In a lot of ways, the 1978 movie of Sgt Pepper starring Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees is just indescribably awful. However, it does have its good points, and I find myself rather fascinated. Bear with me then, gentle readers, as I parse out my interest in this silly movie.
For starters, the movie came out at what happened to be a critical point for me personally. In 1978 I was a freshman in high school, and had just discovered the Beatles. They were just a slightly obscure old cult group at that point, at least among high school kids in Rushville, Indiana. As a Beatles True Believer of not quite a year, I would have aspired to be the head priest leading prayers. It was distinctly a religious fervor.
It's hard to explain just how ridiculously eager I was to spend money to see this movie. For starters, at that point I would buy about anything with the word Beatles on it, or in any way associated. I was buying Yoko Ono albums - and trying to talk myself into liking them.
Seeing the movie at the time though, even I couldn't talk myself into liking it. This was worse than a Yoko Ono double album. What the hell kind of nonsense is this? I pretty much ended up siding with those what took the whole thing as heresy against the Fab religion - and was open to arguments that participation in this movie could reasonably be an ex-communicable offense from the Holy Mother Church. And hey, weren't the Bee Gees the leaders of the evil rival disco religion anyway?
Less than a year after the phenomenal successes of Saturday Night Fever and Grease, Robert Stigwood produced here one of the top all-time famous flops in movie and record. They were eating those cutout records for years. This movie badly tarnished or even ended the careers of most participants. I mean, this one just ATE IT.
Watching the movie now on DVD is a very different experience. Today this movie interests me most as a window on this crazy nether world called "the music business 1978." Watch the movie, and every wrong turn, and try to imagine what the creators might have been thinking to imagine that this would work. Remember, it's Robert Stigwood and the Bee Gees - only with the most prestigious song catalogue in the business to work with.
For starters, in my imagination, I'd guess that the business and story meetings were being taken at Studio 54 at tables with foot-high stacks of cocaine. That would explain, for example, how they ended up with absolutely no dialogue. George Burns' narrations as Mayor Kite were the only spoken words. All else was communicated through song. As dumbly stupid as this "story" was, however, the lack of dialogue was really a blessing in disguise. Besides, they were probably just too damned high to write anything down.
Also, this Studio 54 theory explains how unbelievably tacky and cheap the sets and everything on them came out. This crew was coming off two of the biggest successes in the history of the entertainment industry, yet the movie looked as though their budget was less than a Roger Corman B movie. For crying in a bucket, look at the dumb junky little RV headquarters of Mr Mustard, and those cheap, pointless robot maids.
Get enough toot in you though, and maybe those robot maids would start looking good. Plus, all the money for any better staging has gone up somebody's nose.
It also didn't leave them any money to hire a screenwriter. This dude absolutely must be ridiculed by name. The whole writing of it is credited to a Henry Edward II, whose only other resume credit is co-writing another 1978 winner called "The Great Skycopter Rescue." I'm sure it's a lost classic as well.
Now, you could complain about how just purely stupid and disjointed the story was, but let's not even set our sights that high. What exactly was the FVB trying to accomplish? But hey, it's a musical, so treat it like just a framework on which to hang the musical performances.
That's the thing though. Just when you might be ready to burn the master copy of this misbegotten foolishness, you might notice that there was some real talent at work. Hey, they did have a lot of the biggest names in the music business here. For starters, they were working with the most prestigious song catalog of the rock era. They had George Martin producing. Even the naysayers at the time gave some credit to the performances by Earth, Wind and Fire and Aerosmith.
More importantly though, the Bee Gees really could sing. They could actually do justice to a Lennon-McCartney tune. Listen again to their rendition of "Nowhere Man." That's good stuff. Most of all though, listen to their performance of "A Day in the Life." Those are as good a covers as I've ever heard of those two songs in particular. It's too bad that those outstanding musical performances are tainted by association with such an ill conceived project.
Heck, even the Strawberry Fields chick Sandy Farina in her only IMDB resume credit could carry a tune pretty fair. She at least did no violence to "Here Comes the Sun."
Mostly, they weren't even pretending to make a serious artistic statement - they're playing for camp in the first place. This explains Steve Martin's turn as Maxwell Edison, obviously. Taken out of context as a little set piece, this part is reasonably modestly entertaining.
Certainly, my original rock hero Alice Cooper was amusing on a day pass from alcohol rehab to film his bit as the cult leader Marvin Sunk, watching the football game and drinking a beer while his mind-numbed robot followers repeat back the slogans of his oversized video image.
Besides just being a dumb story, this mess tries to have too many things too many different contradictory ways. Aiming for camp value is ok, if not the height of artistic ambition. If they had left it at that, it would be easier to accept the whole project.
But then they put in these cheesy bits where they want to aim for actual dramatic pathos, particularly with the death of Strawberry Fields, and the glass coffin, and the weeping and gnashing of teeth. No, you don't have any credibility whatsoever to go there after silly stuff like Maxwell Edison and the Future Villain Band.
They really topped it off, though, with a special moment of idiocy at the climax. Billy Shears (Frampton) is distraught over the death of his beloved Strawberry Fields, and attempts to end it all by jumping off a first floor balcony. Looks like he'd be falling maybe 15 feet - into lush grass. Whoa, watch out there! You might get that pretty 70s hair mussed! It appears that they wanted the dramatic moment, but didn't want to commit to him doing something that would actually get him hurt. Personally, by this point I'm wanting to assist Peter Frampton's suicide, but that may be illegal, unless I could lure him to Oregon.
It's ok though, cause his late grandpa, WWI Sgt Pepper, comes back to life in a deus ex machina move animating a giant weather vain played by Billy Preston. Plus, Billy Preston obviously was no kind of dancer. Nor, for that matter, was anyone else in this major musical. Again, the budget for dancers went up somebody's nose.
Oh, and for a final dis-grace note, check out the IMDB performing credits for "Our Guests at Heartland": who showed up for the big closing credits singalong. Among others all grouped together to annoint this thing, look for Etta James, Hank Williams Jr, Bonnie Raitt, Leif Garrett, Dr John, and Sha Na Na.
Ah, well. In my old age, I've become more tolerant and accepting. To borrow a phrase from a rival religious group, in my father's house there are many mansions. And in one of those mansions, this DVD will plug a hole in the roof where the rain gets in, and keeps my mind from wandering where it will go.
BEATLES PICTURE COLLECTION - 100 pages PAGE 1 PAGE 2 PAGE 3 PAGE 4 PAGE 5 PAGE 6 PAGE 7 PAGE 8 PAGE 9 PAGE 10 PAGE 11 PAGE 12 PAGE 13 PAGE 14 PAGE 15 PAGE 16 PAGE 17 PAGE 18 PAGE 19 PAGE 20 PAGE 21 PAGE 22 PAGE 23 PAGE 24 PAGE 25 PAGE 26 PAGE 27 PAGE 28 PAGE 29 PAGE 30 PAGE 31 PAGE 32 PAGE 33 PAGE 34 PAGE 35 PAGE 36 PAGE 37 PAGE 38 PAGE 39 PAGE 40 PAGE 41 PAGE 42 PAGE 43 PAGE 44 PAGE 45 PAGE 46 PAGE 47 PAGE 48 PAGE 49 PAGE 50 PAGE 51 PAGE 52 PAGE 53 PAGE 54 PAGE 55 PAGE 56 PAGE 57 PAGE 58 PAGE 59 PAGE 60 PAGE 61 PAGE 62 PAGE 63 PAGE 64 PAGE 65 PAGE 66 PAGE 67 PAGE 68 PAGE 69 PAGE 70 PAGE 71 PAGE 72 PAGE 73 PAGE 74 PAGE 75 PAGE 76 PAGE 77 PAGE 78 PAGE 79 PAGE 80 PAGE 81 PAGE 82 PAGE 83 PAGE 84 PAGE 85 PAGE 86 PAGE 87 PAGE 88 PAGE 89 PAGE 90 PAGE 91 PAGE 92 PAGE 93 PAGE 94 PAGE 95 PAGE 96 PAGE 97 PAGE 98 PAGE 99 PAGE 100
The Beatles Are Masters of the Universe
Music Sustains the Soul
Culpepper Log [updated frequently]
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