Fabs MysteryOn this Arena special, it was good to get another chance to see the complete TV film of The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour. A  documentary, containing interviews and behind the scenes footage, was also illuminating in helping to put the film in a social and historical context.

The last time I saw the film in its entirety was when it was first broadcast (in black and white) on Boxing Day in 1967. I was just eight  years old at the time so had only a vague memory of it.

I was too young to pick up on all the LSD inspired images but old enough to realise that it had what one of the film’s extras describes as “disconnected shots of weird things”.

What I do vividly recall is the scene with a stripper while The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah band are singing Death Cab For Cutie. The sight of bare breasts on a prime time TV slot at Christmas made a big impact on me.  My parents, who were also watching, were less impressed!

This is why I can endorse Ian Macdonald’s view, in his book Revolution In The Head, that: “Magical Mystery Tour marks the breakdown of the cross-generational consensus ………this is where parents began to part company with their sons and daughters over the group, rightly suspecting a drug-induced persuasion setting in”

“Pretty little policemen in a row” – closing scene from the I Am The Walrus section of Magical Mystery Tour.

The whole project was little more than a random collection of ideas in which spontaneity was a crucial factor. There was no real script, many decisions about content were added at the last minute and many dialogues were ad-libbed. Ringo Starr drily comments “I’d like to say there was a master plan, but there wasn’t”.

The film is silly, surreal and self-indulgent but the Fabs’ common touch means that it doesn’t come across as pretentious. As Ivor Cutler as Buster Bloodvessel says at one point in the film, it is all about people “enjoying themselves within the limits of British decency”.

Martin Scorsese is recruited  to defend the artistic merit of the film while other American voices Peter Fonda and Terry Gilliam praise it for maintaining the quality of an elaborate home movie.

Paul McCartney was the driving force for the trip but the way John, George and Ringo entered into the spirit of the piece shows that they were by no means unwilling passengers.

I’d like to have learnt a little more about what John Lennon really thought of the end result but the documentary doesn’t say much other than to say that the film tapped into the playful side of his character.

Magical Mystery Tour is a more accurate representation of where the band was at than A Hard Day’s Night or Help!, although it also demonstrates that knowing where you are doesn’t necessarily mean you know where you’re going next.