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December 20, 2005

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Michael Schultz - 1978
Sundance Channel broadcast

"I saw a film today, oh boy."

One of my co-contestants from the Ultimate Film Fanatic Denver group wrote to me about Sgt. Pepper. This is the kind of film that justifies having cable. Yes, it's a bad film. Not boring bad. More like, "what were they thinking?", stunning bad.

In terms of movie musicals, even those using ersatz rock, Sgt. Pepper is closer in style to Rocky Horror than to A Hard Day's Night. The longer the film progressed, the more I was convinced that this movie was designed for kids too young to do the timewarp with Brad and Janet. Trying to create a narrative out of The Beatles' album should never have been attempted in the first place. Somehow, the creation of a record album without breaks between songs convinced more than enough people that the entire album was meant to be thought of as a narrative piece, rather than what it was, a collection of songs without any distinct silent breaks.

While the film gives more than enough time to the then ubiquitous George Burns to croak and shuffle his way through "Fixin' A Hole", there is also the presence of Billy Preston doing a joyful "Get Back", providing Sgt. Pepper with the one cast member who could actually both sing and dance. Steven Martin's version of "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" is too broad by half. I even have to wonder if by the end of 1978, who remembered Sandy Farina as Peter Frampton's screen love, Strawberry Fields. There was also the thought that Prince may have seen Sgt. Pepper, as Stargard were performing in skimpy outfits like his future proteges.

As for the actual band, Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees stand in for The Beatles. Frampton was a big star back in 1978. I even saw him in concert. In retrospect, his voice was passable, but Frampton was a better guitar player than singer. The Brothers Gibb have improved with age. Maybe I'm more sensitive to their vocal harmony now then I was then. If their version of "Nowhere Man" is not quite as good as the version The Mamas and the Papas did on "Hullabaloo" , it's only because Cass Elliot had a voice that could soar higher and louder. Each of the brothers has a solo, but there's a poignancy when Maurice is onscreen. It's the harmonics of the Bee Gees that remain impressive after all these years, making Sgt. Pepper one of those rare movies that's better heard than seen.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at December 20, 2005 08:53 PM


I miss Frampton's talking guitar! Guess that's not a phenonema that's coming back any time soon.

Agree 100% on Pepper, though.

Posted by: drew at December 21, 2005 03:08 PM

I remember seeing "Sgt. Pepper" when it first came out, on a double bill with Peter Fonda's "Wanda Nevada" at a theatre outside of Phoenix. Other than the ticket seller, ticket taker, popcorn maker and projectionist, I think I was the only person in the place.

Posted by: flickhead at December 22, 2005 07:20 AM

I have SUCH a soft spot for this film. It was a Universal release, and I can remember going with my dad to the huge premiere and bash that Robert Stigwood threw.

But that George Burns scene....crikey!

Posted by: Filmbrain at December 22, 2005 02:34 PM