Rutles Demolish Mythology
As the 4 Beatles Couldn't
The Rutles: "All You Need Is Cash," 90 minutes March 22, NBC-TV. Produced by Gary Weiss and Craig Kellem; directed by Gary Weiss and Eric Idle; music and lyrics by Neil Innes. Executive producer, Lorne Michaels
LOS ANGELES-Writer Eric Idle, on parole from Monty Python's asylum, has accomplished for the Beatles what they have been frustrated in doing since their disbandment: demolition of their own mythology. Idle's success was due to the madness of his method--laughter, created by the slickest piece of parody this side of "Saturday Night Live."
Through creation of four fantasy moppets who rise to musical infamy from the pits of Rutland, England's smallest county, Idle warps the Beatles saga into a recognizable if "rotted" tale.
Masterfully aged and composited tape and photos allow us to follow the Rutles through their Hamburg "Rat Keller" stint, which claimed the fifth Rutle who merely "stood at the back," to their triumphant first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.
This single segment, in which the original Sullivan footage is used for the intro--a simple but effective subbing of "Rutles" for "Beatles" making all the difference--marks the show as a masterpiece. The ensuing performance of "Hold My Hand" is like the remaining 13 tunes penned and arranged by Neil Innes, portraying "Nasty" (erstwhile, John Lennon), a blending of style, lyric and guitar riff reminiscent of a specific period in Beatle music--but not a carbon copy. There is no mindless "Beatlemania" copying, but brilliant Beatle-like creativity, though distilled through a glass mirthfully.
Woven into the storyline are the Beatles films as made by the Rutles--and cut-for-cut, the "clips" almost duplicate scenes from the originals, including an impressive animation satire of "Yellow Submarine."
Idle himself portrays "Dirk" (Paul McCartney), whose stage movements and cherubish exuberance match those of his model, though not to the uncanny extent achieved by Innes' cloning of Lennon...or is it clowning?
Ricky Fataar is quietly effective as "Stig," the George Harrison role, and John Halsey as "Barry" brilliantly copies the plodding underdog role of Ringo Starr.
Idle tells the entire story, through its inevitable ending with the Rutles final LP, "Let It Rot," as an abrasive roving reporter, desperately trying to build some documentary meaning into the "pre-fab four's" rise. Cameos by Mick and Bianca Jagger, Paul Simon and George Harrison are complemented by those of "Saturday Night Live" regulars Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Bill Murray and Gilda Radner.
Indeed, the frantic digging by Idle as the reporter makes his point better than the nifty musical parodies or excellent script: Searching for meaning in the Beatles mythology is, as the original foursome has claimed all along, madness...and worthy of a good laugh.
RAY HERBECK JR.
FROM MOP TOPS to mysticism to the inevitable splintering of egos, the Beatles were always solid material for parody. But as with most idols of this stature, the humor only emerges in retrospect. So eight years since their break-up, the phenomenon that was the Fab Four finally comes under satirical assault - not by an older generation with stale one-liners, but by the group's peers.
This Wednesday evening at 9:30, Channel 4 will televise "All You Need Is Cash," a 90-minute "queasy-docudrama" detailing the rise and recession of the rock group creator Eric Idle likes to call the Prefab Four - "The Rutles." And any similarity to that other English foursome is absolutely intentional.
As a member of the British humor group, Monty Python, Idle enjoys a growing cult following in the U.S. When a flim clip of an early Rutles sketch was shown on "Saturday Night Live" to enormous American response, that show's Lorne Michaels decided to go ahead with a full-scale production following the fates of Dirk, Ron, Stig and Barry, the musicians responsible for "a legend that will last a lunchtime." A few "Saturday Night" regulars - John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray - were thrown in for American guffaws, while rock luminaries Mick and Bianca Jagger, Paul Simon, Ron Wood and even a disguised George Harrison instill the farce with an amusing credibility.
"All You Need Is Cash" examines the Rutles' progression from too-tight schoolboy suits to too-baggy "Sgt. Pepper" uniforms, from performances in Hamburg's "Rat Keller" to New York's "Che" Stadium, through Ron Nasty's classic faux pas, "the Rutles are bigger than God," to the scandal of the group's collective "tea" discovery. In short, it is as much a parody of all previous attempts to ferret out sociological significance as to the Beatles themselves.
In town for final editing of the special, Eric Idle comes to the door of a Soho loft in a long brown bathrobe - but not quite long enough. The skeletal feet protrude underneath as Idle, tall and stoop-shouldered, pads back into a bedroom, looking like some mad Friar gone AWOL from the monastery. To glance at his face is to laugh - all the better for his depiction of Rutle "Dirk McQuickly," who comes complete with gaunt, haggard, distinctly un-cute features. "I played the George part before," he says. "Now I'm Paul, and I think that's funnier." Certainly, for those once smitten with the Cute One, it is.
The soundtrack for the special, with music and lyrics by former Bonzo Dog Band member and Python collaborator Neil Innes, sticks closely to the Beatles' sound and sensibilities - a bit too closely to be exactly hilarious. On TV, the music works just fine, but the Warner Bros. "Rutles" album is a rather mystifying package. Innes (who plays Ruile "Ron Nasty") essentially rips off the Beatles' songs, switching from one to another within each tune in a subtly clever, but somehow unsatisfying musical satire. Although Innes should be given credit for coming up with lyrics even dumber than the Beatles' in the early songs ("Shoot me down in flames/If I should tell a lie"), and "OUCH!" works perfectly as a parody of the optimistic heartbreaker, "Help!," the psychedelic later years are merely captured, not examined and expanded.
"It was Neil's choice to stick to the originals," says Idle, "and I think be was right. I've lived with the music for eight months, and by now they're Rutles songs to me. They work as music, bear repetition more, rather than a funny version where you go for the laughs. Neil also has a real feeling for when the music should change. As soon as you think, 'Ah, this is - ,' he throws it off. Musicians find it funnier than most people; a room full of musicians will sit and laugh out loud."
Anyone who has spent an evening with one mustcian, let alone a roomful, might question this vision: the profession isn't noted for attracting wildly humorous sorts. But whatever its flaws, "All You Need Is Cash" is a very funny show - far more entertaining, and probably more valid, than all those deadening documentaries dedicated to analyzing the Beatles' impact. The satire is loving, and the overaged casting a flash of genius - John Halsey, as Rutle drummer "Barry Wom," who eventually trades in his mop top for a bouffant and retires to the life of a hairdresser, is especially effective. The Interview with Paul Simon also gives us a chance to see that he's as tedious as we always suspected, while Mick Jagger's mischievous. improvised answers to questions concerning the Rutles virtually steal the show.
The Impact of the Rutles? "They made the '60s what they are today," Idle says. "Finished." As for that other British group: If "All You Need Is Cash" accomplishes nothing else, it should end the continuing cries for a Beatles reunion. One look at the paunches, jowls and creases of Dirk, Ron, Stig and Barry, and anybody dumb enough to want a '70s resurrection will find four good reasons why It wouldn't work.
By PETER LUBIN
Ladies and gentlemen! From Rutland, Wales! Please welcome The Rutles! Dirk! Nasty! Stig! And Barry!
Though it's probably not the dream of a lifetime, NBC will nonetheless air "All You Need Is Cash," the Rutles' somewhat truelife story, on Wednesday evening. The television special arrives on the well-worn heels of "The Rutles," the debut and farewell recording of the Rutleside beat combo who forever changed music, culture, and the rate of exchange.
The Rutles are, of course, the creation of Monty Python's Eric Idle in collaboration with ex-Bonzo Dog Band member Neil Innes, who have gone togreat lengths to cook up this wonderfully deluxe spoof of the legendary Fab Four. Between the album (which is available free of charge to all those purchasing the sixteen page color booklet packed in the album jacket) and the television film, the concept of The Rutles manages to burst the bubble around just about every myth that ever existed concerning the lovable Liverpudlians, somehow freeing all of us from the burden of that myth's tiresome domination. Idle refers to The Rutles as "a legend that will last a lunchtime."
In describing the height of Rutlemania, Idle writes, "On their second visit to the States in early 1965 they played the world's first outdoor rock and roll concert at Che Stadium (named after the Cuban guerrilla leader Che Stadium). As a security precaution the Rutles arrived at the stadium by helicopter a day early. This enabled them to be safely out of the place before the audience came in. It was a brilliant public relations coup. The kids were screaming so hard that thousands never noticed the difference. Promoter Syd Bottle described it as the most exciting twenty minutes of his life."
And so it goes. One episode tells of the time Nasty proclaimed that the Rutles were bigger than God, and further elaborates by pointing out that God never had a hit record. Almost immediately Rutles fans all over the world began burning their albums or burning their fingers while attempting to burn their albums. However, it turned out that in talking to a deaf journalist, Nasty had actually said that the Rutles were bigger than Rod - as Rod Stewart would not be big for another eight years.
"The Rutles" lp is equally amusing, though by nature it lacks staying power. With a clever turn of the phrase, both musical and lyrical, Neil Innes has created a howling, fine send-up of the Beatle's style and sensibility. The parody is extended to include trademark studio techniques first employed by the Beatles and even sometimes features the primitive stereo separation which plagued early Beatle recordings.
Unfortunately, as with all comedy albums, this disc will only amuse the listener a limited number of times.
The television film was directed by Gary Weis and Eric Idle; the executive producer is Lorne Michaels. Players in the film include members of the Not Ready For Prime Time Players as well as Mick and Bianca Jagger, Ron Wood, George Harrison, and Paul Simon. The break-up of The Beatles may have marked the end of an era, but it was aiso the beginning of countless years of litigation.
NBC's "All You Need Is Cash" an ersatz documentary concocted by Eric Idle of the Monty Pythons, retraces the fabulous career of the "prefab" Rutles, "a musical legend that will last a lunchtime." Dirk McQuickly, Ron Nasty, Barry Wom and Stig O'Hara ( a school-leaver of no fixed hair style) are discovered in a dingy Liverpool disco by one Leggy Mountbatten an epicene retail chemist with a keen interest in boys. He hated their music, their hair and their presence, Leggy's mum uneasily recalls. But he liked "their trousers. They were...uh... well, very tight."
Scandal: Launched by Leggy, the Rutles rise to overnight mythhood, meet the Queen to receive a chirpy "Well done, lads," and give a triumphant concert in New York's Che Stadium (named after the Cuban guerrilla leader, Che Stadium). Stig is falsely rumored to be dead after Nasty supposedly sings the line "I buried Stig" in "I Am the Waitress." Dirk causes a scandal hy admitting to the press that he is addicted not only to tea, but to biscuits as well. The Rutles' financial fortunes eventually plummet under the management of Ron Decline, an American promoter whose "only weak spot was dishonesty."
As a spoof of Beatlemania, "All You Need Is Cash" will appeal primarily to those who have acquired the taste for a peculiarly British brand of zaniness. Mick Jagger, Paul Simon and the gang from NBC's "Saturday Night Live" lend their own touches to the prevailing dementia. Jagger is especially memorable deadpanning his explanation four the RutIes' breakup "Women...Just women gettin' in the way." But as a send-up of the entire TV documentary form, and that's really its primary target, the special should tickle just about everyone.
Foot in Mouth: The irrepressible Idle, who plays the documentary's trench-coated narrator, does a wicked impression of David Frost with an almost visible foot in his mouth. He transports his crew to New Orleans to unearth the black roots of the Rutles' sound only to learn from old black musicians that they had swiped their styles from the Rutles. When Idle finally finds a black elder who claims to have been ripped off by the Rutles, the man's wife gleefully deflates her hushand's pretensions by sniffing: "Every time they do a documentary on white music, Frank Sinatra or Lawrence Welk, he claims he started it." After a few more such disasters, Idle finally turns churlish. Interviewing Brian Thigh, a dimwitted record executive who rejected the foursome when they were unknowns, Idle castigates him as "a nerd, a cretin, a pillock and a berk."
Sensing a new mania, Wanaer Bros. is feverishly promoting an album of songs from the show, all written by Python-member Meil Innes. Indeed, radio stations throughout the U.S. are already playing such poignant Rutles ballads as "Cheese and Onions." Worshippers of the original moptops may be plunged into an early life crisis by the discovery that their idols can be skewered with such apparent ease. But even if all this means that the Beatles can never attempt a comeback, only the nerdiest of berks shoud despair. After all, the world now has the Rutles...yeah, yeah, yeah!