Tonight, in the interest of history, my best friend and I finally broke down and watched Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. Both of us being die hard Beatles fans, we had actively boycotted the movie ever since it debuted in 1978. Of course, as pop culture historians, we both realised that sooner or later we would have watch to the film.
For those of you who have, fortunately, never heard of the film, Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band stars Peter Frampton and The Bee Gees as the band of the title. On paper I suppose the project sounded like a good idea. Both Frampton and The Bee Gees were at the height of their careers, and the music of The Beatles was, as always, hugely popular. That having been said, it soon became apparent that what seemed like a good idea on paper was not so good an idea in reality. Indeed, producer Robert Stigwood fired the original director, Chris Bearde (a comedy writer best known for his work on The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour and hired Michael Schulz (best known for Car Wash). Even The Bee Gees begged to be released from the project, to no avail.
None of this boded well for the film. When it was released in 1978, it was to universally bad reviews and an indifferent audience. Despite the continued popularity of The Bee Gees and Peter Frampton, it bombed at the box office. And there is no wonder it failed. Quite frankly, even though I had heard the movie was bad over the years and even expected it to be so, nothing prepared me for this. It is much worse than I ever expected. Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band has only a shoestring of a plot, which is at times incomprehensible as well as nearly nonexistent. Worse yet, the characters speak no dialogue...the plot is largely conveyed through the narration of George Burns as Mr. Kite. Of course, this is probably just as well. While Frampton and The Bee Gees speak no dialouge, it is still readily apparent that they lack acting talent. Frampton is incapable of even so much as convincingly looking soulful and The Bee Gees are wooden.
Of course, all of this would be forgivable if the music was actually good. One would think that with the great George Martin, The Beatles' producer, who arranged the songs, that the music would at least be acceptable. Sadly, it is not. The Beatles songs as performed by The Bee Gees and Peter Frampton effectively have the life sucked out of them to the point that they are bubblegum rather than rock 'n' roll. Indeed, they turn "Nowhere Man," one of The Beatles very best songs in my opinion, into an adult contemporary tune! And while The Bee Gees are perhaps best known for their vocal ability, it seems to me that this movie makes it readily apparent that John Lennon and Paul McCartney were actually the better singers. The Bee Gees' vocals are a far cry from the originals. While The Bee Gees and Peter Frampton hardly do The Beatles' songs justice, at least they are not nearly as bad as some of the other performers. "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" is turned into a disco song (who would have even thought it possible...) by a group called Stargard, who were unknown at the time and have remained so ever since. "You Never Give Me Your Money" is also ruined by Diane Steinberg of Stargard and a total unknown, Paul Nicholas, whose film career never quite got off the ground before or after this film. "When I'm 64" is turned into a novelty number with British comedian Frankie Howard (who plays the villainous Mr. Mustard) singing the vocals--the only problem is that it isn't so much funny as painful. One would have hoped that the music in this movie would have been its saving grace. Unfortunately, it is not. In fact, it could be the worst thing about the whole film.
That is not to say that the movie doesn't have its good points. The movie's highpoint is Aerosmith's classic rendition of "Come Together." Ironically, not only does Aerosmith give the movie's best performance (they bring out the sleaze in "Come Together" in a way that Lennon never did), but they also put the viewer in the dubious position of rooting for the bad guys! Another highpoint is Steve Martin's performance of "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," a rather bizarre Busby Berkley sequence in the evil Dr. Edison's clinic and one of the few funny moments in the film. Earth, Wind, and Fire's version of "Got to Get You into My Life" is also great--they bring out the soul in a song that is basically soul to begin with. Finally, Billy Preston--the only one of the musical performers to actually work with The Beatles--delivers a show stopping version of "Get Back." Individually, the sequences featuring Aerosmith, Steve Martin, Earth, Wind, and Fire, and Billy Preston are great. Sadly, they do not make up for a movie that is abysmal at best.
Needless to say, unless you want to do so out of historical interest, I cannot recommend watching this movie, even if some of the performances are worthwhile. If you do chose to watch Robert Stigwood's Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, be prepared to find yourself rolling your eyes and groaning a good deal, not to mention heckling some of the worst parts of the film. Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band has made some lists of the worst movies of all time, and I can honestly say that dubious honour is entirely warranted.
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