MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR – The Blu Review
The Beatles only starred in four films together (not counting the animated YELLOW SUBMARINE which they didn’t even voice) yet two of them have been virtually impossible to see in any home viewing format for decades. A HARD DAY’S NIGHT and HELP were both acclaimed successes with long histories of VHS and DVD releases but LET IT BE, a 1970 documentary showing how the Beatles rehearsed in preparation for a new live tour, despite winning an Oscar for Original Song Score, has never been seen since its original theatrical release. LET IT BE captured the Fab Four as they were in the process of breaking up, bickering and acting chilly to each other in a most un-Beatle-like fashion. The other “lost” Beatles film is the 1967 MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR, a 53-minute psychedelic road trip first broadcast on the BBC. MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR is now available on Blu-ray from Capitol Records and it’s a real discovery, a Pythonesque comedy with terrific songs, and the disc is loaded with extras.
“Mystery tours” were a popular concept in England at the time. These were low-budget weekend getaways, riding overnight in a bus to a surprise location and this loose framework was conceived by Paul McCartney as a way for The Beatles to do something fun and exciting in the wake of the manager Brian Epstein’s death at age 32 from a barbiturate overdose. The “plot” of MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR is negligible: Based on a loose unscripted narrative, in the spirit of the experimental mood of the time, the Beatles took a psychedelic bus on a trip into the English countryside and let the film unfold. Much music, improv, and spontaneity ensues. The coach passengers are a mix of Beatles, actors, real people, children, an accordion player, and a midget. One highlight is a sing-along in the bus, when a drunken Ringo, who’s brought along his ‘Aunt Jessie’, begins singing “I’ve got a looverly boonch of coconuts…” and, upon getting no reply from his fellow travelers, loudly and sloppily cries out, “Coom on, join in! What’sa matter with yer ?!”. Another memorable moment involves John, a little girl, and a balloon. In between vignettes the four perform songs- I Am the Walrus, Blue Jay Way, The Fool On The Hill, Your Mother Should Know and the title song.
Critics at the time found MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR neither magical or mysterious and it was roundly trashed as a bizarre, scriptless mess (that the BBC first aired it in black and white by mistake probably didn’t help). But watching MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR today shows that it has aged well as a weird testament to the absolute charm of the Beatles, since even amidst all the sloppiness, cheesiness and sheer ineptitude, much of their anarchic spirit and sense of fun still manages to come through. Mainly, this happens in some of the musical sequences, especially “I Am the Walrus”(the only footage of Lennon performing this tune) or “Blue Jay Way”, which serve as fairly decent and imaginative precursors to the music video format which wouldn’t explode for another 15 years. Time has been good to MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR and 45 years later the film that has aged into a fascinating relic way ahead of its time.
Now MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR has been released on Blu-ray and it’s a Beatles-lovers dream, with a host of special features and packed with unseen footage. There are newly-filmed interviews with Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and other members of the film’s cast and crew, as well as a director’s audio commentary recorded by Paul. The film is presented in 1080i video, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and uncompressed stereo soundtracks. 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. The credits list Ringo as the director of photography (!) and the images looks better than I’d expected. Some scenes were shot in 16mm and some of the interiors seem soft but not distractingly so.
Here’s a rundown of the extras:
Director’s Commentary by Paul McCartney. The four lads share directorial credit (along with Bernard Knowles) but Paul does a solo commentary and seems proud of what he calls their “wacky surrealist romp”. Paul has excellent recall talking about locations and why certain actors were hired. He admits the film is self-indulgent and confesses “We made it up as we went along”, but likes what they came up with.
The Making of Magical Mystery Tour runs 19 minutes and features interviews with Paul and Ringo, along with other cast members and crew and includes unseen footage.
Meet The Supporting Cast is an 11 minute featurette on the background and careers of veteran British actors Nat Jackley, Jessie Robins, Ivor Cutler, Victor Spinetti, George Claydon, and Derek Royle. Also clips of The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, a musical group created by a group of British art-school denizens of the 1960s headed by Neil Innes, who had collaborated with Monty Python and (along with Python’s Eric Idle) later founded the Beatles spoof band The Rutles .
Ringo the Actor is 2 ½ minutes of Ringo reflecting on his role in the film.
Nat’s Dream is a 3-minute scene directed by John Lennon featuring Nat Jackley that was not included in the original film. Jackley was a British comic actor famous for his trademark rubber-neck dance, skeletal frame and peculiar speech impediment.
Ivor Cutler ‘I’m Going In A Field’ is another 3-minute cut number featuring famed Scottish poet and songwriter Ivor Cutler performing ‘I’m Going In A Field’, in a field.
Traffic ‘Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush is the filming of the band Traffic acting out their 1967 hit single ‘Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush’ which was commissioned by The Beatles for possible inclusion in the film but was not used in the final edit. Runs two minutes.
‘Your Mother Should Know‘ (2:35), ‘Blue Jay Way‘ (3:53), and ‘The Fool On The Hill’ (3:05) are new edits of these performances all featuring footage not seen in the original film.
Hello Goodbye’ as featured in Top of the Pops 1967. The Beatles allowed the BBC to film them in the edit suite where they were working on Magical Mystery Tour. This was then turned into a 3 ½ minute promo by the BBC, who shot their own additional footage. It was then broadcast on Top of the Pops to mark the ‘Hello Goodbye’ single going to No 1 in December 1967.
8 page booklet with color photos taken on set.
MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR has long been a film with a bad reputation that few had seen. It’s actually loads of fun and anyone who calls themselves a Beatles fun is strongly urged to purchase this new Blu-ray.