Friday, December 6, 2013

Review: 'The Rutles Anthology'

In 1975, “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” had just gone off the air and the chaps were working their way from the small screen to the slightly bigger one where they’d soon appear in the magnificent Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Meantime, Eric Idle was testing his extra-Python wings back on the telly with a modest comedy program called “Rutland Weekend Television” cheekily set in the rural county of Rutland, hence the title. Though the pseudo-regional program lasted just two series, and drew perhaps twice as many viewers, it continues to be known both because some people really like Eric Idle and others really like The Beatles. Some even like both.

What do The Beatles have to do with anything? This is what: “Rutland Weekend Television” was where a little group of history-altering mop toppers named The Rutles were born. And as we all know, The Rutles were bigger than The Beatles. You know the story: they rocked the Reeperbahn where they performed to actual rats in the actual Rat Keller before being discovered by Leggy Mountbatten, who was so taken with the fit of Dirk, Nasty, Stig, and Barry’s trousers that he managed them to interplanetary fame. The rest is history: they performed for the Queen (of England), wrote a song for The Rolling Stones (says interviewee Mick Jagger: “it was ‘orrible”), made such cinema-defining films as A Hard Day’s Rut and Ouch!, and began expanding their consciousnesses and their bladders by succumbing to the mind-altering pleasures of tea (and biscuits). Ron said he was bigger than God (or at least Rod, as in Rod Stewart), and we learned by playing the groundbreaking Sgt. Rutter’s Only Darts Club Band album backwards that Stig is dead (or at least, in bed). The rest is history. Of course, I already said that.

Eric Idle’s cult classic documentary (with a side order of mock) The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash laid out this history quite thoroughly in 1978, blowing up his original four-minute film that aired on “Rutland Weekend Television” to a length considerably longer. I can still remember the first time I saw it on MTV in 1988, laughing like an out-of-sorts idiot at Leggy’s mother’s prim recollection of The Rutles’ trousers and interviewer Idle’s suggestion that Dick Jaws—the record exec who actually passed on The Rutles—might be an asshole, as well as marveling at Neil Innes’s brilliant parody/homages to classic Beatles songs. Innes’ Lennon impersonation as the irascible Ron Nasty is equally genius. I watched the crappy VHS copy I made of that airing to death, so viewing the film for the first time in quite a long time as part of Video Service Corp’s new Rutles Anthology blu-ray/DVD combo, I didn’t laugh nearly as much as I did 25 years ago. But that’s only because I already know all the gags inside and out. Trust me, they’re still funny, and those songs are still wonderful. Numbers such as “Cheese and Onions”, “I Must Be in Love”, and “Let’s Be Natural” would have been classics had The Beatles actually recorded them. Then again, The Beatles could have released an album of themselves farting in time to the “1812 Overture” and it would now be considered a classic.

So how does The Rutles Anthology hold up as the ultimate presentation of the ultimate Rock & Roll parody (until Spinal Tap)? As far as the restoration goes, all I have to compare it to is my memories of my long-since disintegrated VHS copy. Well, it’s better than that, but you should manage your expectations a bit, because this is not some sort of crystal-clear visual feast. Part of the joke of All You Need Is Cash is that it was shot to look like a shoddy documentary comprises scratchy, blurry footage from the sixties and seventies. Therefore, All You Need Is Cash is pretty scratchy and blurry on this blu-ray. I’d imagine it’s a nicer representation of those scratches and blurs than Rhino’s 2001 DVD though.

However, there is a much more serious problem with this disc. All You Need Is Cash was made to air on television in 1978 when the idea of a widescreen TV was as unimaginable as manned flights to Neptune. It was a full-frame film, as square as Pat Boone. VSC has made the terrible decision to present it in widescreen, which means that heads are chopped off at the top, album and book covers are not entirely visible, and the frame is often cramped with only the most essential details. At times when cropping is not viable at all, the picture switches to its proper aspect ratio, but instead of the usual black bars on either side of the film, there are blurry extensions of the image. It’s distracting and it looks shitty.

VCS balances this poor presentation with some truly terrific extra features. Along with the original 1975 Rutles film (in the version that originally aired on “Saturday Night Live” with introduction by Lorne Michaels) is a fascinating 44-minute interview with Idle that plays as a sort of non-scene-specific commentary over the film. He speaks candidly and funnily about working with George Harrison and meeting Paul McCartney (who wasn’t crazy about the movie) and Linda McCartney and Yoko Ono (who both loved it). He explains that he also had a parody of The Who’s Tommy at the time he made The Rutles and discusses the 2002 sequel, Can’t Buy Me Lunch. That film is also included on the bonus DVD (which includes the main feature and other bonuses in their entireties too for those who’ve yet to upgrade to blu-ray). Can’t Buy Me Lunch is a one-man show for Idle, who did not invite his fellow Rutles Innes, Ricky Fataar (of the Beach Boys), and John Halsey (of Timebox) back, but did call on the talking heads of Tom Hanks, Carrie Fisher, David Bowie, Conon O’Brien, Steve Martin, Garry Shandling, Salman Rushdie (!), and many others to share their Rutle memories. As such, it is one of the most highly populated one-man shows on video. I didn’t expect much of Can’t Buy Me Lunch, so I was happy to discover that it is funnier than I’d expected with less repeat gags from the original than I assumed there would be. Since Idle used quite a few outtakes from All You Need is Cash, Lunch also serves as a sort of “deleted scenes” extra too. It was also nice that Idle used songs from Innes, Fataar, and Halsey’s Archaeology Rutles album even though he didn’t use Innes, Fataar, and Halsey. And even if the movie was total crap, The Rutles Anthology would still include a complete movie as a bonus feature. That’s pretty fab.

Get The Rutles Anthology at here:

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