Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Canadian TV Finally Gets The Magical Mystery Tour

"Yeah, it took awhile," volunteers Ellen Baine, VP of programming at Canadian TV's elusive Hollywood Suite.
She's referring to the Canadian TV premiere of the Beatles' classic 1967 TV feature film Magical Mystery Tour which premieres Frid. Oct. 19 at 9 p.m. on Sony Movie Channel.
Hollywood Suite is a new service of four exclusive HD movie channels: WarnerFilms, MGM Channel, Sony Movie Channel and AXN Movies (plus Hollywood Suite On Demand). All run commercial free and uncut.
The rapidly expanding service, already a hit in western Canada, has yet to be picked up by Rogers meaning a whole lot of readers of this column keep asking me why it isn't as yet available. And I keep telling them to hold tight.
Magical Mystery Tour is exactly the kind of fare to get people demanding entry to Hollywood Suite.
I watched it at one go and was amazed. First up it must be just about the very first music video made with the kind of carefree whizz that characterized the 1967 Beatles.
And yet when it first ran on BBC on Boxing Day in 1967 there was a tumult of criticism, some reviewers feeling it was inappropriate holiday fare. Although we never see any of the key participants doing drugs it's clearly influenced by the culture of the day and has a free floating hallucinogenic feeling that shocked and terrified older TV viewers.
The plan was to get into a tour bus and just zoom around the English countryside much as John and Paul had done as kids with their families. Magical Mystery tours were a British thing --families went off on chartered busses never knowing the final destination.
McCartney who clearly is the auteur had a vague idea of going off in a bus with a film crew shooting the reactions of the passengers --there never was a script.
The whole thing begins with Ringo Starr and his stocky Aunt Jessie clambering down a street to get on board. We then watch as various bad jokes are pulled off and the English countryside is discovered to consist of abandoned air fields and airplane hangers. The desolation contrasts with the madcap antics of the Fab Four.
You should also watch the documentary about the making of the movie -- a much aged Paul has some anecdotes and so does Ringo Starr who has aged better. And then it will hit you: there are only two of them still alive.
Critics of the time considered it one heck of a self indulgent acid trip. But it very much defines 1967 where there remained so much promise about the future. One highlight: John Lennon singing for the first and only time I Am The Walrus. And another: the one choreographed number as beautifully dressed dancers strut to the tune Your Mother Should Know.
Fully a quarter of the population tuned in that Boxing Day--it was wedged between a Petula Clark special and a Norman Wisdom movie.
But why the film was never marketed to North American TV networks remains a mystery. Of course way back then there was nothing like MTV. Would CBC have bought it? I doubt that very much. So in 1967's 10 channel universe there were no takers.
I loved catching glimpses of such greatish British character actors as Jessie Robins (Aunt Jessie),  Ivor Cutler (Buster Bloodvessel) and Derek Royle (Jimmy Johnson). One of the key members Victor Spinetti recently passed on, Robins died in 1991,Cutler in 2006 so watching is one way of remembering them.
Baine says HS had to wait until BBC reran it last week.
But Magical Mystery Tour is still wonderfully new to Canadian TV. And it only took 45 years to get here.
MY RATING: ****.

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