Judge Jim Thomas was last seen wandering around Ha'penny Alley.
Before the Fab Four, there was the Prefab Four.
Eric Idle's first post-Monty Python project was Rutland Weekend Television on BBC2. Rutland is the smallest county in England, and the premise was a tiny show with a tiny budget on a tiny network, desperately scraping for anything to air. Idle's partner in crime was Neil Innes, who had composed many of the songs for Python. Innes had written a song that sounded very "Beatle-y," and he and Idle came up with the idea of a parody of the Beatles. A year later, in 1977, Idle brought the short clip with him when he hosted Saturday Night Live. Lorne Michaels suggested expanding the idea into a primetime mockumentary for NBC—and so it was that a legend was born. It's reborn as The Rutles Anthology (Blu-ray).
The Rutles were modeled after the Beatles with astonishing accuracy. Innes played Ron Nasty (Lennon), Idle was Dirk McQuickly (McCartney), and they were accompanied by John Halsey as Barry Wom (Ringo) and Ricky Fataar as Stig O'Hara (Harrison). Early on, there was a fifth Rutle, Leppo, but he just stood in the back and knew how to have a good time. All You Need is Cash told the story of The Rutles, from their beginnings playing in small clubs in Hamburg, their triumphant appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, through their success in films, to their final rooftop concert. The brilliance of the film is not just in the way that everything mirrors the Beatles—the clothes, the haircuts, the camera shots from the films, the audience reactions (they managed to get permission to use crowd footage from Beatle concerts)—but that Innes' songs are astounding. Not only are the lyrics clever, but the music absolutely nails the Beatles' sound—quite an accomplishment, particularly given that the songs cover the range of the Beatles career. There was a long-running rumor that Stig was dead, and the group's fate was sealed when Nasty met Chastity, a demolition artist whose father invented World War II.
From start to finish, the mockumentary is sheer, unadulterated genius.
Trivia: Idle wasn't initially going to play Dirk, but shortly before filming began, he had an appendectomy and was in the hospital for ten days. By the time he got out, he had lost so much weight that he could play the part.
Technically, though, this disc is a mess. The video looks about like you would expect a thirty-five-year-old documentary shot for television to look. Colors are obviously restored; there's a lack of depth across the spectrum that makes some exterior scenes look almost colorized. Under the circumstances, though it works (documentary, archival footage, all that), and the images are never overly soft. The DTS-HD surround audio is clear enough to fully appreciate how carefully Innes managed to replicate the Beatles' sound—though there's precious little "surround" involved.
That's not the problem, though.
The documentary is presented in 1.78:1/1080p high-definition widescreen. Pop quiz: How many made-for-TV documentaries were shot in a widescreen format? Answer: Not this one. Yes, the film has been cropped from the native 1.33:1 full frame, and it's obvious.
Extras are…well, odd. You get the original SNL bit from 1977, and a commentary track, which isn't really a commentary track, but an interview with Idle. It gives a lot of fun stuff about The Rutles and the filming of everything, but it's not really a commentary, as it covers both documentaries. Think of it more as an audio-only interview that just happens to be playing instead of the primary audio track. Also, it's about 15 minutes shorter than the feature.
The package comes with a DVD that contains All You Need is Cash (with the same interview/commentary track) and the inferior follow-up, Can't Buy Me Lunch. The 2002 documentary has some wonderful bits with Tom Hanks, David Bowie, Bonnie Raitt, Salman Rushdie (that's right, Salman Rushdie), and a host of others. What it doesn't have is any new footage or songs from The Rutles themselves, making it more of an editing exercise than anything else. Adding insult to injury, the follow-up is also cropped to a widescreen format.
Two things would make the package more appealing, even if it warranted a higher price tag. First, presenting everything in its original aspect ratio. Second, how about a CD of The Rutles' greatest hits?
Trivia: George Harrison let Idle and Innes bounce ideas off of him.
The Rutles themselves, as well as All You Need is Cash, are masterpieces of parody, paving the way for This Is Spinal Tap. The Rutles Anthology (Blu-ray) was an opportunity to pay tribute to the band and the mockumentaries it inspired, but the package kinda blows.
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