We're so sorry, Uncle Albert, if Judge David Gutierrez's review of Give My Regards to Broad Street gives you any pain.
"I'm telling you I believe him. He is straight. This whole thing's a mistake."—Paul McCartney (Paul McCartney)
I'm a man torn.
I'm a tremendous Beatles fan. Huge. I love both their spotty solo efforts and the ones the four lads from Liverpool made as a group. But like all things with all people, mistakes happen.
I think about the 1980s; a dark time for us all. Even the ex-Beatles were not immune to the dreadful decade of excess, bad hair, skinny ties, and musical missteps.
Here's the thing about the film Give My Regards to Broad Street—only Beatles/Wings/McCartney fans would watch this one. I can't really see any reason why anyone else would. The thing about Beatles/Wings/McCartney aficionados is that we're just short of falling into Trekkie (or Trekker—you're still nerds, so get over it) obsession. So when I watched this movie, as when I listen to any of their albums, I feel I'm owed something, that whatever they produce should meet or exceed my expectations. When this doesn't happen, I'm let down and think I've been robbed. As dramatic as that sounds, I think it's something that anyone who's truly into anything or anyone has experienced.
Imagine (no pun intended) that you're in your mid-40s, pretty much free to do anything you want, yet you're truly musically alone for the first time in your life because everyone thinks you peaked 14 years ago. This is the world of Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison in 1984.
I think about Paul McCartney and the pressure he must have been under when he wrote the film Give My Regards to Broad Street. By 1984, McCartney had broken up his second band, Wings, just four years previous and was now working on becoming a true solo act. With only three new solo efforts under his belt, Paul was at an impasse. He did meet with some success through a couple of singles and collaborations with Michael Jackson ("Say, Say, Say") and Stevie Wonder ("Ebony and Ivory"), but still met with critical disdain. What better way for McCartney to call attention to and prove himself once again to another decade's worth of fans than to write a film that acts as a showcase for his musical catalog? Throw in some Beatles hits, a couple of Wings successes, some new stuff, string a story around it, and presto—a movie hit with a strong soundtrack tie-in! Unfortunately, it didn't pan out this way. Instead, the movie I saw fell short on all counts. Am I biased? Yes, but in some fashion all reviewers are, aren't they?
Facts of the Case
Paul (Paul McCartney) is a famous recording artist ready to release his latest album. Paul's production company is also getting leaned on by Rathbone Industries, headed by Mr. Rath (John Bennet). If Paul does not deliver his master tapes to Rath by midnight, Paul's company will be taken over. The problem is Paul's entrusted his album to an ex-con (Ian Hastings) who has gone missing. Throughout his busy day, Paul finds time to look for Harry but also to film a video, record some songs, and daydream.
Does anyone remember the Magical Mystery Tour film? It was random, didn't make sense, but had some really neat musical performances. Somehow, this film produced its own excuse: "Oh, it's the drugs. It must be the drugs. It looks weird and confuses me because the Beatles are all high! That's why!" Give My Regards to Broad Street isn't afforded this luxury. I may not have been on drugs when I saw this, but I think I should have been. When ex-con Harry disappears and his empire is at stake, where does Paul go? To the studio, of course. No worries, Paul would have us believe, Harry will turn up and will be well. Admittedly, seeing Paul in the studio again with ex-Beatle bandmate Ringo Starr (Let it Be, Caveman) and main Beatle producer George Martin (Imagine: John Lennon, The Beatles Anthology) sent me a-tingle, but I couldn't help but wonder if I figured out what this movie was trying to do—show us the world Paul would like it to be remade. Remaking is a major theme in this movie. Normally, I would refrain from ever trying to dissect a movie to death, but I think I'm onto something with this. Paul starts out by picking up his guitar and singing a medley of songs from the Beatles' Revolver album and from his Tug of War album. All the songs were reworked and rearranged from their original versions and in one case, "Here, There and Everywhere," slightly rewritten. Be it by design or by protest, Ringo's drums are absent on the Beatles remakes. I wonder if this is how McCartney always wanted it—with his mates coming in when they're supposed to playing on his songs as he sees fit. It's as though he's trying to remind the audience of his past achievements but also trying to erase any ties they might have had to his identity as a member of a band. Reworking songs will carry over into his other performances in this film. "Silly Love Longs," originally from Wings's Wings at the Speed of Sound, was reworked for a more poppy feel and is presented through possibly the most disturbing images of Paul and Linda McCartney I have ever seen. Dressed and made-up completely in white, Paul and his band show us that mannequins cannot rock out. Accompanying his band, a break dancer enters the scene and busts a few moves. The juxtaposition between the bleached robot band and the break dancer is an experience that none should share. Seriously, readers, I feel have taken the bullet for you on this one. I didn't like the song to begin with, but now I feel musically and visually violated.
Beatles's classics "Eleanor Rigby" and "The Long and Winding Road" were not spared. "Eleanor Rigby" is extended considerably when Paul's Victorian daydream becomes a White Chapel nightmare. Some may remember Paul's problems with Phil Spector's addition of a heavy string section to "The Long and Winding Road" on the Let It Be album. What does Paul do to remedy this? He calls in Dr. Saxophone to jazz the song up. Blasphemy. For far superior versions of this song, give a listen to Let It Be…Naked or Beatles Anthology 3.
Even the storyline strikes me as how Paul would like to have won his struggle to keep the Beatles catalog. When he and John Lennon wrote their songs together, they didn't own them. Not knowing anything about music publishing, the pair thought what they wrote they kept. Instead, Northern Songs Publishing owned their work. Later, their catalog was purchased by Michael Jackson, who was rolling in cash money love after his massive Thriller success. I can't fault Paul for wanting his and John's songs back.
What passes itself off as a story is weak. Throughout rehearsals, filming, and recording, Paul asks around if anyone's seen Harry or the tapes. What one would think would be the catalyst for the rest of the movie just bookends songs or gives us a reason to change scenes or daydreams. I felt like in writing this movie, Paul knew where he wanted to go with it, just not how to get there. Essentially, Paul's taken a handful of videos and come up with a way to bring them together. This sort of thinking never works. Instead of making songs a part of the story as Fame or The Commitments did, they're really just disposable performances. A day in Paul's life is nothing less than perfect. Songs are all done in one take, jam sessions go perfectly, and everyone's content. Well, bored, but content nonetheless. During the story, Ringo hits on a journalist (Barbara Bach). It never goes anywhere either, so at least the film is consistent. The worst of it, however, is the ending. I won't give anything away, but it's a huge cheat and really sinks the film further.
The acting is this movie left a lot to be desired. Paul plays himself by shrugging his shoulders and grinning through scenes. He never comes off as inspired or happy to be there. Neither do Ringo, Linda McCartney (Wingspan, The Beatles Anthology), Barbara Bach (The Spy Who Loved Me, Caveman) or Bryan Brown (F/X, Cocktail). Tracy Ullman's (The Tracy Ullman Show, Small Time Crooks) fleeting appearances as Harry's girlfriend added nothing. She's usually worth watching, but wasn't allowed to do anything here.
Director Peter Webb did a credible job. I wasn't bowled over, but didn't notice anything visually wrong either. Oddly, this was Webb's last directorial outing.
The DVD, like an album, is a two-sided affair with a full screen presentation on one side and the widescreen on the other. Both sides had the same special feature: original trailers for the film. Fox isn't doing much for this movie. A commentary by Paul or Ringo would have been terrific, but alas, we get trailers.
The transfer was pretty good all around. A few odd spots of fuzziness peppered the picture but nothing to really complain about. The audio transfer was good, as it should be considering the heavy musical content.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Okay, the good stuff. Some of the musical reworkings here were pretty darn good. Lyric rewriting aside, the almost acoustic versions of "Yesterday" and "Here, There and Everywhere" were amazing. Paul's voice sounds great throughout. I'm glad Paul dusted off the previously unreleased "No Values" and had Ringo Starr play on it with him. The reworked "So Bad" is a welcome addition to the soundtrack. And while I can never reiterate it enough, seeing George Martin, Ringo, and Paul collaborate again make those scenes worth watching. The ballad version of "No More Lonely Nights" is superior to the dance version also introduced in the film. Unfortunately, the dance version cancels the better one out. Paul also did a nice job arranging the instrumental extension of "Eleanor Rigby." While the scene itself made no sense, the song's composition was lovely.
For true Macca fans only, Give My Regards to Broad Street isn't for the casual viewer. It's a bad movie with a few good things that only a McCartney fan would appreciate. Otherwise, I wouldn't recommend this to the casual viewer. For fans, though, I liken it to getting your teeth cleaned—you know you have to do it, you just hope there's a lollipop at the end. I'd heard somewhere that Paul wanted to release this on DVD thinking that it would be better received this time around. I don't know about that.
Give My Regards to Broad Street is held for another twenty years without bail.
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