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.

Blogathon Announcement – ‘Debuts’

Debuts Banner

Calling all bloggers! Myself and the stupendous Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop are jointly hosting our first blogathon … and we want you to join us!

Speaking for myself, a blogathon is something I’ve wanted to get off the ground for a long time and I’m delighted to be working with the critical heavyweight Chris Thomson – aka Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop – to finally host one.

Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs

Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs

The ‘Debuts’ blogathon will, as the name implies, focus on directors’ first features (shorts not included), whether that be some little known work no-one’s heard of or a breakthrough piece that catapulted them to stardom. All directors, be they legends of the silver screen or plain old also-rans start somewhere and it’s fascinating looking back at a director’s first film to see how their work has matured, improved or steadily declined over subsequent features.

Orson Welles' Citizen Kane

Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane

And this is, of course, where you come in. Do you have a director whose debut you think deserves to be put in the spotlight? Maybe you’d like to look at Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs? Or Jean-Luc Godard’s A Bout de Souffle? How about Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead or Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane?

Chris and I are getting our choices in early – perks of hosting a blogathon. I’m going to be examining Steven Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies, and Videotape, while Chris is focusing on Stanley Kubrick’s Fear & Desire. Aside from those two, the world of directorial debuts is your oyster.

Charles Laughton's The Night of the Hunter

Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter

Is there a movie director whose debut feature you’d like to re-examine? If so, then make sure to contribute! We’re looking to run the blogathon from Monday, September 2, probably for about a week or so. Before you get cracking, however, please drop me an email at threerowsback@gmail.com or email Chris at chris1039@hotmail.com by Sunday, August 25 letting us know who you’d like to write about (just so we don’t get duplicate posts) or for more info.

Dennis Hopper's Easy Rider

Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider

We’ll stick out a few reminders over the coming weeks, but as we may well put a cap on the number of entries, we advise that you get in early to avoid disappointment (ours as much as yours).

We’re looking forward to receiving your posts for what we’re hoping will be a diverse and fascinating blogathon. Thanks for reading and we hope to hear from you soon! Most importantly, though, GET INVOLVED!