Beatles fans like me looked forward to a movie featuring two of the fab four in 1984. That is until it actually arrived. This film, written by Paul McCartney himself, showed up D.O.A. on it’s opening weekend, with some of the worst reviews and buzz of the year. It turns out that the film was not as bad as I remembered, but I also recall why I have not seen it again in the thirty years since it came out. Basically, it is a mess. Sometimes there are interesting ideas, like you often found in a music video from the 80s, but an interesting visual cue is not enough to sustain interest in a ninety minute film.
Essentially, “Give My Regards to Broad Street” is a thin justification for stringing together partially realized music videos featuring old Beatles hits, Wings songs from the 70s and some current (1984) ballads. I suspect if you dropped in for a musical sequence or two, and then skipped the rest of the movie, you might enjoy some of what you saw. Sticking it out for the whole run at one sitting will try your patience and it might kill any interest you have in watching a long form music video presentation ever again.
The story, as it were, involves the missing master recording tapes from Paul’s most recent album. An employee with a criminal history is the last one to have had them and he has disappeared. Shady financial partners of Paul’s company are threatening to take over by midnight if the recordings are not found and the album launched. Basically what happens in the course of the film is that Paul fantasizes all sorts of scenarios concerning what has happened, while he goes through his day finishing a medley recording, filming a music video or two, and rehearsing with the band. That’s it. Once in a while characters from the corporation or bankers pop in but mostly it is just a random set of musical interludes.
One of the more interesting sequences involves an elaborate music video shot on the set of a dance hall, featuring several dozen dancers, children, band members and film crew. The main participants are done up in late forties early fifties garb and engaged in watching ballroom dancers as the pop band plays. Some moments featuring children living out the words to the song play on stage and it all looks like it was a lot of fun to make. Like a lot of music videos however, there is not really a narrative and the reasons that events flow the way they do make basically no sense. It does look very colorful and you can imagine how it would all be cut together if it were an actual video. One of the problems with the music video sequences is that they are not really shot in the style of music videos of the time. In 1984, everyone was worried that our brains would fry from the rapid cuts and quick inserts that were the hallmark of most MTV fare of the day. These are not filmed that way, they are shown as long takes and zoomed in close ups rather than inserts. The camera movement is deliberate and the focus is on the performers. That make sense in a traditional film, but this is trying to be non-traditional and it feels staid because it uses the more traditional approach.
Another thing that is off putting is that the recordings of the music are not always synched perfectly with the visuals and the pacing feels off even more as a result. It doesn’t help that the dialogue comes across in a deadpan manner at times, making it feel like a rehearsal for a play rather than a filmed performance.
More uptempo numbers are featured in the second “studio time” sequence, but it looks like the stage director from a Rock Tour was replaced with the set director and costumer from a Broadway musical. It looks interesting but very weird. I did however enjoy the irony of Sir Paul’s lyric from “Silly Love Songs”..”…and what’s wrong with that?” being sung while the artist looks like this. If you can’t tell what’s wrong with that after looking at this picture, you might be one of the people that the musical featured in “Staying Alive”, the John Travolta sequel to “Saturday Night Fever”, was intended for. A little modernest art direction and dancing. The band here could have easily have fit into that Sylvester Stallone travesty. I thought maybe this was stuff from one of the “Wings” tours, but i can’t imagine they would have done a whole show this way and not been laughed out of the arena.
The second half of the movie is slower than the first if you can believe it. There is a long sequence where Paul imagines his employee being murdered in Victorian England as he an his mate Ringo and their wives go picnicking and boating in the same era. The match between music and visual here is not great but the songs are Beatles classics instead of schmaltz from Paul’s 80s output.
You can tell they class the music up a bit by putting him in formal wear and surrounding him with a violin section to play back up. “Elenore Rigby” and “The Long and Winding Road” are more sober and thus require more dignity than a unitard and fright wig. There are some interesting costume choices for the punting/picnic sequence, including dressing Mrs. McCarthy up in an “artiste” frock and having her take the picture with an old camera. Those of you not familiar with her background can look it up so you too can share in the joke. Once upon a time, Hollywood feared that music videos might be released in theaters and crowd out the short subject and animated short subject categories at the Academy Awards. A couple of misfires like this and that fear disappeared. Still the opportunity to watch Paul and Ringo work and play together was nice, and the whimsical approach taken to the movie sequences was right. It is still not clear why Ralph Richardson (who was Oscar nominated this year, but not for this movie) shows up with a monkey in his flat.
It adds to the “lets put on a show” atmosphere of the movie. The director made only one feature and this is it. Ringo and Barbara Bach vanished from the cinema screen and Paul never wrote another full length film. He is credited with the idea and story for “Rupert and the Frog Song”, the short animated feature that played with this movie.
I own this short on an 8″ laserdisc, another format that just never took off, like video singles.
Nothing here will hurt you but it is a little hard to stay focused and awake.