Just re-watched the film of the same name, starring the Beatles back in 65, at the height of Beatlemania.
“We were extras in our own movie,” complained Lennon a few years later, and he wasn’t far wrong. There are long tedious stretches of faux-Indian faux humor featuring Leo McKern, who would have to place high on any list of the world’s most repellent and unfunny comedians. And too often the Beatles just cavort meaninglessly in the snow or the surf or the countryside, as anonymous as stop-motion puppets.
Still in the edges it’s a fresh and relevant movie. The director, Richard Lester, was trying to turn the four of them into modern Marx Brothers, and while he pretty much failed, it’s amazing how close Lennon came to being like Groucho. When he looks at the camera and waggles his eyebrows, he makes the same kind of connection with the audience — the smart guy who isn’t taken in, who knows bullshit when he sees it, who rolls his eyes scornfully at piousness and cliche. Just like Groucho, Lennon cuts through the intervening decades and is right here with us now.
Ringo makes a connection, too — he’s a lovable doofus, and a great camera subject. There’s a musical number where he’s playing drums with a cigarette dangling from his lips, and he’s just effortlessly cool. The movie is built around him and his rings, and despite the corny cutups he comes through with his dignity intact, and the same kind of wry sweetness he had 25 years later guesting on The Simpsons.
George and Paul don’t fare so well. George was 22, and while he too was effortlessly cool, he doesn’t have a lot of personality… and clearly the writers and director couldn’t care less about him. As for Paul, he’s a great artist but his busy Gemini brain always makes him look twitchy, phony and cold on camera. He can’t cross his legs without seeming calculating and manipulative. However, even half a century later, you can almost hear the little girls screaming over his handsome little piggy face.
There are glimpses of swinging London, too, and they remind you that once upon a time, there was art and excitement happening somewhere. Change was in the air, and every one of the songs seems to be announcing it. Every ringing chord seems like a rebuke to this empty age we’re living in now. Help — I need somebody! Not just anybody…
All these years later, I know just what you mean, Johnny.