Bad Movies

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Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 21, 2015

It’s bad, but is it worse than Xanadu? This is the kind of question that made it necessary to establish academic film programs. Both films say more than they mean to about the dire state of popular culture at the time, as well as about mankind’s constant moral vulnerability. PG films both, but there are pitiable levels of sadness and even degradation at the doors.

Sgt. Pepper’s et al. is probably not quite as jaw-droppingly bad as Xanadu is. It’s pretty jaw dropping, though: Frampton’s insufferable cuteness, unpleasant bits of raunch, Steve Martin’s unutterably unfunny Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, the way impending evil is signaled by the advent of litter and black people. Is this where John Hughes (what was that, ’09 Oscars?) and Chris Columbus got that reaction shot aesthetic of theirs? The poor brothers Gibb, left all on their own to mug and moon in that increasingly embarrassing way. Frankie Howerd is even more unfunny than Steve Martin. What other hellish prodigies can we isolate? Strawberry’s really long vision when she gets off that bus. (The character’s name is “Strawberry Fields,” by the way. Say! I wonder if we can fit a song in somewhere?) The mysterious thing that Alice Cooper doing. Fight scenes, allegedly. Tommy-like grotesqueries. The inexplicable weather vane thing. The plot. The entire movie.

We get on bandwagons though. We smell blood, and turn mean, and don’t give things a fair shake. I also admired, actually enjoyed several things in this movie. Like, for instance, the Bee Gees. They are great. The brother harmonies, especially on the opening number, are thrilling. Robin’s Oh, Darling. The boys’ backing on Because. Their general longsufferingness. When they find that dumb drum Mo and Barry have a very funny Bill and Ted moment. (“Fag!” they said, lovingly.)

Donald Pleasance is pretty good, actually. He throws himself into his role, and at least knows what to do with himself while the film generally remains undirected. I like George Burns, doing Fixing a Hole. At Strawberry Fields’ funeral (there it is again) there are two little reaction shots in which he, a professional and a real actor, looks devastated.

Plus, Billy Preston!

So there’s good in almost everything. But this movie is still really bad. However, like tribulation, we will always be able to say that we have experienced it.