Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978) / Musical-Fantasy
MPAA Rated: PG for mild language and a scene of drug use
Running Time: 113 min.
Cast: Peter Frampton, The Bee Gees (Barry GIbb, Maurice Gibb, Robin Gibb), George Burns, Frankie Howard, Paul Nicholas, Donald Pleasance, Sandy Farina, Diane Steinberg, Steve Martin, Aerosmith, Earth Wind and Fire, Alice Cooper, Billy Preston, Stargard, Peter Allen (cameo), George Benson (cameo), Keith Carradine (cameo), Carol Channing (cameo), Jose Feliciano (cameo), Leif Garrett (cameo), Heart (cameo), Nona Hendryx (cameo), Etta James (cameo), Curtis Mayfield (cameo), Peter Noone (cameo), Robert Palmer (cameo), Wilson Pickett (cameo), Bonnie Raitt (cameo), Helen Reddy (cameo), Minnie Riperton (cameo), Chita Rivera (cameo), Sha-Na-Na (cameo), Del Shannon (cameo), Connie Stevens (cameo), Tina Turner (cameo), Frankie Valli (cameo), Grover Washington Jr. (cameo), Hank Williams Jr. (cameo), Wolfman Jack (cameo), Bobby Womack (cameo), Andy Tennant (cameo), George Harrison (cameo), Paul McCartney (cameo), Linda McCartney (cameo)
Director: Michael Schultz
Screenplay: Henry Edwards
Review published May 21, 2006
High in concept, but with astonishingly little to show for it, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is an attempt to blend the classic 1967 Beatles album of the same name, along with other songs the Beatles made in the same era, into a full-length feature film. What should have been a loving tribute to the greatest band in the history of rock 'n roll is marred by a lack of quality covers of the songs in question. Whereas the Beatles are considered to have revolutionized the music industry with ceaseless creativity and influence, most of the performers in the film have little to do with the Beatles' style of music, in addition to being considered marginal artists at best. That they coat the Beatles psychedelic classics with the thump of the disco beat is perhaps the biggest flaw of all, as it cheapens the sound, while dating the film into little more than a vapid musical with few moments of interest save for 1970s revivalists and the most curious of Beatles fans.
It's sometimes hard to discern, but there actually is a story somewhere underneath the seemingly nonsensical musical numbers. Frampton and the Bee Gees star as a quartet of performers known as the new Lonely Hearts Club Band, who are champions of Heartland USA that are discovered by greedy record producers who want to make a buck off of their unique and popular sound. A music magnate desires to steal the magical instruments that the band uses to play their melodious music,, which threatens to eradicate Heartland into the morass that modern-day City of Angels (a representation of Los Angeles, of course) has become.
Cutting right down to the heart of the matter, the movie is a dud on nearly every level. First and foremost, there really is a lack of quality covers of the three dozen or so Beatles songs used in the film. In fact, you can really limit the soundtrack to three respectable efforts -- Aerosmith's interesting take on the classic "Come Together", Billy Preston's energetic rendition of "Get Back" (coincidentally, Preston also played on the original Beatles recording), and by far, the only song that manages to have become a classic in its own right, Earth Wind and Fire's phenomenal take on "Got to Get You Into My Life". Ironic that the best song on the soundtrack would also be the only one not produced by longtime Beatles' producer George Martin, who seems clueless as to how to give the Beatles recordings a modern sound with the other marginally popular contemporary performers.
This is a film so bizarre, it is actually fascinating to a degree, even if it doesn't really ever approach being remotely good. I suppose on a certain level, there is a time capsule quality to it that merits its continued existence for those interested in the material, at least on some tangential level. It's almost a freak-show experience to see a film that contains awful songs by George Burns (Going in Style, Oh God!), Steve Martin (The Lonely Guy, The Spanish Prisoner), and Alice Cooper all on the same soundtrack, and actually do it with a straight face. it's also interesting that the film has no dialogue except for the music and some incidental words by mostly non-human entities. As a film, Sgt. Pepper is an admirable attempt to try to do something different in a musical form, although it is undermined by a lack of genuine talent behind the scenes, in addition to coming out during a time when pop music was at the arguable creative nadir of the post-Beatles era.
©2006 Vince Leo