Ever since they were sent into WWI battle in 1918, Sgt. Pepper and his Lonely Hearts Club Band of Heartland, USA have been spreading the message of joy and love to the world, which has made them and Heartland famous. Upon Sgt. Pepper's death in 1958, the band's instruments have been housed on display at Heartland City Hall as symbols of that love and joy. Before his death, Sgt. Pepper asked his adolescent grandson Billy Shears to take on the reins of forming his own band to continue to spread the message of joy and love. With Billy's brother Dougie Shears as their manager, Billy, now an adult, and his three best friends - brothers Mark, Dave and Bob Henderson - embark on their lives as a new Lonely Hearts Club Band. They quickly come to the attention of Hollywood music producer B.D. Hoffler Of B.D. (Big Deal) Records. With the boys off to Hollywood to spread the words of joy and love to the world, enter into Heartland the evil and demented Mr. Mustard, an ex-real estate agent who ... Written by
Naw, actually, it was twenty-FIVE years ago today, that producer Robert Stigwood had a flea placed in his ear by SOMEBODY, (maybe agent/co-producer Dee Anthony, who repped both the Bee Gees AND Peter Frampton at the time,) and the flea said: "What is the greatest rock-and-roll album of all time? Who right now are the greatest, most popular music stars? And how can you possibly lose if you combine them both?"
Answer that question with a question: How could you possibly WIN???
To those who decry the defacing of a sacred cow, first of all, and pay close attention to this, people: THIS MOVIE IS A PRODUCT OF ITS TIME. Nothing in the late Seventies succeeded (or exceeded, as it were) like excess. If big was good, then bigger was even better, and the King of Media Overkill was Robert Stigwood at this period. Which was his standout quality, and his company's undoing. (Not to mention the undoing of quite a few careers along the way.)
Second of all, as it has already been pointed out, the timing SUCKED, even moreso than the movie itself. The SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER backlash was just beginning with PEPPER'S release, and even though Peter Frampton had proven himself still able to chart with such current hits as his cover of "Signed, Sealed and Delivered" and "I'm In You," (please hold your snickers), his album sales had begun to wane, a surefire indicator that his status as a pretty-boy guitar god was fading fast.
For the most part, the audience demographic the movie was aimed at was served as well as they could be. None of the teenybopper females in the theater audience I saw it with, (yes, I DID see it in a theater), gave one whisker on a rat's bee-hind that the album the movie was derived from was a classic, or that George Martin actually produced the soundtrack (well, most of it.) They sighed in rapture on cue when a dreamy closeup of The Brothers Gibb or Frampton came whizzing by, or sobbed uncontrollably at the 'oh-my-GAWD-this-is-so-maudlin' ending. I swear, THIS is the audience the producers should've seen it with, when the reviews came in chopping the entire project to shreds.
So, for a movie that represents everything that was both bad AND good about That Decade simultaneously, was there anything of merit to observe? YES. First of all, for the most expensive musical ever made in its day ("tupping the bill" at a whopping $60 mil plus), every cent is evident on-screen. Owen Roizman (who shot THE EXORCIST) managed to get every shot right, even if the pastels were enough at times to send an epileptic into grand mal seizures, and there was enough condescending sweetness for twelve diabetic comas.
Also, contrary to the rabid rantings of Beatlemaniacs everywhere, the soundtrack is the best part of the movie. I guess what makes it so hard for most people to watch, are the scenes that are almost painful indicators of what the movie COULD'VE been, because the energy and drive is so different from the rest of the goings-on.
Meaning Aerosmith's ball-busting cover of "Come Together," the finger-snapping, funk-injected "Got To Get You Into My Life" from Earth, Wind and Fire, and Steve Martin's super-manic "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," echoing his even better turn to come in LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. No matter how much the remainder may induce severe bouts of wincing and cringing, these moments almost redeem Henry Edwards' "Yellow-Submarine-on-peyote-buttons" screenplay. ALMOST.
I bought this (and I'd be embarassed to tell you how much I spent) for a So-Bad-It's-Good movie party I decided to throw for some friends on New Year's Eve. Just to see if it was as bad as I remembered, (and as bad as people have credited it to be), I gave it a spin just for old time's sake. Time does heal old wounds, I guess, and as much as I snickered, groaned and chortled at the outlandishness of it all, I have to admit that at the very least, I was entertained. Kind of like when you're watching virtually nothing on Saturday night, until a rerun of "Donnie and Marie" comes on Nick At Night. And though you'd never tell your friends you did, you watched every painfully corny moment of it...and actually enjoyed it.
So that's how I think of PEPPER now, as a very secretively guilty pleasure.
And for those reading that last line and yelling "Is he CRAZY??? This is the BLACK HOLE OF MUSICALS!!" I can only say this: you have not lived as long as I have, or seen as many movies to be able to make that statement with any kind of confidence.
How do I know? Let me ask you: have you ever seen the musical version of LOST HORIZON? Mae West in SEXTETTE? Lucille Ball in MAME? Go sit through even ONE of those, boys and girls. I dare you. We can talk about really bad musicals after you've weathered THAT ordeal. I did...and lived to tell about it.
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