Pepper Spray

It was 20 years ago this week that Sgt. Pepper dropped a bomb on movie theaters, so where's all the rerelease hoopla?

For local pop musician Adrian Smith (late of Sugar High/Autumn Teen Sound, currently with Crashbar), the Pepper film was his entree into Beatle music and, more important, Aerosmith.

"I didn't even know it was a rock 'n' roll movie, I thought it was going to be a war picture. I remember really digging the movie and feeling really sad when Peter was singing 'Carry That Weight' when Strawberry was dead. I've always been kind of a sap," Smith says. (Smith fesses up to using the "something in my eye" defense, too.)

"But I did get something out of that flick that stays with me to this day, and that's a huge love for Aerosmith. Remember Aerosmith played the Future Villain Band. They were like this nasty, sexy, sleazy, dangerous bunch of guys, and I remember being affected. I went out and bought the single ["Come Together"], held a portable cassette recorder to my close-and-play phonograph speakers and filled a whole 60-minute tape front to back with that song. The Aerosmith version. When I first heard the Beatle version, I was disappointed."

A lot of people were similarly disappointed to see their fanciful image of "Henry the Horse dancing the waltz" translated into two guys roller-skating in a musty mule costume. "Those guys had too much money, and they were riding too high," Adrian says, nodding. "Like one of those great ideas you get when you're drunk. No dialogue. We'll tell the whole story with Beatle songs. It was an odd movie, but there were a lot of overly ambitious musicals coming out at the time, like Xanadu."

Surprisingly, in a recent Entertainment Weekly home-video roundup of the worst rock films, Pepper is conspicuously absent among dross like the Village People's Can't Stop the Music and the recent Spice World. Is Pepper on its way to becoming a misunderstood cult classic? Well, let's come together right now and watch it again, okay? You bring the popcorn and I'll man the stomach pump.

Plot Synopsis:
Amazingly enough, this script was cooked up by a New York Times film critic, Henry Edwards. Maybe he remembered the earlier film All This and World War II, which showed grainy newsreel footage to badly rerecorded Beatle tunes. Anyhow, in this turkazoid, World War II officially ended because Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play so splendidly that everyone put down their weapons to listen. Or maybe it was to cover their ears to escape George Burns' listless narration (more on that later).

It takes Pepperland 20 years to decide it needs a new band after the original Pepper kicks, so Billy Shears (Frampton)) enlists the Hendersons (the Bee Gees) to play. A big cigar-chomping record executive flies them out to L.A. and signs them to a record contract after a PG-rated orgy.

Meanwhile, back in Pepperland, evil people who hate joy and love but somehow manage to love money plot to steal Sgt. Pepper's instruments, which magically maintain the peace. Edwards must've also remembered seeing the animated Yellow Submarine, which handled the same convoluted themes in a far more adult manner.

Noteworthy Observations About the Movie:
1. What looks like it could turn into a lesbian love scene early on (yay!) turns out to be Sandy Farina (Strawberry Fields) kissing the girlish Peter Frampton (boo!).

2. Maurice Gibb, an exceptional bass player in real life, is forced to be the drummer in Sgt. Pepper's band because he has less hair than the other two Bee Gees. That's scalp discrimination!

3. The fictitious record label BD Records has a bloated red pig for a logo, a dead ringer for RSO's red cash cow.

4. All the evil people in this movie smoke and hang out with black girls. Mean Mr. Mustard even has two black chickaroo robots!

5. Denise's Web site points to this reality check--Lucy's band Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds has three songs in the Top 10, yet she's the chauffeur for BD Brockhurst, the record executive. You've heard of people, er umph, sucking up before the deal is inked, but after? Hold on, aren't the Bee Gees doing this grunt work for Stigwood after releasing the biggest-selling album of all time?

6. As silent film stars, The Bee Gees' enthusiasm seems inappropriately placed, which means their next film shoulda been an infomercial. In stark contrast is the constantly squinting Frampton. Unless he's singing, Billy Shears looks as if his dick is about to be sheared by a pencil sharpener. When he's about to be seduced, he looks as bashful as the Beaver going to Wally for secondhand carnal knowledge.

7. The actor who portrays Strawberry Fields' dad is some loser in Felix Unger's opera group on The Odd Couple series. Thank goodness he doesn't get to sing, but Donald Pleasence, Frankie Howerd, George Burns and Steve Martin, who have no singing ability whatsoever, each gets at least one number!

8. Getting George Burns to narrate must've been an afterthought because the musicians couldn't execute any lines that weren't chopped up on a mirror.

9. When Burns' character, Mr. Kite, is captured, bound and gagged, the movie loses linear narration for about 15 minutes. Then try following this sequence. Strawberry leaves Pepperland, which has become an orgy of disco-video arcades and motels with adult movies, rooms by the hour and (shudder, shudder) waterbeds!! Once she ventures out to Los Angeles, she sees billboards of Sgt. Pepper and Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds. Suddenly they come to life, Lucy seduces Billy Shears and they kiss. The song's over, and Strawberry realizes, Whew! they were only billboards. Later, she goes to the recording studio and confronts Billy that his billboard likeness has been unfaithful. Look, we told you she was virginal!

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