Friday, June 27, 2008

the worst film ever made

Imagine Steve Martin being gargantuanally unfunny as he tries to sing Maxwell's Silver Hammer in a forced 'zany' voice. Then 70s wet rocker Peter Frampton breaks in and has a sort of light sabre battle with him whilst in the background the song turns into an instrumental jazz fusion freakout as Frampton's sidekicks, the Bee Gees, fight with some nurses.

Really, though. See for yourself.

Imagine being the extras in this scene, having to listen to Martin's excruciatingly oh-so-wacky vocals for take after take, all day long. Maybe that's the real reason they all look lobotomised.

This, gentle reader, is Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It's from 1978, the money from Saturday Night Fever and Grease is rolling in, much of it mutating into consumption of Columbian exports, and the team go for a hat-trick.

You can see how they could talk some decent people into doing a film. These days, most people who haven't seen Saturday Night Fever (and many of those who've only seen the censor-butchered TV edit) think it's cheesy tosh. Those of us who've seen the proper version (still an 18 certificate!) know otherwise. It's a canny, music-loving, moving film with a real bite, and must surely have been seen that way at the time.

But for the follow-up, as if the amount of coke they'd snorted into their skulls had taken over the space where good ideas might have been, they decided to make a musical based on late-era Beatles songs.

Despite it sounding to you like some sort of desperate unthought-through comeback attempt - and you're right to think it, because that's what it looks like too - both Frampton and the Bee Gees were in the afterglow of making two of the biggest selling albums of the decade. They could've done anything. Instead, they squeezed out this monumental turd on to the face of popular culture.

Most songs from musicals are utterly shit because they're not written as real songs. They're written to make some two-dimensional point at a particular moment in a story. As such, they lack subtlety, mystery, poetry.

Psychedelic songs, in contrast, are emotionally evocative because they feel like dreams and feelings rather than solid considered sentences.

So how bad an idea is it to take psychedelic Beatles songs and try to fashion a literalist musical from them?

Let me tell you. It's a bad idea. A very very bad idea indeed.

Even something with a straightforward narrative like Maxwell's Silver Hammer is still incongrous, being sung by a doctor who does brain erasing. There is no PC31, no Rose and Valery, no trial, almost nothing the lyric mentions, yet he sings it like he's in a musical and so there is the sense that the things he says should be visible.

Alice Cooper's Because is a bit far out, but then he is a brainwasher-indoctrinator so you can try to make some allowance for it being some sort of appeal to the deep subconscious. Only a short song, and Alice Cooper's quite good, so this one should be easier, right?

Just try it. You'll be wishing it would get to the bit at the end where Barry Gibb chins Cooper into a pie.

The word COCAINE hangs over this movie like a storm cloud. The sheer fucking ego, the vacuousness, running too fast with a bad idea and far, far too much self-confidence. The shitty plot is so paper thin and contrived it makes an episode of The Monkees look like Mulholland Drive.

How do you crowbar a song like Strawberry Fields Forever into the plot? Simple, have the love interest be a girl called Strawberry Fields.

Let's make a character called Mr Kite and - you'll never guess - have a benefit gig for him. You can also have a band called Lucy and The Diamonds who are seen from below performing on an outdoor ledge. Oh yes you can, really.

And when blonde Strawberry dies, you can have Billy Shears - Frampton's character - singing Golden Slumbers to her in her coffin. Then the Bee Gees come in as pall bearers, pick up the coffin and walk off singing Carry That Weight.

The grieving Billy sings as he walks off down a long and winding road that leads him to Strawberry's door. He mooches round her bedroom - complete with cardboard cutout of him that she had, of course.

All this is nothing. There are the bad guys whose minion is Mean Mr Mustard played by - titter ye not - Frankie Howerd. Not even the coke-basted nobbers who made this cackfest could let him sing his theme song, so it's done by two vocoder-voiced robots as they massage his arse.

He does, however, get to deliver the words 'yes! A dirty old man' at 3.23 with all the unsettling salaciousness you'd expect of a past-his-prime Carry On actor. Chilling stuff.

And then, at the end, the secret evil mastermind only referred to as FVB turns out to be, er, Future Villain Band, played by Aerosmith. They turn in the one good performance in the movie, a steaming and sinister Come Together, as Frankie Howerd grooves along in a safari suit. Or at least, they get to do half of it when - oh for fuck's sake not again - Frampton and the Bee Gees break in and beat them up.

As if you're not a drooling gaping ball of bafflement already, they dropkick your incredulity by having Peter Frampton kill Steve Tyler.

Frampton couldn't bend a fucking damp daisy! He couldn't take Larry Grayson!

I don't mean that in some theoretical if-he-were-alive sense either, I mean the desiccated remains of Grayson could knack Frampton into the middle of next week. Whereas Tyler, even today, is not someone whose pint you'd want to spill.

Peter Frampton frankly looks like what would've happened if Justin Hawkins had been a eunuch.

Hawkins minus testicles equals Frampton

There's more, much more. Too much more. Earth Wind and Fire's inexplicable and barely recognisable Got to Get You Into My Life.

Most perplexing is the finale where, for no reason at all, the reprise of Sgt Pepper is performed by a massed choir featuring among others Jack Bruce, Donovan, Wilson Pickett, Peter Noone, Tina Turner, George Benson, Barbara Dickson, Al Stewart, Curtis Mayfield, Robert Palmer, Dame Edna Everage and Dr John. Still not weird enough? Apparently George Harrison and Paul McCartney are in there too.

Several of the songs have a half-decent stab at the backing track (if only we could get a half decent stab at the singers). That's because it's produced by George Martin.

Fucking hell, he should know better! Has anyone ever taken him to task for this shit? I mean, producing Rolf Harris B-sides at the same time as Abbey Road is a waste of talent, but this is waaaay beyond that. This takes his finest work and shreds it, handing it over to sitcom actors with delusions of musicality. It is the needless premeditated slaughter of his most sacred cow.

The DVD cover lists the special feature. Singular. It's the theatrical trailer. I suspect that's because the trailer pre-dates the movie. As if anyone involved would enthuse about it once it came out.

It might, almost, perhaps, all sound a bit funny to you now. That's because you haven't spent 90 minutes in its company. I was literally howling at the screen, feeling by turns amazed, repulsed, angered and soiled. There is less desecration-by-movie to be found in Sgt Pecker's Lonely Hearts Club Gang Bang.

I have seen some eyewateringly dreadful movies in my time. Samuel L Jackson's Shaft disgracefully tarnishes a fine original. Just because, for the third time in a movie, he uses the words 'repugnant shit' does not mean you don't feel cheated and wrongness-splattered by that film.

Rock n Roll Nitemare is, like Sgt Pepper, music-based codswallop with a corny cliched plot, a runaway train of ego without a cause. It was, without doubt and by quite some distance, the worst film I'd ever seen.

Not any more.


Danny said...

Oh Merrick - why oh why did you do this to yourself?

It did remind me though - you might like this if you've not seen it already:

One of the reviewers from The Onion AV Club decided to spend a whole year watching films that had commercially and critically flopped, and re-assessing them.

His take on Sgt Pepper is here:

His articles are usually insightful, frequently hilarious, and a brilliant way to waste many, many otherwise productive hours of your life. Go to it!


Anonymous said...

My my, that really is quite an eye opener.

I'd love to have been at the meeting where this idea was pitched.

Anonymous said...

After such a glowing review I had to watch this movie. And boy was he wrong. It's worse, much, much worse than he conveys.

You start off being vaguely amused at the idea, laughing at how daft it is.

But then you find it beginning to grate a little, irritate even. It starts to annoy you before finally offending all you hold dear.

But you still can't switch it off.

You start to notice just how literally the pictures reflect the lyrics. Frampton walking on a road that is long and winding whilst singing The Long and Winding Road.

At this point you start banging your head against the nearest available hard surface.

But you watch it to the end in stunned silence.

Even after you've slept on it, the film haunts you for days afterwards. It really does.

Avoid at all costs !

Anonymous said...

Fucking hell geezer, thank you for the best and longest out of control hilarious giggle I've had in a long time!

I don't feel I even need to check out the film after reading your thang.

The Justing Hawkins minus balls equals Frampton thing is utterly inspired - and where did you get a picture of a gigantic bozack suspended above an ocean for fuck's sake? What kind of "research" have you been doing lately? Sweet Jesu!

In other news, nice one for mentioning The Coconut Revolution in your Simon Mann piece - I caught this by accident on late night telly a few years back and was absolutely blown away - I've told many people about it and always wondered who made it etc.

I always remember the moment where the locals had made gun shapes out of coconut wood, and used chemical tubing from the abandoned plant to fire coconut wood arrows from them at passing helicopters – making the soldiers think they were better armed than they really were.

Stirling work as ever.


Brigadier Sir Colonel Rhythmic Gingeington (Capt.)

merrick said...

Walt, I'm sorry pal but you're just wrong.

Frampton walking on a road that is long and winding whilst singing The Long and Winding Road. At this point you start banging your head against the nearest available hard surface.

That, my friend, is near the end of the film. How the fuck do you get more than an hour in before *starting* to bang your head against a hard surface?

Adam, the scrotal delight was simply going to Google Images and asking for testicles. Quite why someone put a picture of their shaven sunny sac online is beyond me, but that pic is all over the internet.

And I am right about Frampton though aren't I?

Incidentally, in the movie his character's brother is played by Paul Nicholas. That twatty actor came to prominence in stage musicals - Jesus Christ Superstar, Hair, Grease - then landed the role of Cousin Kevin in the movie of Tommy (his dad was The Who's lawyer); how can you sing such a sinister song whilst wearing Nazi symbols and still look like a light comedy smug tosser?

Musicals are the worst of acting and the worst of music. Not content with shit-showering us with musicals, Nicholas gave us double trouble - after Sgt Pepper he released crap records and went on to star in crap sitcoms.