No Concessions: The Film Four, or All You Need is YouTube
As you might have heard, the Beatles albums have been remastered, in a format called “CD.” (“Compact disc,” right? I owned some of those back when I had hair.) Not that you would know from this site—Popdose has done a lousy job covering this.
Actually, as you well know, Popdose has been on the leading edge of the new Beatlemania. I’m just bitter: When I misidentified Mae West’s version of “Twist and Shout” as a “Beatles cover” I was thrown under the bus as our magical mystery tour meandered through all the hoopla. But no Blue Meanie can stop me here.
This week we look at Beatles movies. No, not A Hard Day’s Night, Help!, or Yellow Submarine, which by Popdose law you have to watch at least once per year. Nor Let It Be, which I haven’t seen in its entirety. Has anyone since before those DCs, I mean CDs, were introduced? The boys won Oscars for their song score, beating out the fearsome competition of The Baby Maker, A Boy Named Charlie Brown, Darling Lili, and Scrooge. Did recipient Quincy Jones hand-deliver the statuettes, or simply put them in the mail to the fractured four? Whatever—speaking words of wisdom, this is the time to free Let It Be.
I really wanted to include a clip from the 1976 curiosity All This and World War II, which sets Fox-owned footage of the conflict to Beatles covers in a desperate bid to win over the kids and the “nostalgia” audience that was hungry for the next That’s Entertainment! Only in the 70s, folks. But the movie is presumably such a seething mess of rights issues that not even the copyright banditos want to touch it. With a little help from my friends at YouTube, then, my focus is the non-Beatles movies JPGR worked on.
Perhaps wisely, John refrained from feature filmmaking following 1967’s How I Won the War, a scattershot satire directed by the Beatles’ mate Richard Lester (whose acolyte, Steven Soderbergh, is said to have directed his new film The Informant! in Lester style.) The movie’s innovative color scheme was bungled in the lab, which is one reason that despite flashes of greatness it doesn’t entirely hold together. There’s a montage of Lennon’s scenes in the movie on YouTube, but this wry and more affecting (and shorter) clip will do:
John’s not hearing the siren call of the silver screen hasn’t stopped others from playing him. Ian Hart did it twice, in The Hours and Times (1991) and Backbeat (1994). Aaron Johnson will play the Quarrymen-age John in the upcoming Nowhere Boy. (I was one of the few to see multiple actors play him in the unfortunate Broadway flop Lennon in 2005.) Outside of short films with Yoko, though, he was nowhere man.
The cute one, Paul, has also been content to stay behind the scenes. He certainly gave a boost to 1973’s Live and Let Die:
Roger Moore’s debut as James Bond doesn’t get any better than those three minutes. (His last, 1985’s A View to a Kill, is similarly challenged once Duran Duran has done its thing.) McCartney’s theme to 1985’s Spies Like Us is another picture-saver. When he did step in front of the camera, for 1984’s self-penned Give My Regards to Broad Street, disaster. “About as close as you can get to a nonmovie, and the parts that try to do something are the worst,” raved Roger Ebert’s one-star review.
“No More Lonely Nights” was the film’s signature song, but there were plenty of lonely nights in theaters stuck showing Give My Regards to Broad Street. Its nominal director, Peter Webb, vanished from the Internet Movie Database following its icy reception, and I’ve completely blocked it from memory. Nor has there been any rush to remaster it for its 25th anniversary.
Where movies are concerned, George had the most illustrious career, as a producer. His HandMade Films gave us some of the best British films of the late ’70s and ’80s, notably its debut, Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979), the excellent gangster movie The Long Good Friday (1980), with Bob Hoskins and Helen Mirren, Hoskins again in one of my very favorites, Mona Lisa (1986), and the hilarious, endlessly quotable Withnail and I (1988), with Richard E. Grant acting out.
I won’t hold Madonna and Sean Penn’s honeymoon gift Shanghai Surprise against his track record. But really—what the hell was he doing as an uncredited “guest of Heartland” at the very end of the infamous Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978), as an unbelievable cross section of ’70s talent recreates the album cover? Did producer Robert Stigwood have something on him, and the briefly glimpsed Paul and Linda too? HandMade Films may have been his penance.
Even Ringo sat out Sgt. Pepper’s, which is saying something. Until he found his niche as a children’s entertainer on TV he bumbled amiably from one odd credit to the next, backing Paul and George in their various endeavors (including Broad Street) and adding cachet to all-star fiascos like the leering Candy (1968), the 85-year-old Mae West’s stupefying comeback vehicle Sextette (1978), and the Badfinger-fueled Magic Christian (1969).
Call me incorrigible, but I’ve always wanted to see 1974’s Son of Dracula, with Harry Nilsson in the title role, Ringo as Merlin the Magician, and Keith Moon, Peter Frampton, and John Bonham caught between gigs. But given a chance Ringo could do better than “the first rock and roll Dracula movie!”. He’s very good in a rare dramatic role in 1973’s That’ll Be the Day, offering streetwise advice to budding rocker David Essex.
And, unlike his bandmates, he had a genuine hit in 1981’s Caveman, playing to his clownish strengths along with stars-to-be Dennis Quaid and Shelley Long and animator Dave Allen’s goggle-eyed dinosaurs. He also got the girl, marrying super-babe co-star Barbara Bach offscreen.
While not a total bust for the Beatles as they went their separate ways, the movies weren’t as happy a home for them as when they were together. We’ll always think of them in unison, in their prime, capturing audiences as few entertainers could. So now they’re back, sonically spruced up and ready to supply that transporting feeling that Robert Zemeckis’ 1978 debut I Wanna Hold Your Hand nailed.
And, oh, OK, I blew it on “Twist and Shout.” To atone, here’s Mae performing “Day Tripper.”