2006-01-05 21:58:59 UTC
It has a reputation as one of the all-time movie disasters, but
I'm a big film buff and I've certainly seen many worse ones.
Though it is a stinker, oh yes indeed.
My rhetorical question: Could this film have been salvaged, at
some point of its conception? The script wasn't all that bad
(after all, we're talking about a *musical*), and it was even
somewhat clever in the way it incorporated so many pre-existing
songs into the story (strange how it concentrated so fiercely on
the Pepper and Abbey Road albums, though -- it's easy to imagine
writing plot developments to match selected songs from Revolver,
Magical Mystery Tour and the white album without switching the
focus from the "mature" Beatles catalog).
In any case, it seems to me like the film was OK at the
drawing-board stage, but ruined during production.
A few prominent problems, as I see them:
1) Shooting for all the chips. Aiming to be a huge mainstream hit
rather than a cult film for music junkies.
2) Too many wheezy geezers croaking Beatles songs ruined the
soundtrack and gave the film a distinctly unhip, "grandpa" flavor.
George Burns, Frankie Howerd, Donald Pleasance, Carol
Channing...eeek. Not to mention the instrumental appearances of
the "first generation" Pepper band.
3) A related grievance: Too many actors speak-singing the songs.
Who would want to buy a soundtrack of this stuff? The elder
performers were the prime violators, but you could also cite Steve
Martin and Alice Cooper. And it seems like Cooper should have
known better, though I guess he was nearing the peak of his
alcohol/drug crisis at the time.
4) A related, related grievance: Songs sung by *robots*. Enough
5) The Bee Gees' godawful overacting. OK, they were working in
essentially a "silent film" context (I don't believe anyone other
than George Burns actually had a speaking part?), but their
exaggerated facial expressions ("Oooh, look at those hot girls!
Hubba hubba!" "Oh no, I'm so hungover that I may THROW UP!" etc.)
were just *excruciating*.
6) Frampton + white overalls = fey embarrassment. Hard not to wish
Bungalow Bill would charge in with his elephant gun.
7) The final "choral singalong" with all the walk-on guest stars
(like Channing). Horrible, horrible idea. Horribly corny
then...horribly dates the film now. Leif Garrett, for heaven's
sake! I guess he couldn't land the "Billy Shears" part, and was
offered this as a consolation prize. Or Sha Na Na? Oof.
8) Aerosmith are the big baddies in the film, and yet their
supposedly "loathesome" appearance is actually the best musical
reason to watch the film. Why would anyone root for Frampton and
the Gibbs over these guys? Really, it was hard to stomach any of
the other musical performances, except perhaps those of Earth,
Wind & Fire and Sandy Farina.
So...how could this film have been realistically improved, without
scrapping it and starting from scratch? Clearly, casting was badly
botched. Frampton and the Bee Gees were a natural choice as far as
what was popular at the time, but even a batch of unknown
Beatle-esque musicians would have yielded more credible results.
And that's without even considering all the non-singers in the
One easy change which would have made the film miles, miles
better: Ken Russell as director. Does anyone know if he was
offered this film? It's so obviously influenced by earlier Russell
films like Tommy, Lisztomania and The Boyfriend (it even features
Russell regular Paul Nicholas as "Dougie"), yet the producers
instead picked Michael Schultz, whose most relevant qualification
was directing a piece o' crap like Car Wash.