehow comes together and makes sense. When the movie was first released, it was probably enough for most people simply to see The Beatles clowning and singing on-screen in full color.

The movie’s shaggy-dog plot is that Ringo finds himself wearing a ring that makes him the target of a religious sacrifice for an Eastern cult. Through even more plot machinations, the ring becomes a morbid point of fascination for a mad scientist (Victor Spinetti, the neurotic TV director from A Hard Day’s Night). Thus, the movie pretty much turns into one long chase, halted every so often so that The Beatles can sing one of their beloved hit songs.

Critics and moviegoers who have sought a coherent plot and characters to root for have long come away shaking their heads at this movie. But in these days of raunchy, flatulent film comedy, a quaint, eager-to-please number such as Help! looks better all the time.

Besides The Beatles and the rest of the cast being quite game for the movie’s silliness, you have to love the blackout-sketch-type jokes, as when the initial sacrificial virgin returns home to get a bath from her mother, who chides her daughter for coming home with grimy sacrificial paint all over herself.

Screenwriter Marc Behm — and, certainly, director/silent-comedy enthusiast Richard Lester — manage to pull off a cheerily farcical tone throughout, even as Ringo is continually under threat (often from his own bandmates) of getting a finger lopped off. (The film’s sense of humor extends to Ken Thorne’s orchestral soundtrack, which slyly riffs on a number of previous Beatles tunes.)

Hey, gang! Let's go out in the middle of a field and put on a show!

Hey, gang! Let’s go out in the middle of a field and put on a show!

Beatles lore tells us that this movie was filmed near the end of the Fabs’ “escapist” period, shortly before they ditched their moon/spoon-type lyrics and started reaching for something deeper in pop artistry. As such, Help! is a nostalgic, often hilarious valedictory to The Beatles’ “growing up” years.

(If you enjoyed this blog, please click here to read my first British Invaders Blogathon entry about The Beatles’ movie debut, A Hard Day’s Night.)

A HARD DAY’S NIGHT (1964) – A beautiful cinematic scrapbook of The Beatles

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The following is my first of two entries in The 2nd Annual British Invaders Blogathon, hosted by the blog A Shroud of Thoughts. Click on the above banner, and read some great critiques of a wide range of British and Britain-related movies!

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I’ve seen a lot of great movies in my time, but there are very few that mainline me with joy from their very start. A Hard Day’s Night is one of them. After a half-century in which Beatlemania has survived and thrived — if not in its physical state, then surely as a state of mind — there’s not much new that can be said about this delightful movie.

If you’re any sort of pop-music or movie fan, you’d have to have lived under a rock not to know by now that the movie is: (a) a virtually plotless melange about 24 hours in the harried life of The Beatles, culminating in a TV concert performance; (b) cutesily sub-plotted with a side story about Paul’s cantankerous grandfather (Wilfrid Brambell); and (c) filled end-to-end with early-era Beatles songs at their simplest and catchiest.

So, besides (c) — which speaks for itself if you’re a Beatles buff, and should rightfully convert you if you’re not — about all you can do is list the movie’s virtues, of which there are many.

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* Among the people who have been credited for the high quality of this movie — including The Beatles, playwright/screenwriter Alun Owen, and director Richard Lester — one name I never see is that of Gilbert Taylor, director of photography. This movie has the uncanny, simultaneous effect of appearing as though every shot was caught on the run while looking shimmeringly beautiful at the same time.

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* I find it interesting that any of the movie’s characters who don’t recognize The Beatles can’t stand them. The stodgy train passenger (above, center); the people who encounter Ringo (other than the truant schoolboy) when he goes off on his own; and most notably, the man who owns the field that The Beatles “hurt” (in the movie’s most famous sequence — imagine how much money that guy would try to fetch for that Beatles-trodden land these days!). Small wonder that this movie spoke to a generation that was tired of intolerant old fogeys trying to tell them how to run their lives.

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* The movie has that delightful quality that most great comedies have, of saying things that ought to be said. All of The Beatles have such moments in the movie (Don’t mess with Ringo’s drums!), but the best such moment is when George tells off the ad spokesman who thinks he knows what’s hip. Even Paul’s grandfather gets off a great line about how all he has seen so far on his trip is “a train and a room, and a car and a room, and a room and a room” — which pop history tells us was actually an observation of The Fabs themselves when they were trapped in their hotel rooms between shows.

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* For a movie whose main reason for existence was its soundtrack album, it’s amazing how much of its comedy is visual — everything from the aforementioned scene where The Beatles briefly escape their routine and cut loose in an open field; to a non-sequitor where a TV actor, portraying a bloodied soldier, pours some ketchup on his lunch, looks at his fake wound, and adds ketchup to the wound to make it look more realistic. And then there are the chase scenes, which are practically Richard Lester’s love letters to his hero Buster Keaton (whom he later employed in his movie version of the play A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum).

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After The Beatles broke up, John Lennon forever dismissed Beatlemania as high school hi-jinks. He told one interviewer, “You have all the old records there if you want to reminisce,” and when fans would ask if The Beatles would reunite, he’d counter, “Do you want to go back to high school?” You can’t go back, of course, but you can always watch A Hard Day’s Night, enshrined just as you’d want your early glory days to be — beautifully photographed, and with joyous memories that continue to reward future generations.

(If you enjoyed this blog, please click here to read my second British Invaders Blogathon entry about The Beatles’ movie Help!)

Only one week until the BEATLES FILM BLOGATHON – Is there anybody going to listen to my story?

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It’s only one week away from our Beatles Film Blogathon, and I’m…well, if not embarrassed, than certainly humbled to say that we have only three blogger entrants thus far.

Only THREE? One less member than The Beatles themselves??

Only THREE? One less member than The Beatles themselves??

I hope that this blogathon — besides honoring both Ringo Starr’s 75th birthday and his recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — will reflect the spirit of fun that The Beatles at their best provided us.

Although entries for the movies A Hard Day’s NightHelp!, and Let It Be are spoken for, there are still plenty of Beatles-related movies and music videos to blog about. Click on the blogathon’s banner (above) for more information about the ‘thon, and if you’re interested in blogging for it, please leave your blog’s name and URL, and the movie or video you want to blog about, in the “Comments” section below. Show your love of The Beatles by sharing it in our blogathon!

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SEX! BLOGATHON – The big finish!

It’s been a hot little weekend here at Movie Movie Blog Blog. But all good things must come to an end, so gather ’round for…

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Not counting yours truly, we had one dozen delicious entries on the topic of movies that suggested sexuality rather than overtly depicting it. Our last two bloggers gave it everything they had and made it to the finish line with these entries today:

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Reel Distracted held up The Thomas Crown Affair as a shining example of the games lovers play (especially chess) when they’re afraid to let down their guard with each other,

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and thestopbutton.com discussed Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan doing their best to satisfy both themselves and the Production Code in Tarzan and His Mate.

If you missed these or any of the other participating blogs, click here to go to our original blogathon announcement, which provides links to all of the blog entries.

My thanks to all of the wonderful and gifted bloggers who took the time to write and post their thoughtful entries. Further thanks goes to all of the readers who visited both this blog and the participating blogs to get a wide range of viewpoints about the depiction of sex in cinema.

Lastly, if you are a fan of The Beatles and/or their movies and music videos, I encourage you to participate in this blog’s upcoming Beatles Film Blogathon, being held July 5-7, 2005 in honor of Ringo Starr’s 75th (!) birthday and his recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Click on the banner below to read more about the blogathon and how to participate in it.

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Thanks once more to everyone who joined in this blogathon, and try to stay cool this summer!

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Announcing THE BEATLES FILM BLOGATHON!

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(INTRODUCTORY DISCLAIMER: This blogathon is in no way connected to or endorsed by any of the Beatles or by Apple Corps Ltd.)

As a celebration of both Ringo Starr’s 75th birthday and his recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Beatles buff otherwise known as Movie Movie Blog Blog would like to announce…

THE BEATLES FILM BLOGATHON!

Following are the rules.

Primary rule: Please note that I will not accept duplicate entries about the same movie. There is a wide range given below from which to choose, so it’s first come, first served.

Do’s

Feel free to submit a blog about one of your favorite “official” Beatles movies: A Hard Day’s NightHelp!Magical Mystery TourYellow SubmarineLet It Be, or The Beatles Anthology.

Since this is obviously a limited menu from which to choose, I will also accept blogs about any of the following:

* Beatles-related documentaries, such as the Maysles Bros.’ Beatles documentary, 1982’s The Compleat Beatles, or 1988’s Imagine: John Lennon.

* Movies in which a Beatle appeared solo, either in a starring or co-starring role — anything from John Lennon’s starring turn in How I Won the War, to George Harrison’s cameo in The Rutles.

* Music videos featuring any of The Beatles, either as a group or separately.

* If you can provide a detailed critique about how their music adds to the film in question, I will also accept blogs about movies for which The Beatles contributed only a musical score, such as The Family Way (Paul McCartney) or Wonderwall (George Harrison). (Again, be sure to note how the music relates to the film as a whole, rather than just critiquing the score itself.)

* Fictional movies whose main source of plot is The Beatles’ music, such as I Am Sam (2001), the musical Across the Universe (2007),  or Nowhere Boy (2009).

Don’ts – Please do not blog about any of the following:

* Movies for which any of The Beatles served only as behind-the-scenes personnel (such as George Harrison’s Handmade Films productions).

* The 1966-1969 Beatles TV cartoon, since The Beatles themselves really had nothing to do with it other than the use of their songs.

* TV appearances, such as The Beatles guesting on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” or John and Yoko co-hosting “The Mike Douglas Show.”

How Do I Join the Blogathon?

In the “Comments” section at the bottom of this blog, please leave your name, the URL of your blog, and the movie you are choosing to blog about. At the end of this blog entry are banners for the ‘thon. Grab a banner, display it on your blog, and link it back to this blog.

The blogathon will take place from Sunday, July 5, through Tuesday, July 7 (Ringo Starr’s birthday). When the opening date of the blogathon arrives, leave a comment here with a link to your post, and I will display it in the list of entries (which I will continually update up to the beginning of the ‘thon, so keep checking back!).

I will not be assigning particular dates to any blog posts. As long as you get your entry in by the end of the day on July 7, I will be satisfied. (That said, the earlier the better!)

Again, be sure to leave me a comment and grab a banner, and have fun with your blog entry. Yeah, yeah, yeah!

Here is the list of participants thus far:

Critica Retro – A Hard Day’s Night

Phyllis Loves Classic Movies – Help!

Moon in Gemini – Yellow Submarine

Back to Golden Days – Let It Be

Movie Movie Blog Blog – Music videos for George Harrison’s “This Song” and “Crackerbox Palace”;  music video for The Beatles’ “Free as a Bird”

Summer Reeves – I Wanna Hold Your Hand

Love Letters to Old Hollywood – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

A Shroud of Thoughts – Across the Universe

In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood – How I Won the War

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YELLOW SUBMARINE (1968) – A pox on any Blue Meanies who hate this movie

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Most ‘60s movies about peace, love, and all that hippie stuff have dated pretty badly. But the mere mention of Blue Meanies (the movie’s outsized villains) is enough to bring a twinkle to the eye of any baby-boomer. And Yellow Submarine‘s stunning animation remains a treat to be savored again and again.

The story of this movie’s creation is full of ironies, the richest of which is that it’s regarded as a Beatles film. The Beatles’ likenesses and music are certainly exploited, but other than a cameo appearance at the movie’s finish, their involvement ended there. Their company, Apple, merely produced the movie as a way to help finish off their movie contract with United Artists.

The second greatest irony is that a film The Beatles sloughed off as a contractual obligation became, in its own way, as groundbreaking as their movie debut, A Hard Day’s Night (1964). The movie’s surreal images and eye-popping color are simply a feast, and the icing on the cake is one of the best cartoon soundtracks ever, stuffed with songs from The Beatles’ groundbreaking “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album and many of their other hit records.

The third greatest irony is that a movie in which The Beatles were minimally involved keeps coming back to haunt them. John Lennon’s son Sean has said he hadn’t known about his father’s musical legacy until a friendly neighbor screened Yellow Submarine for him one day. And thanks to the movie’s moment where Ringo Starr presses a forbidden button and is ejected from the submarine (“That’s the panic button,” the captain says afterward), the real Ringo is still stopped on the street by people who want to know why he pushed that stupid button.

Even the movie’s minor credits are worth noting. The film was produced by Al Brodax, who did the Beatles TV cartoon series in 1966. And one of the movie’s screenwriters was Erich Segal, who hit paydirt two years later with a little novel called Love Story,

I’m not sure how well all of this will play with anyone who’s unfamiliar with or apathetic about Beatles music. All I know is that few movies have given me greater pleasure from start to finish.