Tuesday, February 26, 2013

And Fifth Makes Five (Beatles dvds)

So, found out yesterday* wd have been George Harrison's 70th birthday. When the youngest Beatle passes the seventy year mark you know Beatlemania and its aftermath was a long time ago.

Appropriately enough, I've been on something of a Beatles kick lately (as opposed to usually listening to them in the general mix). A few weeks back I bought the MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR, knowing full well that it was gosh-awful from having seen it once, years before, when in grad school at Fayetteville.** But (some of) the music is good, and I had a curiosity to see if it was really as bad as I remembered (it was).

I knew YELLOW SUBMARINE had been released a few years ago in an expanded version, adding some new sequences, which I'd rented at the time. And I have both A HARD DAYS NIGHT and HELP on VHS (a gift from my mother back around the time of the Marquette Mythcon) but now that we're newly without a VHS player they're less assessible. I remarked to Janice how it was a shame you cdn't get either on dvd -- Imagine my surprise, then, when dvds of both arrived not long after, Janice having gone on line, found out I'd been wrong about their not being available, and having ordered me both as presents. Horray!

Watching HELP made me want to see YELLOW SUBMARINE again (it'd been a while), and I found that while I thought I had a copy I was wrong about that. Luckily this was soon remedied, and I found myself in possession of four of the five Beatles movies, leaving out only LET IT BE. I knew this was unavailable -- but then I'd 'known' that HELP and HARD DAYS NIGHT were too, so if I was wrong about them I might be wrong about that. Sure enough, amazon provided a solution. LET IT BE arrived yesterday, and I watched it (for what will be the first of no doubt many times) last night.

Of them, I find enjoy HELP the most; something about its sense of humor resonates --"Jolly, with a knife" "They have to paint you red before they kill you. It's a different religion than ours. (pause)  I think" "I'm going to miss the sacrifice!" and that final silent appearance of that Channel swimmer.*** HARD DAYS NIGHT is good too, but I find myself drawn back to rewatch it much less often. MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR is hopeless; better to stick with the album there, which is half-soundtrack and half-compilation of some singles from around that period. YELLOW SUBMARINE is weird in a kind of pre-Python way (the animation style is obviously a big influence on Gilliam's work, but also just as obviously indebted to Peter Max****); I've stolen from it in various DandD scenarios over the years, to the general bafflement of players ("there's got to be someone with a Bigby's Hand wand hiding around here somewhere, I just know it!").

And then there's LET IT BE, which is both depressing and uplifting at the same time. On the one hand it de-mythologizes with a vengeance, showing Paul trying to get the others to take the whole thing seriously (and annoying them no end in the process), a glowering and resentful George, detached John, and unhappy Ringo slouching about. Yoko haunts the set like a prefiguration of  THE RING, and the whole is weighed down by too many middling songs ("Two of Us", "I've Got a Feeling", "Dig a Pony"*****) among what would become classics ("Get Back", "Don't Let Me Down", maybe "I Me Mine", "Let It Be" itself). And yet it starts to come together when they switch to the Abbey Road studio and bring in Billy Preston; even the second-rate songs  start to transcend their limitations through spirited performances. Last of all comes the rooftop concert, their last performance before an audience. And all of the sudden, it's over, brought to a premature end by the police. If the whole film had been as good as the final twenty minutes, it'd be remembered as a classic. As it is, a mixed bag, but one I'm glad to see again.

I suppose I'll have to see about getting THE BEATLES ANTHOLOGY from Netflix for my next Beatles fix . . .

--John R.

*thanks Stan!

**where they had an eclectic film program I occasionally went to; remember seeing "Bambi vs. Godzilla" and a live-action Wiley Coyote short there, as well as the Star Trek blooper reel, alongside less memorable fare.

***and the cameo appearance of Stonehenge in one scene is an added bonus

****does anybody else out there remember PETER MAX'S PAPER AIRPLANE BOOK?

*****A good example of this being "She Came In Through the Bathroom Window", one of several songs they rehearsed that made it onto ABBEY ROAD instead of LET IT BE (or GET BACK, as it was originally to be called); this one didn't make it into the final film (as did early versions of "Maxwell's Silver Hammer", "Oh! Darling", and "Octopus's Garden"), but endless retakes made their way onto various old bootlegs in the late 70s/early 80s (and, I assume, today as well).

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