The Weekend's Viewing: Arena: Magical Mystery Tour Revisited, Sat, BBC2
The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour, Sat, BBC2

 

When the British public sat down to watch the latest Beatles film on Boxing Day in 1967, they might have expected similar fare to A Hard Day's Night and Help!, released a few years earlier, or maybe even something a bit more festive.

It was sandwiched between Petula Clark and Norman Wisdom in the BBC schedule, so they certainly expected a good clean storyline.

It's not what they got, as this Arena documentary, Magical Mystery Tour Revisited, reminded us. What they got was dream-like surrealism, experimental camerawork, nudity, trippy interludes and a bus full of comic or carnivalesque characters. Much of the public complaint afterwards was born out of anger that it appeared to be plot-less.

Britain's Boxing Day outrage was the starting point for this documentary, which had a lot to live up to – it had been trailed with the promise of never-before-seen out-takes from Magical Mystery Tour. This footage turned out not to be the highlight because there were so many other superb and surprising moments. The "talking heads" were as close to source as you could get: Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison (in a 1993 interview) variously reflecting on the film's inspiration and impact. McCartney spoke of his growing interest in avant-garde film at that time: I don't mean to sound "pretentious", he said unconvincingly, before referring to Luis Buñuel. While Magical Mystery Tour can hardly be compared to Un Chien Andalou, it did appear, in spirit, to pave the way for the absurd surrealism of Monty Python and beyond.

Ringo, though, turned out to be the real star of this show. He was not only the rambunctious heart of the 1967 film, bickering with his "aunt Jessie" on the bus and representing the love-hate relationship between old and new generations in these exchanges, but he had a wittily offhand take on events today. There was very little in the way of a plan or script when they hired the bus, he said, and some of the cast was randomly plucked out of a catalogue of "out-of-work artists".

Martin Scorsese talked about the film's influence, while Paul Merton and Barry Miles gave us snatches of social history. A further layering of fascinating voices came with reflections from the ordinary folk surrounding this bizarre event: the cameraman was tracked down, so were two women, now middle-aged, who joined the tour at the last minute. One boarded the bus on Friday and lost her job on Monday after failing to turn up to work. A fantastically defiant letter sent to The Daily Telegraph amid mass outrage, was from an elderly couple who couldn't get enough of the film: "I laughed until I cried several times," it read.

The documentary scratched beneath the surface of the public outrage and came to interesting conclusions: the film crystallised the collision course that the old and new orders had been heading towards in this decade. Deviation from the norm was still frowned upon, yet people – the Beatles and their busload – were deviating. One woman who watched the film with her father remembered: "My dad said they should get a haircut." She told him, "Jesus had long hair", which must have shut him up. The film may well have marked the starting point of an era now in full bloom, in which youth culture is the new religion.

Afterwards, appropriately, came the first BBC airing of Magical Mystery Tour since 1979. The Beatles made the film the way a group of pals might make a home movie, with no storyboard, only a spirit of adventure. The result is as artistically audacious as it is silly, though today, its historical value eclipses its creative merits, serving as a time capsule of Sixties counter-culture. Then, it paved the way for the surrealism that McCartney referred to in British cinema. Alternative worlds spliced into one another in what seemed like a trek through the subconscious. As the Telegraph-reading couple wrote, it was over all too quickly.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Arts and Entertainment
Umar Ahmed and Kiran Sonia Sawar in ‘My Name Is...’
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
This year's Big Brother champion Helen Wood
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Full company in Ustinov's Studio's Bad Jews
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Harari Guido photographed Kate Bush over the course of 11 years
Music
Arts and Entertainment
Reviews have not been good for Jonathan Liebesman’s take on the much loved eighties cartoon
Film

A The film has amassed an estimated $28.7 million in its opening weekend

Arts and Entertainment
Untwitterably yours: Singer Morrissey has said he doesn't have a twitter account
Music

A statement was published on his fansite, True To You, following release of new album

Arts and Entertainment
Full throttle: Philip Seymour Hoffman and John Turturro in God's Pocket
film
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie Minogue is expected to return to Neighbours for thirtieth anniversary special
tv
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be Lonely Island's second Hollywood venture following their 2007 film Hot Rod
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Day-Lewis stars in the movie There Will Be Blood
music
Arts and Entertainment
Brush with greatness: the artist Norman Cornish in 1999
art
Life and Style
Stress less: relaxation techniques can help focus the mind and put problems in context
art
Arts and Entertainment

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

    But could his predictions of war do the same?
    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

    Young at hort

    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

    Beyond a joke

    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

    A wild night out

    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

    It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
    Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

    Besiktas vs Arsenal

    Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

    The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

    Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment