Onscreen chaos: The Beatles movie John Lennon “grumbled” through

The common consensus is that most musicians secretly desire to be actors. While there may be an allure of being able to play music for a living, being the kind of hotshot actor onscreen is just as tempting as millions of people screaming your name in a stadium. Since most of the biggest names in music usually had the time to make movies on the side, The Beatles got to take liberties with their films, but that didn’t mean John Lennon had to like what they did.

Throughout the band’s first few years in the spotlight, though, their films were the perfect way of capturing their charm. A Hard Day’s Night was practically a mockumentary that showed what they were really like going from one show to the next. Although it’s not nearly as good as its predecessor, Help! is still a decent movie that falls more into the line of stoner comedy based on how ridiculous the setpieces are.

While the band could put on their happy faces for most interviews, Lennon got over the movie bug fairly quickly. Since he was more inclined to get high and zone out halfway through making the second movie, you can imagine the annoyance that he had at having to get behind the camera to fulfil their contract.

Made right after their manager Brian Epstein passed away, Magical Mystery Tour was Paul McCartney’s idea of capturing the spirit of ‘The Summer of Love’. The band were fresh off of recording Sgt Peppers, so this could have been the best way of combining their creative side with their charming onscreen selves. Except for one tiny detail… there’s not really any kind of story there.

Having nothing to go off of, Lennon said that he and George Harrison had no desire to make the film, telling Rolling Stone, “Paul said, ‘Well, here’s the segment, you write a little piece for that,’ and I thought bloody hell, so I ran off and I wrote the dream sequence for the fat woman and all the thing with the spaghetti. Then George and I were sort of grumbling about the fuckin’ movie, and we thought we better do it, and we had the feeling that we owed it to the public to do these things.”

Considering that this was made with what amounts to a bunch of stoned Beatles trying desperately to entertain their audience, it’s actually a fairly compelling watch. There might not be a set structure to anything, and it’s clear that they’re borrowing from some of their older movies every now and again, but the sequences soundtracked by songs like ‘The Fool on the Hill’ are still genuine works of art.

If anything, this was practically a precursor for what would become the visual album. After the band had already invented the concept for the music video with clips for ‘Paperback Writer’, having each song from Magical Mystery Tour accompanied by a visual piece could have prompted other artists to use the visual medium to tell a story.

Even though each member would appear onscreen in various forms after the band’s split, Lennon would only return for the odd television appearance, where he would be more focused on real-world problems like politics and his own fragile mind. The acting bug may have carried the rest of the Fab Four for a long time, but Lennon decided that three movies of him playing characters was more than enough for him.

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