Friday, 26 October 2012

"Ah, but if you look to your right..."

Being something of a Beatles fan, it had always been a source of quiet shame to me that I'd never actually seen Magical Mystery Tour. Beyond the difficulty of actually getting a copy, I'd always been afraid that it might actually be rubbish. If the Beatles had made a giant misstep at some point in their career, it was better that I didn't know about it.

Even when BBC4 broadcast the film recently, with an accompanying Arena documentary, I only felt safe recording it and leaving it for a rainy day. So imagine my surprise, gentle reader, when it turns out that Magical Mystery Tour is actually great!

In 'Revolution in the Head' (surely the best piece of music writing ever?), Ian MacDonald is scathing about the Beatles MMT-era output, describing their lack of focus, lack of quality control. And when you get inside his analyses of the songs, it's hard to disagree with many of his points. But the new Arena documentary pitched the Beatles as heroes and leaders of the counterculture in this period, and seen through this prism the film takes on new meaning. Sure, it's amateurish at times, but it's truly experimental and even challenging in places, and if the Beatles hadn't earned the right to experiment, then who had?

One thing I'm amazed that critics don't make more of is the influence MMT had particularly on Monty Python's Flying Circus. The whole structure of the film, from the disjointed editing, to the flash-forwards and flash-backs and dream sequences is similar to an early Python episode. John shovelling spaghetti onto Aunt Jessie's plate is surely a precursor to Mr Creosote, and Victor Spinetti's Sgt. Major must have inspired Cleese and Chapman's portrayals of officious Army types and shouty PT instructors.

If you've read this far, you'll probably want to get the new DVD of the movie, but do watch the Arena documentary too. It's not on iPlayer but has been uploaded to YouTube Dailymotion.

Magical Mystery Tour Revisited BBC Arena... by My_Beatles_Stuff

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