While viewing the remastered version of Magical Mystery Tour, I unintentionally began scrawling the odd observation from the end of a notebook, working my way backward, which couldn’t have been more fitting for a film so delightfully backward and, at times, completely off the rails. But for all of the film’s unbridled weirdness, it’s incredibly smart in that it is a surrealist fantasy in which at least three generations of Britons come together, as it were, to enjoy some of Old Blighty’s time-honored traditions but with a seriously psychedelic twist.
Although the divide between generations ran deep in Harold Wilson’s Britain, you’d never guess that there was little more than a rumbling about the so-called permissive society of the late 1960s based on the passengers about to embark on the Magical Mystery Tour. As you board the bus as an invisible ticket holder you’re surrounded by old folks who by default should loathe their longhaired counterparts; a little girl; Ringo’s argumentative Aunt Jessie; a few pretty ladies, almost always seated by Paul; and several extras who round out the look and feel of this unlikely group of travel companions. When the groovy opening bars to “Flying” play after Jolly Jimmy instructs the passengers to look to their right, they all ready themselves for transportation to a society where everyone gets along and enjoys all things transcending explanation: it’s called Out There.
Despite having seen plenty of documentary footage about Magical Mystery Tour, most recently BBC’s fantastic Arena special that aired in Britain in early October, this is the first time I’ve watched the 53-minute film from start to finish. Needless to say, getting to view the gussied up Blu-ray version in its sharp, vivid glory was a treat, as was listening to the product of Giles Martin, son of Sir George’s stellar work restoring the quality of a set of songs that, in my opinion, tops The Beatles’ catalog. And it isn’t merely the simplistic beauty of “Fool on the Hill” or the hypnotic quality of “Blue Jay Way”—also two of the best sequences from a visual standpoint—that make the soundtrack great. It’s also the innovative way the band took creative license with their older songs, like “All My Lovin,’” which they transformed into a classical composition featuring bits of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite.
In this particular package viewers really do get the best of everything, except, perhaps, a fancy menu from which to navigate the Blu-ray. I can only guess the team was attempting to keep it real by maintaining the no-frills rainbow theme. But there is, of course, the film to play at high volume and try to dissect from a critical standpoint or to simply zone out to and use as food for the subconscious, in addition to loads of background information via special features, including commentary by Paul McCartney; “The Making of the Magical Mystery Tour” featurette; an interview with Ringo watching the film on his laptop and discussing his role as the most experienced actor among his band mates; and an interesting “Meet the Supporting Cast” segment that includes footage of earlier work by such actors as Derek Royle, Ivor Cutler, and Jessie Robins.
Beyond the informative features, it’s pretty wonderful to see Beatles footage you’ve never seen before, which is what you get when you watch the new edits of “Your Mother Should Know,” “Blue Jay Way,” and “The Fool on the Hill.” (Watch the first closely to decide which Beatle is the least coordinated.) There is also a black-and-white, BBC-created promo video for “Hello Goodbye” that shows the band in the editing suite, where they toiled away at stitching the countless bits of Magical Mystery Tour footage into a pleasingly illogical stream of goodness for 11 weeks, spliced with a kooky montage of four smartly dressed youths, as well as a few other bits cut from the film. Definitely turn to the Blu-ray’s handy booklet to clear up anything unclear about said clips.
If you’re a fan of The Beatles’ late-1960s self-professed “indulgent period,” and you don’t tire of hearing Paul talk about how he came up with the idea for the film after dallying in homemade avant-garde films with his French camera, after which he made a pie chart, etc., then you’ll surely love having this in your library. After going on the journey, acquainting myself with the passengers, and getting a glimpse of the scenes that were left at the bus depot, I’m left pondering the thought, What would the film have turned into had Paul drawn a square?