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Watch This! #3: Rock Opera

August 9, 2010

Generally speaking, the Rock Opera is where good ideas and intentions go to die. That said, the genre features some of my favorite films.

Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
Cast: William Finley, Jessica Harper, Gerrit Graham, Paul Williams
Written & Directed by: Brian De Palma

    Combining elements of Frankenstein, Phantom of the Opera and De Palma’s previous cinematic efforts, Phantom of the Paradise is what happens when you attempt to film Tommy on a Kindergarten mortality play budget! The first time I watched this movie, I fell asleep. To be fair, I’m sure this had more to do with being exhausted rather than the film itself. Subsequent viewings have not had the same effect. In fact, each time I watch this sparkling mess of a film, I fall more in love with De Palma. I have more fun identifying all the De Palmalicious cinematic elements than anything else. However, one cannot ignore the sheer awesome screen presence of Paul Williams, a prolific songwriter known for hits such as “Rainy Days and Mondays” and a bunch of other 70s elevator classics. It’s been rumored that Williams allowed use of his songs in exchange for a role in the film. It’s one of the better casting choices – besides Graham, who is always great in De Palma films – in the movie. Oh yeah, the songs are actually quite catchy.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: The Movie (1978)
Cast: The Bee Gees, Peter Frampton, Dianne Steinberg, Paul Nichols Alice Cooper, Sandy Farina, Donald Pleasence, Steve Martin, Earth Wind & Fire, Aerosmith, Billy Preston, Frankie Howard, George Burns
Directed by: Michael Schultz

    Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: The Movie is one of the most horrific crimes ever perpetrated against cinema and pop music. For starters the film is not content to merely soil the songs of titular iconic album, but also sees fit to beat up on some great tunes from Abbey Road too. Oddly, the best performance is Dianne Steinberg and Stargard’s rendition of Lucy in the sky with Diamonds, which includes some pretty snazzy visuals and Steinberg’s incredibly vocals. The other stunning performances include Aerosmith’s Come Together and Earth, Wind & Fire’s Got to Get You Into My Life, which in their capable hands is buoyant and swinging. Now that we done got that out of the way… The rest of this film can only be described as a glittery hot mess. The acting is so terrible the producers had to cut ALL the dialogue from the film and get George Burns – who talks his way through a punishing version of Fixin’ a Hole (what did that song ever do to him?) – to narrate the movie, thus sparing the audience the acting efforts of Peter Frampton and The Brothers Gibb. Still, all is not entirely lost. Barry Gibb’s blowout is the most glorious visual of the film and well, the musical artists sing a lot better than the Beatles. (no hate) I like Robin Gibb’s version of Oh Darling. The plot involves a heist and then some kind of counterheist which transports the audience into an improbable world where Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees can kick Steven Tyler and Aerosmith’s ass. Yeah, like that would ever happen.

Give My Regards to Broad Street (1984)
Cast: P-Mac
Directed by: Peter Webb

    Critics put rocks in their gloves before beating up on P-Mac’s not-entirely-terrible Give My Regards to Broad Street. If the worst thing that can be said of film is the camera work is bland – and that is certainly the case for Give My Regards to Broad Street – that’s hardly a reason for the TKO the film received upon its theatrical release. It’s definitely a cheesy piece of pop fluff, but there is an undercurrent of sweetness and P-Mac’s enduring charisma that more than make up for the cinematography shortcomings. You could do a lot worse than this film (see above film) and P-Mac has great screen presence. I wish he’d do MORE acting. Besides, No More Lonely Nights is an underrated gem of a pop tune and Paul’s voice never sounded better (in my opinion). If you want a less painful version of the events depicted in the film – with far better acting – try Paul’s video My Brave Face off his stellar 1989 release Flowers in the Dirt. That video even features a cameo by the album’s producer – Elvis Costello!

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. August 9, 2010 10:11 am

    I still laugh whenever I remember how they handled “Carry That Weight” in the Sgt. Pepper movie.

  2. August 9, 2010 10:12 am

    It’s all very literal. Literally.

  3. Citizen Taqueau permalink
    August 9, 2010 10:33 am

    Oh man! “No More Lonely Nights” was one of my favorite songs when it came out. It was my “hopeful” staple-song counterpoint to my angsty staple-song, which was Julian Lennon’s “Valotte”. SWOON.

  4. August 9, 2010 10:41 am

    Sitting on pebble by the river playing guitar!

  5. Citizen Taqueau permalink
    August 9, 2010 10:47 am

    “Yooou know, there’s something wro-o-o-o-ong… we stay together ‘cos we’re stroo-o-o-o-onnnng”

    [*SNIFFLECOPTER*]

  6. August 9, 2010 12:29 pm

    Damn, I love Sgt Pepper’s so much, it’s so weird and odd and fun in how terrible. It’s like skits at the end of summer youth theater camp. My brother and I were obsessed with it, and honestly, it really did bring us to the Beatles catalog. Some of those songs I heard FIRST in that movie, which I know would make some people have an aneurysm.

  7. August 9, 2010 12:30 pm

    @Raymond. Me too! In fact, I actually prefer covers of the Beatles to many of the originals, due in no small part to this film. I love me some Dianne Steinberg.

  8. August 9, 2010 12:41 pm

    this is one of my favorite examples in an argument about Beatles’ covers better than the originals:

  9. August 9, 2010 1:03 pm

    I was going to say that “No More Lonely Nights” is a guilty pleasure, but realized I don’t even feel guilty about it. I feel like “Give My Regards…” came out at a time when Paul McCartney was considered really uncool, which is why he and the movie got beat up so much.

    It’s funny how the Beatles inspire some pretty great covers and some pretty awful movie musicals. “Across the Universe” is pretty terrible, way too literal and over-earnest. I actually prefer “Sgt. Peppers” over it any day.

  10. August 9, 2010 10:03 pm

    Wait. Is this “Watch This!” or “DON’T Watch This!” Because I sat through Sgt. P. and I would not advise anyone to do that! I mean, even the kitsch factor of the Bee Gees dressed up like Michael Jackson can’t counteract the sheer and pure pain of every other element of this! I seem to most fondly remember Steve Martin’s contribution… “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” which I had hoped would bang on the head of everyone in the film. Sadly, and predictably, it didn’t.

  11. August 9, 2010 10:38 pm

    Well, I wouldn’t suggest earnestly building an evening around Sgt. Pepper, but it should seen once, just to say so. I feel like all of these should be seen at least once by film buffs.

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