Monday, February 3, 2014

Beatlemiscellania - The Rutles - All You Need is Cash

Trying to point out every Beatles reference contained in All You Need is Cash would be a mammoth undertaking.  Writer/director/star Eric Idle meticulously looked through photographs and books to try to capture something as close to the history of the Beatles as possible for this mockumentary. George Harrison even provided him access to The Long and Winding Road, an unreleased film Neil Aspinall had put together that was essentially an early version of The Beatles Anthology.  This film is the story of the Beatles, just twisted around a bit to have a laugh and poke fun at it all.

The film started as a short created for Rutland Weekend Television, Idle's television series at the time.  The short was a parody of the Beatles in the field in A Hard Day's Night, and Idle also brought the short to Lorne Michaels for him to play on Saturday Night Live.  Everyone loved the skit and Idle decided to expand it into a full film that Lorne agreed to produce and pushed for it to appear on NBC.  What we get is an interesting hybrid of both Monty Python and Saturday Night Live style humor wrapped into one, featuring performers that appeared on both shows, as well as excellent parody songs done in the Beatles style by Neil Innes.  Some of the songs are more traditional and could easily fit side by side the Beatles tunes, while others are direct copies of existing songs with (if possible for "I Am the Walrus" and "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds") even sillier lyrics.

The attention to detail on the project is really quite stunning, and makes The Rutles essentially one of the first Beatles tribute bands.  Throughout the musical performances, not only are they often matching the outfits the Beatles would wear, they frequently match their movements and facial expressions as well.  Innes even sounds like John Lennon on most of the songs he sings lead on.  Even though the details are changed for the sake of comedy, the events still mirror most of what happened to the Beatles exactly, and stretches out to the other major players along with them.

What comes off the most poorly is the portrayal of Leggy Mountbatten, the parody character of Brian Epstein.  It's a well known fact that Epstein was gay, and Leggy is as well, supposedly only managing the Rutles because he liked their tight trousers.  He's repeatedly made fun of until he eventually takes a teaching gig in Australia, which is a stand in for when Epstein committed suicide.  It's the one part of the film that I feel comes off a bit more mean spirited than the rest.  While you might say that having the Yoko Ono stand in be a daughter of Hitler is worse, I felt like that one had more to do with the public's reaction to her than saying Yoko was ever truly that bad.

Probably the funniest part of the film for me is when the Rutles take up tea drinking as a stand in for the Beatles drug use.  The serious way in which Idle as the reporter talks about their excessive tea drinking just tickles me.  Right behind that would be when he interviews Brian Thigh (played by Dan Aykroyd), the man who turned down the Rutles.  It's primarily the slow way in which he explains the mistake the man made, claiming that he thought guitar groups were on the way out, and then point blank asking "Why are you such an asshole?"  Not surprisingly, that was cut off when televised in America.

While I didn't count this film for my Bill Murray project as it was not played in theaters, it is worth mentioning that he is here as "Bill Murray the K," a radio DJ in America playing the Rutles.  It's essentially just him yelling into a microphone for a few minutes, but he's amusing in the role.

Besides appearances by Ron Wood, Mick Jagger, and Paul Simon, George Harrison plays a reporter in the film in one funny scene.  He was supportive of the project from the very beginning, and loved the results.  All the other Beatles are on record for saying they also enjoyed it.

This film also has a little extra bit of fun for me as a New Orleans native, as the reporter briefly visits the city to try to interview musicians who influenced the Rutles.

As a huge Beatles fan the film is really endless fun for me as I can recognize every reference and joke being done, but I do have to wonder how enjoyable it is for someone who isn't as large a fan.  In 1978 when this was made, most people probably still remembered the Beatles phenomenon pretty well, but as time passes I wonder how much life it will have for those who don't know the Beatles story.  I don't think you need to know the Beatles story to understand the film, but the humor is definitely more dry and subtle than laugh out loud hilarious.  I would still recommend the film to non-fans, particularly to people who enjoy mockumentaries in general.

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