Friday, October 12, 2012

Magical Mystery Tour DVD Review

Magical Mystery Tour is a film The Beatles shot in 1967, and while there are some obvious similarities with the band's earlier films (A Hard Day's Night and Help!), the differences are much greater. There isn't really much of a plot, and they weren't working from a script.  Also, the band members themselves were in charge of this one, with Paul McCartney directing most of it. The film is really an excellent document of where the band was at that time, and what was on their minds. Who cares that there's no plot? This is The Beatles, and if you're like me, you enjoy basically everything this band ever did. It's such a joy to watch these guys playing. And it's about the imagery and the music and the fun.  It's about dreams and ideas and seeing what happens when you simply jump into a situation.  Now maybe if most people made films like that, we'd have a load of trash. But somehow The Beatles were able to tap into magic on a more consistent basis than other folks.  Magical Mystery Tour is one of the results of that.

As for what happens in the film, well, Ringo buys tickets for a Magical Mystery Tour and gets on the bus with his aunt Jessica (played by Jessie Robins), with whom he's often arguing. There are a couple of tour guides at the front of the bus, and a wonderful group of characters as passengers.  And off they go on their tour.  The rest of the band members are on the bus too, of course. Paul is seated next to a gorgeous gal in a sexy fur coat. She poses for a photo by George Claydon, a midget, and that leads to "The Fool On The Hill," with Paul goofing around in some great locations (shot in the south of France, according to his commentary track).

There are several truly funny bits, including some of the moments between Ringo and Aunt Jessica (such as the "No, don't knit for me" bit). And funny lines like, "where the eyes of man have never set foot" (I have to assume that John came up with that one).  And there is some very silly stuff with a recruiting sergeant at one of the stops. He's played by Victor Spinetti, reprising a role he had in the play Oh! What A Lovely War! And there's an odd race. On "get set," a group of vicars in suits takes off, and a child starts to go, confused.  It's kind of adorable.

Ringo's aunt's food dream is seriously odd (with John Lennon shoveling food onto the table). And I like the bit inside the tent where the guy casually drops the fur-clad girl. The stuff with the group dressed as wizards is probably the silliest stuff.

And because this is The Beatles, it's the music that often is the focus. The tour guide says, "If you look to the left, ladies and gentlemen, the view is not very inspiring." But off to the right, everything is in bright 1960s colors, and the sequence is set to "Flying."  According to Paul McCartney, on the DVD's commentary track, some of the footage in this sequence is outtakes from Dr. Strangelove.  There is, of course, the famous "I Am The Walrus" segment, with pretty little policemen in a row, and the goofy costumes. And yes, it's definitely one of the best sequences in the film. There is also George Harrison's "Blue Jay Way," a deliciously strange song, with some interesting camera work to match.

And The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band perform "Death Cab For Cutie" while a stripper with a tremendous feather boa dances around. Once her bra is off, the word "Censored" covers her best bits.  Then The Beatles do "Your Mother Should Know," another excellent segment, with the Beatles in white tuxedos coming down a great staircase. This sequence features well choreographed movements and a lot of dancers, and is one of the film's best parts. The song goes into a reprise of "Magical Mystery Tour," and that is the end.

Special Features

Whatever you might think of the film itself, this DVD has some seriously excellent special features.  First there is "The Making Of Magical Mystery Tour," a 19-minute feature that includes interviews with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, plus an interview with George Harrison from 1993.  Several other folks involved with the film are also interviewed, including Sylvia Nightingale and Jeni Crowley, who were the fan club secretaries asked to be extras in the movie. Also, cameraman Michael Seresin, editor Roy Benson, musician Neil Innes and others.  There is also a lot of great behind-the scenes footage.  Regarding the "Your Mother Should Know" sequence, there were two hundred dancers working for next to nothing, and when the generator gave out, the dancers were on the verge of walking. So the filmmakers bribed them to stay with autographed photos of The Beatles.  We also learn in this feature that Magical Mystery Tour was originally broadcast in black-and-white (seriously? that's crazy) on BBC1 on Boxing Day 1967 in between The Petula Clark Christmas Special and a Norman Wisdom film.

The second special feature is "Ringo The Actor," which is two and a half minutes of an interview with Ringo talking about how he had been established as the actor in the band's first two films. There is also footage of Ringo singing "Yesterday" on the bus - holy moly!

One of my favorite bonus features is "Meet The Supporting Cast," which, as you might guess, features information and footage of some of the key supporting players, including Jessie Robins, Nat Jackley, Ivor Cutler, Victor Spinetti, George Claydon and Derek Royle.  There is footage of Jessie Robins playing drums (and damn, she is good).  In the section on The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, we get to see the stripper without the word "Censored" across her chest. Also, there is a bit of footage of that band performing their hit, "I'm The Urban Spaceman" (a song I never cared for because of the stupid final line). There is also footage of Victor Spinetti and John Lennon being interviewed together. And there is footage of these performers from other films and programs, including Derek Royle in that great episode of Fawlty Towers playing a character who dies during the night.

The special features include a few musical segments, for the songs "Your Mother Should Know," "Blue Jay Way" and "The Fool On The Hill." Each of these has footage from shooting the corresponding sequence for the film. And there is the "Hello Goodbye Promo," with black and white footage of the band, plus four people in the snow popping in and out.

There are three deleted scenes: "Nat's Dream," "I'm Going In A Field" and "Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush."  "Nat's Dream" is a sequence directed by John Lennon starring Nat Jackley, in which he chases a series of girls, set to accordion music. "I'm Going In A Field" is a deleted scene starring Ivor Cutler as Buster Bloodvessel sitting down at an organ in a field and performing the song.  A little bit of both of these sequences was also included in the "Meet The Supporting Cast" feature.  "Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush" is a deleted scene featuring the band Traffic pushing a giant globe.

And of course the DVD features a great commentary track by Paul McCartney.  He talks about how they found the actors: They used a directory called Spotlight, and cast them based on their faces mostly, so as to avoid any lengthy audition process.  He says that the project was a nightmare for the editor because they hadn't bothered with a clapboard (though you can see a clapboard in the "I Am A Walrus" sequence).  And yes, Paul talks about the walrus and the false clues for those who read into Beatles lyrics.  The restaurant scene came from a dream that John had. Paul talks about "Blue Jay Way," about the street in Los Angeles, and how the rest of the band was late meeting George at a house there. And for those who might still believe that Paul is dead, in the "Your Mother Should Know" sequence, Paul has a black flower only because he was last to get one, and they were out of red.

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