Great Films You Need To See – The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash (1978)

This is my latest contribution to The Big Picture, the internationally recognised website that shows film in a wider context. The Big Picture is running a series of features and reviews with the theme of ‘satire’. This piece is part of the site’s Lost Classics section (featuring in my list of Great Films You Need To See), in this case ex-Python Eric Idle’s music mockumentary The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash.

Hardly ones to take themselves too seriously, the Fab Four nevertheless provided the perfect foils for the grandfather of music mockumentaries.

While Spinal Tap took the formula to unparalleled heights, The Rutles set the ball rolling and remains an amusingly ramshackle spoof

While Spinal Tap took the formula to unparalleled heights, The Rutles set the ball rolling and remains an amusingly ramshackle spoof

Before This Is Spinal Tap (1984) there was The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash (1978), a Beatles parody given form partly thanks to its lead guitarist George Harrison.

Originally conceived as a throwaway sketch on Eric Idle’s post-Python BBC comedy series Rutland Weekend Television (1975-76), the skit took on a life of its own when it was shown on an episode of the long-running gag show Saturday Night Live that Idle was hosting.

Eric Idle's presenter in deep water in The Rutles

Eric Idle’s presenter in deep water in The Rutles

With Harrison’s encouragement, Idle’s partner-in-crime on Rutland Weekend Television Neil Innes knuckled down to turn what was an affectionate parody of A Hard Day’s Night into an alternative history of the world’s most successful and beloved band that spawned a whole new cinematic sub-genre.

Written by Idle and Innes, The Rutles charts the story of the Prefab Four – Dirk McQuickly (Idle), Ron Nasty (Innes), Stig O’Hara (Ricky Fataar) and Barry Wom (John Halsey) – from their humble Rutland roots to becoming “bigger than Rod [Stewart]” and creating “a musical legend that will last a lunchtime”.

The Rutles' take on I Am The Walrus, Piggy In The Middle

The Rutles’ take on I Am The Walrus, Piggy In The Middle

Modelled on the traditional to-camera documentary presenter style (Idle again), the film’s less-than-serious approach is apparent from the get go, with the former Python’s walk and talk becoming a sprint and gasp as the vehicle he’s following decides to hit the gas.

The presenter follows in the tight-trousered band’s footsteps from Der Rat Keller in Hamburg to the Ed Sullivan Show, Che Stadium (“named after the Cuban guerilla leader Che Stadium”), their spiritual quest to Bognor to meet Surrey mystic Arthur Sultan and Ron’s sit in the shower for peace with his soul mate Chastity (played by Gwen Taylor in a Nazi outfit in a hilariously near-the-knuckle mickey take of Yoko Ono).

Ron Nasty (Neil Innes) and partner Chastity (Gwen Taylor), aka Yoko Ono in The Rutles

Ron Nasty (Neil Innes) and partner Chastity (Gwen Taylor), aka Yoko Ono in The Rutles

The Beatles’ musical evolution is playfully parodied (Doubleback Alley is a take on Penny Lane; I Am The Walrus becomes the equally nonsensical Piggy In The Middle, among many others), while the band’s foray into the world of movies is also lampooned, with Ouch! a send-up of Help!; Yellow Submarine Sandwich (complete with surreal animation) and The Tragical History Tour, in which the Prefab Four play Oxford history professors going on a hitchhiking tour of tea shops in the Rutland area.

The SNL connection led to cameos from Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner and John Belushi, while Michael Palin appears in one the film’s most amusing scenes playing opposite Harrison’s silver-haired interviewer as Rutle Corps’ headquarters is plundered.

Ex-Beatle George Harrison interviews Rutle Corp press agent Eric Manchester (Michael Palin) in The Rutles

Ex-Beatle George Harrison interviews Rutle Corp press agent Eric Manchester (Michael Palin) in The Rutles

Roped in to give the film some extra fizz by Harrison, a game Mick Jagger and Paul Simon deliver old Rutles tales with admirable brio, probably because most of the stories they were telling were actually true and involved the Fab, rather than the Prefab, Four.

The Rutles adheres to the most important rule of mockumentaries, in that everyone plays it straight despite the silliness going on around them. It also helps that Innes’ songs are catchy in their own right and different enough from the originals so as not to sound like a carbon copy.

The Rutles go all showbiz

The Rutles go all showbiz

It’s a testament to the film’s legacy that not only did it influence Rob Reiner and Christopher Guest when approaching This Is Spinal Tap, but also remains both a cult favourite among as many Beatles fans as those who still follow The Rutles on their sporadic live tours.

While Spinal Tap took the formula to unparalleled heights, The Rutles set the ball rolling and remains an amusingly ramshackle spoof.

Review – The Grand Budapest Hotel

The idiosyncratic Wes Anderson conjures up his latest magical microcosm in this sumptuously designed feast for the senses.

When Wes Anderson is good he's very, very good and with The Grand Budapest Hotel he's at the top of his game. It's is an absolute delight

When Wes Anderson is good he’s very, very good and with The Grand Budapest Hotel he’s at the top of his game. It’s an absolute delight

One could compare Anderson’s career to that of a sculptor meticulously chiseling away at a piece of rock and removing all of the rough edges until what’s left is a thing of beauty.

His 1996 debut Bottle Rocket was an uneven work with enough flashes of Anderson’s unique visual style to mark him out as one to watch. His following two films, the resplendent Rushmore (1998) and superior The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) marked the end of a highly impressive first phase.

M. Gustave H. (Raplph Fiennes) comforts the elderly Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) in The Grand Budapest Hotel

M. Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) comforts the elderly Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) in The Grand Budapest Hotel

Phase two was more difficult, with The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004) and The Darjeeling Limited (2006) failing to strike the same chord. However, since 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, the balance of whimsy, eccentricity and maturity he failed to achieve in his previous two films was finally stuck, with this third phase in Anderson’s oeuvre also producing the lovely Moonrise Kingdom (2012) and now this charming confection (actually his second ‘hotel’ picture following the 2007 short Hotel Chevalier).

The film begins with an unnamed author (Tom Wilkinson) recollecting the time he spent as a younger man (played by Jude Law) at the Grand Budapest Hotel, where he encountered its reclusive owner Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham). Over dinner, Zero tells the extraordinary story of how, as a young man in the 1930s, he came to inherit one of Europe’s most lavish hotels from M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), who at the time was its suave and sophisticated concierge. They strike up a warm friendship after Gustave is framed for the murder of his octogenarian lover Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) and must prove not only his innocence but also uncover the real culprits.

The one and only Bill Murray plays hotel concierge M. Ivan in The Grand Budapest Hotel

The one and only Bill Murray plays hotel concierge M. Ivan in The Grand Budapest Hotel

Anderson’s love of early cinema, present in Bottle Rocket with its nod to Edwin S Porter’s landmark 1903 picture The Great Train Robbery, can be found here in the wonderful old school effects shots that bring to mind pioneering genius Georges Méliès. Likewise, the film’s deadpan physical comedy inevitably brings to mind such early masters of the form as Chaplin and Keaton.

M. Gustave H. (Raplh Fiennes) confronts the dastardly Dmitri Desgoffe-und-Taxis (Adrieb Brody) and his henchman J.G. Jopling (Willem Dafoe) in The Grand Budapest Hotel

M. Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) confronts the dastardly Dmitri Desgoffe-und-Taxis (Adrien Brody) and his henchman J.G. Jopling (Willem Dafoe) in The Grand Budapest Hotel

His trademark mise en scène is also taken to the nth degree in The Grand Budapest Hotel, with its beautifully crafted and crisp tracking shots, zooms and back and forth camera shots so meticulously constructed as to make Stanley Kubrick proud.

In spite of being a marvel of precise technical mastery, the film is rich with memorable characters, each brought vividly to life by a splendid cast. Fiennes, in his first collaboration with Anderson, is a marvel and gives a beautifully measured turn that’s equal parts farcical, steely eyed and kind. He’s matched by Tony Revolori, whose portrayal of the loyal and determined young Zero sits perfectly next to his partner-in-crime Gustave.

Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) and his beau Agatha (Saoirse Ronan) in The Grand Budapest Hotel

Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) and his beau Agatha (Saoirse Ronan) in The Grand Budapest Hotel

The supporting cast, many giving extended cameos, all stand out due to the care and attention given to each of their characters. Willem Dafoe’s henchman J.G. Jopling looks like a cross between Nosferatu and Frankenstein’s monster, while Jeff Goldblum gives a typically terrific turn as the unfortunate Deputy Kovacs and Saoirse Ronan is sweet as Zero’s love interest Agatha. Let’s not forget Bill Murray, of course, who makes a quick impression as fellow hotel concierge M. Ivan.

These warm performances are matched by Anderson’s dialogue that, while maintaining the zippiness of his previous films, is also imbued with a generosity and affection that radiates when uttered by such a gifted cast.

When Wes Anderson is good he’s very, very good and with The Grand Budapest Hotel he’s at the top of his game. It’s an absolute delight.

Review – Moonrise Kingdom

The excellent ensemble cast of Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom

The excellent ensemble cast of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson’s movies regularly split their audiences into those who embrace their whimsically eccentric nature or those who find them too smart for their own good.

Although the trademark Anderson-isms are present and correct (methodical, angular camerawork; retro soundtrack; self-referential dialogue), Moonrise Kingdom is his most accessible and warm-hearted work to date; a coming-of-age tale in which childhood sweethearts Sam and Suzy (Jared Gilman and Kara Heywood, both pitch-perfect) turn their small island community upside down when they run away together.

The performances from Anderson regulars (Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman) and virgins (Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand) are uniformly excellent in this splendid work that is equal parts sad and optimistic.