McCartney's Pursuit of Pointlessness
Remembering Paul McCartney's cinematic sins.
One wonders how that lucky bastard Paul McCartney felt when he realized he had entered the society of invincible artists. An elite group of musicians, filmmakers, authors, and the like that had built up such a transcendentally popular catalogue—with both massive mainstream triumphs and humbled awe from the introspective, arty scenes—that they had reached an unimpeachable level of success and fame. For instance: Bob Dylan can inaudibly hurl phlegm into a microphone at the Grammys, sell his music for a lingerie commercial, and do anything else he wants to do in public—short of pissing on Allen Ginsberg’s grave—and he will still die as a mammoth generational force and something of a pop culture god. So it is with Paul McCartney: in one quick decade with the Beatles, he earned artistic immunity and the freedom to pursue whatever ridiculous project he desired, without any risk of damage to his rightful place in the pantheons of music lore. So why is it, with such unparalled power in the hands of a thoughtful auteur, that the McCartney-penned 1984 feature film Give My Regards to Broad Street has virtually no plot, no experimental elements (outside of lacking a plot), and almost blatantly no point?
The video game is 25 levels of McCartney staring blankly at his 12-page screenplay.
That Broad Street came out when McCartney’s legend had already been cemented and yet was still clearly crafted and publicized as a middle-of-the-road, painfully safe attempt at blockbuster success somehow elucidates just as much, if not more, about McCartney’s psyche than any Beatles record did. Slogging through a storyline that boils down to one big excuse to rehash a bunch of popular Beatles and Wings tunes, Broad Street seems to not only project McCartney’s willing acceptance of his glory years, but also some grim recognition that any ambitious project will never again gauge the interest of the general public the way his earlier records did. While playing all the hits may make for a crowd-pleasing concert, but it doesn’t work as a feature film, where it comes across as 90 minutes of reminding an audience why you have the artistic leeway and industrial clout to make a film in the first place. But a reminder of McCartney’s legacy appears to be all Broad Street that intends to be—the result is, as Roger Ebert put it, “about as close as you can get to a nonmovie.”
Broad Street opens with McCartney on the cusp of releasing a new record, when news arrives that the record’s master tapes have disappeared, ostensibly taken by a business confidant (“Harry”) with a regrettably convict past. If the tapes aren’t retrieved by midnight that night, a stereotypically menacing business tycoon named “Mr. Rath” of “Rathbone Industries,” who looks like the conservative bizarro version of Hunter S. Thompson, will—for reasons barely explained—take control of the record label. It’s an asinine setup, and McCartney only makes things worse by wearing a Hawaiian shirt throughout the movie and consistently brushing off his manager’s hysterics by pouting his eyes and shrugging as part of some failed attempt at portraying himself as laid-back and remarkably unflustered, almost like an older, more obscenely richer version of his early Beatles persona. For a solid 78 minutes, Paul sort of glumly asks from time to time if the tapes have been found, then proceeds from one locale to another to play one an oldie-but-a-goodie along with old pal Ringo Starr, whose facial hair may be the highlight of the film. And that’s it. That’s the whole damn thing. Here’s an almost scene-by-scene breakdown of the movie after the opening (with additional notes in parenthesis):
- Paul meets Ringo in a studio. Frets over the tapes being missing. Plays “Yesterday,” “Here, There, and Everywhere,” and “Wanderlust.”
- Paul, Ringo, Linda McCartney and band perform “Ballroom Dancing” in a dress rehearsal for an unspecified film. It’s a very showy production including several ballroom dancers and 50s-style greasers. A journalist is introduced, played by Ringo’s wife Barbara Bach, whose involvement in the rest of the movie is to stand near the band and smile while holding a pencil and paper. (Note: Few people have looked more out of place in a band than Linda McCartney. Far more believable occupations for Linda: NBC executive; English teacher; My mom.)
- Band eats lunch. Ringo isn’t very hungry. Meaningless punk character played by Tracey Ullman needlessly cries over the tapes being missing.
- On exhaust-pipe-laden stage, band performs “Silly Love Songs” while dressed in all-white garb and tiger-like facepaint. Random dancer awkwardly gyrates in front of band.
- Tracey Ullman cries again, then disappears for the rest of the film. Paul imagines Harry being chased by police dogs.
- Tortuous 10-minute scene where band practices new McCartney tunes “Not Such a Bad Boy,” “So Bad,” and “No Values” in an abandoned warehouse. (Note: Why do so many music videos in the 80s take place in an abandoned warehouse? Exhibit A. Exhibit B. Exhibit C.) Ringo flirts with journalist. Friendly 500-pound criminal named “Big Bob” shows up to say virtually nothing, then disappears for the rest of the film.
- Paul has a 20-second interview at a BBC studio, then plays “For No One” and “Eleanor Rigby.” He imagines he’s playing in an empty Albert Hall, then goes into idyllic Victorian fantasy, where Ringo, Paul, Linda, and the journalist ride around on horse carriages and sip on wine in a picnic. Then, when Ringo, Linda, and the journalist are set to go on a boat ride, Harry pops out of nowhere and pushes them down a waterfall to their watery death while Paul helplessly watches in agony. This scene lasts for at least 9 minutes, and seems to be put there merely to show Paul wearing a top hat.
- Paul visits a bartender with a monkey servant.
- Paul slowly drives around London while “The Long and Winding Road” plays. He remembers that Harry told him he was “off to Broad Street.”
- Paul solemnly walks around Broad Street terminal station to the background music of “No More Lonely Nights” (a truly bitchin’ song in the style of Bryan Adams “(Everything I Do) I Do it For You”). He finds Harry trapped in a building. The tapes are found. Ringo pops some champagne.
End credits. That’s Broad Street in its entirety: a bunch of songs tied together by a few moments of “Have we found those damn tapes yet?” and a dream sequence revealing McCartney’s apparent secret fascination with romantic Victorian novels. Its “day-in-the-life-of-a-rock-
Paul: It's gonna be one of those days.
Those are the lines people remembered. Imagine a rabid McCartney fan walking out of a theater in 1984, hysterically laughing to themselves: “Hey, remember when Paul said ‘It’s gonna be one of those days’? Zing!”
So what, then, does such an energy-draining abomination like Broad Street tell us? First, that McCartney has little to no idea how to develop characters, write an organically flowing plot, or cobble together anything that resembles a legitimate screenplay (his other writing credit at this point, Magical Mystery Tour, is infamous for having no script). But on another, less McCartney-bashing level, it’s also just a tad compelling to watch someone once so masterful at composing music unequivocally give up at making anything halfway interesting, to phone in their greatest hits (it’s worth noting McCartney barely even tinkers with any of his old songs) as if to say “Remember when I was this awesome?” Broad Street accidentally represents the portrait of one of the century’s most important artists appearing beaten down, tired of experimenting, stuck in his own meandering plot, feeling tepid, soulless, hopelessly stretching to recapture his youth—for such a pathetically dull movie, its main character is still morbidly mesmerizing to watch.
Andy Seifert lives in Chicago and has written for the Rockford Register Star, The Current (Hononegah High School), and Wunderkammer.