Roll Up! 'Magical Mystery Tour' gets U.S. TV debut

Matt Hurwitz
Reuters Middle East

LOS ANGELES, Dec 14 (Reuters) - Give four pop stars turned

hippies a movie camera in 1967 and what do you get? The Beatles'

"Magical Mystery Tour" film, which will receive its long-awaited

U.S. broadcast television debut on Friday on PBS.

Long a curiosity in the United States, the film will be

accompanied by a new documentary about its making. A restored

version was released on DVD and blu-ray in October.

The third film for The Fab Four, after a "A Hard Day's

Night" in 1964 and "Help!" a year later, "Magical Mystery Tour"

is a shambolic trip through the English countryside on a bus

filled with odd characters, but thin on plot. It first aired on

BBC television the day after Christmas 1967.

Although it was initially panned by British critics, time

has delivered some justice to the project, Jonathan Clyde, the

producer of the documentary, told Reuters.

"'Magical Mystery Tour' has always been the black sheep of

the Beatles family, but I think it's been rehabilitated into the

Beatles canon," Clyde said. "It's no longer the 'mad uncle in

the attic' that nobody wants to talk about. It's been let out."

In the United States, little was known about the film at

the time of its release.

Beatles fans only had the album of music, or saw a poor

print of the film in a double-feature midnight showing with

"Reefer Madness," a 1936 anti-marijuana propaganda film often

screened decades later for comedic effect.

"I first saw it in 1974 at a university," Bill King, the

longtime publisher of Beatles fanzine Beatlefan, said of

"Magical Mystery Tour." "By then, though, it had taken on mythic

status. I loved it."

At the time of its making, The Beatles were arguably at

their creative peak on the heels of a seminal album, "Sgt.

Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," and their summer of love

anthem "All You Need Is Love," which debuted on global TV.


But even before "Sgt. Pepper's" release in June 1967, Paul

McCartney had already conceived of the film project. The only

thing he was missing: a script.

"Paul had drawn out a pie chart," said Clyde, also a

longtime consultant for The Beatles' company, Apple Corps. "It

just said things like 'Get on coach,' 'Dreams,' 'End Song.' They

really had no idea what it was going to be like."

The group hired a bus, a film crew, and a handful of extras

and set out around England, creating scenes with everything from

magicians to Ringo Starr's oversized Aunt Jessie being stuffed

with spaghetti by waiter John Lennon.

McCartney did most of the directing.

"It really had something for everyone, which is something I

like about it," Clyde said. "It was really a nod not only to the

younger people watching, but to their parents' generation, as


The film also was loaded with six new Beatles songs,

presented as what now would be considered music videos.

The music itself, including songs "I Am the Walrus" and "The

Fool on the Hill," was as innovative as any of the band's music

that year - and mostly recorded just before filming started.

"The Beatles were driven and inspired by having a deadline,"

said Giles Martin, son of Beatles producer George Martin. The

younger Martin remixed the songs at the legendary Abbey Road

studios for the DVD and broadcast.

"And songs like 'Walrus' are a brilliant mix of both The

Beatles as a rock and roll band and as masters of groundbreaking

experimental recording," Martin added.

(Editing by Eric Kelsey and Nick Zieminski)

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