Thursday, May 22, 2008

All You Need is Cash

Directed by Gary Weiss and Eric Idle
Written by Eric Idle
Starring Eric Idle, Neil Innes, John Halsey, Rickie Fartaar, Michael Palin, George Harrison, Bianca Jagger, Mick Jagger, Dan Ackroyd, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray
IMDB Entry
The Rutles Web Page

As I mentioned before, Eric Idle had bad luck in his post-Monty-Python endeavors. That didn't mean they were all terrible, though, and All You Need is Cash is a movie that needs to be mentioned.

The term "mockumentary" was coined by Rob Reiner to refer to This is Spinal Tap. Certainly that put the finishing touches on all the elements of the genre (having the movie basically ad-libbed by the actors), but is it the first? Probably not. There were scripted mocumentaries before Spinal Tap (though not many). Woody Allen's Zelig certainly fits the definition, and you could make the argument that A Hard Day's Night could be considered the first (it did, after all, show a day in the life of the Beatles).

The Rutles But All You Need is Cash deserves consideration as a pioneer.

It was Eric Idle's baby. After Monty Python ended, Idle created a show for the BBC called Rutland Weekend Television, similar in concept to Second City TV in Canada -- the broadcast day of a small TV station that was an excuse for various skits and hijinks. One recurring bit was that of the Rutles -- Rutland's prefab four.  Idle got his friend Neil Innes of the Bonzo Dog Band* (scroll down) to help write music. 

Idle brought the tape of one of the songs to an appearance on Saturday Night Life and Lorne Michaels liked it enough to do an entire special on the concept.

The concept is just what you'd think.  Dirk McQuickly (Idle as Paul McCarney,  pretending to play bass guitar left handed), Ron Nasty (Innes, as John Lennon), Stig O'Hara (Ricky Fataar -- once a member of the Beach Boys and here standing in for George as the Quiet Rutle**) on lead guitar) and Barry Wom (Barrington Womble, played by John Halsey, on drums) met in the clubs of Liverpool, polished their act in Hamburg Germany, and returned to become the center of Rutlemania.

Much of the fun comes from the shock of recognition. Innes's songs can lull you into believing they are Beatles songs.  Consider, for instance, "Ouch":


Or especially, "Piggy in the Middle"

This is more than reference comedy; the parodies are so exact that you can't help but being enchanted by them. And the changes in the Beatles over the years were neatly matched in the film.

Idle plays multiple roles, too (the only one of the prefab four to actually have a background in acting).

The TV was broadcast on NBC on March 22, 1978. Ratings were dismal. There was a theatrical release, and the film probably made back its cost -- since it was made dirt cheaply.

A record album came out at the time.  And, many years later, in response to the Beatles's Anthology album, they added some new songs can released Archeology (without Innes).

The film is a high point of musical satire and an early example of the mockumetary genre. And the songs are just as wonderful now as they ever were; the shock of recognition is still there.

*Idle and Innes had worked together on Do Not Adjust Your Set, and Innes wrote several songs for Monty Python).

**He never says a word.


Zokko said...

A delightful movie. Love that George Harrison cameo. Neil Innes' songs were marvellous, particularly 'Doubleback Alley' and 'I Must Be In Love'. Whatever happened to the sequel though? It has yet to receive a television or cinema screening here in the U.K. and is not on D.V.D. to the best of my knowledge. Was it really that bad?

Chuck Rothman said...

I never saw the sequel, so I really can't say. If it was released, it got so little publicity that, at the time, I never heard of it.

I'm a big fan of Neil Innes from his Bonzo Dog Band days, but he really outdid himself with the songs. They parody the style without copying the songs. Most can fool a Beatles fan into thinking it's the Fab Four themselves.

low-tech cyclist said...

"Do I have to spell it out?
C.H.E.E.S.E.A.N.D.O.N.I.O.N.S., oh no..."

Great parody show, and the album is still one of my favorites. When that 3-part Beatles special that went with "Anthology" was televised in the 1990s, I felt like I'd seen a good deal of it before - because I'd already seen it parodied by The Rutles.