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.

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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

maningreyblogathon

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!)

The BEATLES FILM BLOGATHON – Day 3 Recap

Like a mint-condition, first-edition copy of The White Album, our blogathon continued to entertain and impress right to the very end. Let’s wrap things up with a recap of

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In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood offered an insightful critique in John Lennon’s only non-Beatle film role, as an Army private in Richard Lester’s How I Won the War.

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Critica Retro posted a terrific take on the movie that started it all, A Hard Day’s Night.

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And to bring the Blogathon to full circle, I couldn’t resist adding some final thoughts on the remaining “Three-tles'” 1995 “reunion” video, “Free as a Bird.”

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If you have missed reading any of the other wonderful entries from the previous two days of this blogathon, please click on the appropriate recap below to find what you’d like to read.

Original blogathon announcement * Day 1 recap * Day 2 recap

We hope you have enjoyed our heartfelt tribute to The Fab Four and the musical and cinematic delights they have brought to the world. Now, I’ve got to take a break for a while…I’VE GOT BLISTERS ON MY TYPING FINGERS!!

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The Beatles’ video for “Free as a Bird” (1995)

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The following is my second and final contribution to my Beatles Film Blogathon, held July 5-7, 2015 to honor Ringo Starr’s 75th birthday and his recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ insights into Beatles-starring and Beatles-related movies and videos!

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We sure love to knock our heroes down to size, don’t we?

Free As a Bird was the “teaser” single from the long-awaited Beatles Anthology 1. The “Three-tles” took two solo tracks done by John Lennon in 1979 — this one (which was incomplete before it was turned into a Beatles single) and Real Love — and added their vocal and music accompaniments to it. Though the Anthologies received rave reviews and shot up the charts despite little airplay, the Beatles Anthology singles were almost universally disdained. And as the title of one of their older songs declares, I wish someone would “tell me why.”

For 25 years, Beatles fans were clamoring for a reunion, even after a certain person with a handgun snuffed out John Lennon. Well, folks, this is as close as you’re likely to get to a Beatles reunion, and you could do a lot worse. The Beatles in 1995 sounded like most of their die-hard fans — a bit beaten down by life, but still willing to give it a chance. It might not be The Beatles’ greatest work, but given the depths to which they could sink as a quartet (try listening to the lesser numbers on the original Let It Be album some time), it’s hardly an embarrassment.

Like the song, its video — directed by Joe Pytka, best previously known for his Nike commercials pitting Bugs Bunny against Michael Jordan — is a visual delight, stuffed to the margins with references to The Beatles’ earlier work. Apple Corps claimed there are more than 80 such references in the video, but every time I try to count them, I get lost in the sheer spectacle of the thing. If you’re a hard-core Beatles buff, just sit back and enjoy it.

The BEATLES FILM BLOGATHON – Day 2 Recap

Our journey is nearly done, so let’s take a moment to review our trip through the Sea of Blogs with

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Yesterday, we explored the yin and yang of Beatles cinema. Phyllis Loves Classic Movies critiqued the escapist comedy of Help!,

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while Back to Golden Days examined the movie that documented The Beatles’ break-up, Let It Be.

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But don’t leave yet! We still have one more day to go (Ringo Starr’s 75th birthday, no less)! And if you’ve missed any of our other great blogathon entries, follow these links to read them:

The original blogathon announcement

Day 2 recap

The BEATLES FILM BLOGATHON – Day 1 Recap

Come with us on a magical mystery tour of amazing blogs as we present

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Moon in Gemini took down some Blue Meanies in her critique of the classic Beatles cartoon Yellow Submarine.

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Summer Reeves revisited a snapshot of Beatlemania at its most frantic, in the early Robert Zemeckis comedy I Wanna Hold Your Hand.

Love Letters to Old Hollywood offers a heartfelt and spirited defense of the much-reviled Bee Gees/Peter Frampton version of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

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A Shroud of Thoughts provides a richly detailed look at another Beatles-inspired movie musical, Across the Universe.

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And finally, nostalgic old me looks back at a couple of Monty Python-like music videos by George Harrison, “This Song” and “Crackerbox Palace.”

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And there are more Beatles delights to come! Keep us bookmarked as we work our way through two more days of the blogathon!