As a hard-core Beatles fan, I couldn’t be more thrilled by PBS’s upcoming documentary and showing of Magical Mystery Tour, or of the 1967 TV show’s new home-video set…
The public television double feature, shown on the Friday, Dec. 14 edition of Great Performances on PBS, begins at 9 p.m. ET with Magical Mystery Tour Revisited, a new one-hour documentary on the making of the Beatles’ 1967 controversial television special. Then, at 10 p.m. ET, comes Magical Mystery Tour itself, the surrealistic musical short film that aired on England’s BBC-1 on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, as a holiday special. It has never been televised in the United States, until now.
Check local listings, as usual — but for Great Performances, this is no usual presentation. The documentary, with a longer running time than the 53-minute film it’s revisiting, is wonderful. Directed by Francis Hanly and produced by Jonathan Clyde, it puts everything in context, and includes insights from such unexpected but delightfully enthusiastic Magical Mystery Tour fans as Martin Scorsese and Peter Fonda.
As for the 1967 TV program itself, it’s been fully and dazzlingly restored — not only visually, but musically, with the soundtrack cleaned up by Giles Martin (son of Beatles producer George Martin), who did the same for the Cirque du Soleil Beatles LOVE show in Las Vegas.
“It was like a little home movie, really. An elaborate home movie,” George Harrison, in a vintage interview clip, says in Magical Mystery Tour Revisited.
But it was more than that, too. It captures, and epitomizes, the sense of freewheeling freedom and experimentation that followed the Summer of Love and the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. And decades before MTV, it presents music videos of such Beatles songs as “I Am the Walrus,” “Your Mother Should Know” and “The Fool on the Hill.”
Taken together, this Great Performances double feature is the biggest TV treat for Beatles fans since ABC presented their Anthology biographical documentary series in 1995. And if you can’t wait — in one respect, you don’t have to. A much shorter version of the documentary, along with the complete Magical Mystery Tour TV special, is out now.
The Beatles’ official Magical Mystery Tour boxed deluxe edition is already available for purchase, by Apple Records, and it’s one of the best, most giddily rewarding box sets I’ve ever seen.
First of all, inside the box are three different formats: a standard DVD release of Magical Mystery Tour, a Blu-Ray edition, and a two-vinyl-disc recreation of the original Magical Mystery Tour EP issue and booklet, in the mini-album format in which it was released originally in the U.K. There’s also a sumptuously detailed glossy booklet — more of a book, really — a 20-minute making-of documentary, nd a collection of Extras that are as entertaining as the TV special itself.
Paul McCartney delivers audio commentary on an alternate track, providing not only a wry perspective, but occasional inside details that really add to the magic. The aerial scenes in the “Flying” instrumental sequence, for example, were color-polarized outtakes from Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove. And the reason he wore a black carnation, when all the other Beatles wore red ones, on “Your Mother Should Know?” He explains that, too — and it’s not because, as the 1969 rumors insisted, “Paul is Dead.”
The other special features in the boxed set are like one holiday gift after another. Alternate video versions of several of the Magical Mystery Tour songs. Complete outtakes deleted from the final production, including a Fellini-esque dream sequence directed by John Lennon, and a fascinatingly odd performance by Ivor Cutler (who sings “I’m Going in a Field,” in a field, playing an ornate white organ). And more. Each thing I consumed made me smile even wider.
The Magical Mystery Tour boxed deluxe edition is the perfect holiday gift for the Beatles fan on your shopping list — or for yourself. And the upcoming Great Performances double feature of the TV premiere of Magical Mystery Tour and its accompanying documentary happens to be a delectable holiday gift for us all.