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The Beatles' 'Magical Mystery Tour' review: a fascinating tour

The Beatles in

The Beatles in "Magical Mystery Tour." Photo Credit: Apple Films Ltd.

THE DOCUMENTARY "Magical Mystery Tour Revisited"

WHEN | WHERE Friday at 9 p.m. on WNET/13

WHAT IT'S ABOUT In 1967, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" was released June 1; Brian Epstein, the band's manager, died Aug. 27 of a drug overdose; and on Dec. 26 (Boxing Day) the BBC televised a film tied -- very loosely -- to the release of "Magical Mystery Tour" a month earlier.

"Revisited" revisits the storm that followed. A Paul McCartney inspiration, "Magical Mystery Tour" was a psychedelic reimagining of an English middle-class leisure activity -- "mystery" bus tours to destinations unknown. The four lads appear, although Ringo Starr does most of the talking. And he talks mostly to his "Aunt Jessie," who eventually falls in love with another passenger -- one "Busta Bloodvessel" -- both of whom supply the film's most famous image, of John Lennon piling a mountain of spaghetti on her dinner plate.

Many English viewers were appalled. "Tour" never aired again, but tonight an authority no less than Martin Scorsese says it affected his work profoundly, while Sir Paul says (puckishly): "The younger people would get it and the older people who were expecting a British variety show wouldn't get it, and quite rightly would be annoyed -- that they had been cheated out of a Christmas special."

MY SAY You can watch "Magical Mystery Tour," by the way, at 10 p.m. and draw your own conclusions, but do not expect to be scandalized -- only amused. Think of it as a long dream sequence, starring the world's greatest band, augmented with the use of pharmaceuticals and binge viewing of Fellini. ("Some medications" were used, Ringo redundantly observes.) You can deep-think the film -- say, as a metaphor for The Beatles' own magical mystery tour to that point -- but that may be futile as well. Mostly it's just silly, anarchic, indulgent, subversive, irrepressible and (especially) mischievous -- a stick in the belly of complacency on the eve of a revolution The Beatles themselves had started. But Paul has this to say: "We always thought The Beatles back home would love to know this; it would be fun to pass on the good news."

BOTTOM LINE Dust off your Nehru jackets. A fascinating tour down Penny Lane.


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