"Ladies & Gentlemen...The Beatles!"
*Cue absurdly high-pitched, ear piercing female screams*
This morning I read the daily newsletter from Craig Calcaterra, he's a "former" baseball writer for NBC and the wonderful Hardball Talk, but now he's just slinging a subscription newsletter that I enjoy. Anyways, he likes to conclude with some music and today he chose "Paperback Writer" by the Beatles because he wrote about the potential of a new Federal Writers Project. If you're not familiar with the original, it was one of FDR's New Deal programs which basically hired unemployed writers to fan out across the country and just write about America. Seems simple really.
At any rate, as I was watching that video, it took me back to when I would watch Beatles videos and be struck with just how weird and basically terrible they were. Here is "Paperback Writer" and see for yourself:
Let's start with Ringo yet again being shat on. It's a consistent theme throughout all of their videos and while it's basically understood that Ringo was the lesser of the four, the disrespect from each director, in this case Michael Lindsay-Hogg, is glaring. The others have instruments while Ringo just sits there literally tapping his thumbs. These were not music videos in the same way that they are now, but were called "promotional films" which are...shit, fine...music videos.
Regardless, none of these were any good and were more or less just a mish mash of clips of the group just kind of walking around, dressed weird and occasionally playing their instruments. Some of their early stuff was just films of them playing the song. All fine and good, but getting a big headed director involved just took it all into a different direction. Case in point, "Help!":
This screenshot is SO telling. George & Ringo just glaring at the camera angrily because they full well that they're being shit on. In addition to that, this whole thing is ridiculous. Ringo's role here is to hold the fucking umbrella!? Poor guy just sits in the back and twirls while the shitty fake snow falls to George's complete surprise. Yeah, it was 1965, but could we somehow get a little creativity here?! Perhaps use the theme of the song as the basis of the film.
"Help!" could mean they're in a boat at sea and it's sinking, right? Put them in a giant pool, build a shitty boat with enough room for them to fit, ties some rope to it for off camera guys to pull & tug the thing creating the illusion of trouble at sea and there you go. That's a quality promotional film if I've ever seen one.
The full length features that they were in around this same time, "Hard Days Night" and "Help!" were actually good, but for some reason the promos couldn't match that quality. Cost issue, perhaps? I haven't a clue and I'm too lazy to dig around to find out why. I'd rather just point out how I think that someone else's hard work is lousy.
As the group gets into more LSD and other hallucinogens, it seems they shared those with the directors of a couple Revolver/Sgt. Pepper's.../Magical Mystery Tour era.
I mean...what's going on here? These guys were fucked up and it showed. I wonder how many people watching this even thought that? I would assume quite a few as you'd have to be fucked up to appreciate this entirely odd presentation. It's an excellent, weird song and this film takes it to a new level. Ringo isn't entirely shit on here which is a nice change of pace.
"Penny Lane" is, what I think, the strangest of them all.
From start to finish, this thing is rambling mess. First, the Beatles would be torn to shreds if they were just standing in the middle of the sidewalk in Stratford, Kent & Liverpool where the majority of this mish-mash of clips was taken from. The song is about an actual place, "Penny Lane" yet it's not featured as heavily as one would think it should be. The randomness of the whole thing...
- John just casually walking down the street? Where the fuck is he going!?
- The exchange of sunglasses between John & Paul on the sidewalk. Why?! So The Beatles just casually share eyewear like mortal beings!? Unlikely.
- Then they're riding horses. That's right. Seems police & firemen of the time rode horses in Liverpool so the director (a Swede named Peter Goldmann who lived a rather interesting life) thought it would be a swell idea to put the band on horses as well. You'll notice when they get off that Ringo has probably never been on a horse. George has trouble too.
- As they ride through this park, they pass their instruments set up on risers. Great, they're going to play! Nope. Just there for us to know that they're The Beatles, I guess.
- Oh look! A fancy dining table has been left for them. How quaint! It's clear that they're freezing...or at least George is freezing...and they sit down for what I imagine is tea, but there are no tea kettles, just a bottle of Champagne that John grabs, but that's when the scene changes. Now they're sitting at the table having tea and the flutes remain empty. What's going on here?!?!
- Two fancy lads have brought guitars for Paul & George, but nothing for John & Ringo. Well, John ain't having any of that shit and flips that fucking table over!! You'll notice Ringo has a cigarette in his hand and I'm not entirely sure this was part of the direction as Paul seems startled by the whole thing.
In the end, I've found most of their promotional films to be terrible and lacking any sort of promotion. Sure, the band gets fucking weird in the late 60's and it's partially expected, but I'm not sure making shitty videos was part of the deal. Am I wrong? Probably.
*Any incorrect use of "their", "they're" or "there" is entirely intentional.