Roll Up for the Magical Mystery Tour (again)
By Aaron Kupferberg
On September 1967 The Beatles embarked on making their third film, with help from Richard Lester who directed A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and Help! (1965). The band was in uncharted waters after the death of long time manager Brian Epstein, and to prevent additional tax levies by the the government the band formed Apple Corps. “Magical Mystery Tour” was the first film project directed by the entire band under that banner. It was a loose unscripted free for all, dreamt up by Paul McCartney on a flight from the US to the UK earlier that year. The “plot” was scribbled by Ringo, a sheet of paper with a circle drawn on it. Most of “Magical Mystery Tour” was filmed in a rented coach, filled with friends and acquaintances, Beatles office staff, a camera crew, and a handful of experienced actors, rambling around the English countryside one holiday weekend.
It debuted on British TV and to say it was a disaster is an understatement. Critics called it “Positively the worst programme I can remember being on any channel,” declared one viewer. “I think a lot of people were looking for a plot,” McCartney explained, “and they didn’t get one.” At the time, the Beatles were still bathed in the glow of “Sgt. Pepper” and seemingly invincible to any serious criticism. This proved them to be fallible and human, and the result of four talented musicians who proved to be pretty lame filmmakers without professionals to guide them. Or were they?
What is thankfully not overlooked is the music. It proved to be truly wonderful and the soundtrack contained some of the best Beatles music ever made. The restoration of Magical Mystery Tour has been overseen by Paul Rutan Jr. of Eque Inc., the same company that handled the much acclaimed restoration of Yellow Submarine. The soundtrack work was done at Abbey Road Studios by Giles Martin and Sam Okell. Trivia note: The house band near the end of the film can be heard singing “Death Cab for Cutie” (The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, whose first album was produced by Paul McCartney in the background of the scene). This was the inspiration for the Grammy-nominated band of the same name.
Now critics see the film for what it really is. Part home movie, and proto-music video years before MTV existed. Unlike previous scripted films by those lovable moptops, Magical Mystery Tour’s music isn’t simply a transitional piece from scene to scene; it takes center stage and gives fans a new way to experience them. Each song tells a story, from “Fool on the Hill” to “I Am the Walrus.” Between each tune are Monty Python styled silliness that included surreal midgets, visual gags and a visit to a strip club. The home movie aspect to the film with Ringo and his Aunt Jessie arguing through the trip is now much clearer. It shows our heros (wizards) during a slice of their magical lives in vibrant color and high resolution. And its more popular than ever, as the remastered Magical Mystery Tour DVD entered the Billboard Top Music Video chart at No. 1 for the week ending October 27, 2012. The more you explore the film, the better it gets. The website is another marvel, using Ringo’s sketch as navigation with bits from the movie, all arranged in a tumblr-styled layout with history and behind the scenes commentary — visit http://www.magicalmysterytour.com and tell your friends “Goo goo gajoob!”