Before A Mighty Wind before Fear of a Black Hat and yes, even before This is Spinal Tap was the first mock rock documentary (or, to paraphrase Marty DiBergi, the first, “if you will, mockumentary”). I am speaking of 1978’s The Rutles: All You Need is Cash.
Monty Python alumnus Eric Idle is in top form as writer/co-director and also on screen, including as Rutles bassist Dirk McQuickly (who bears an eerie resemblance to Paul you-know-who) and as a number of minor characters, including an “Occasional Visiting Professor of Applied Narcotics at the University of Please Yourself, California”. Neil Innes does marvelous work sending up John you-know-who and also by penning some inspired song parodies.
The film reviews the exploits of the “pre-fab four” from their early days in the Cavern in Liverpool, to the naughtiest street in the world in Hamburg to stardom under their eccentric manager Leggy Mountbatten, who loves their tight trousers. Even if you don’t know much about the Beatles, this movie is a laugh-filled treat, not least because so many comedy (including some Saturday Night Live stars from the glory days) and music legends (Mick Jagger and a well-disguised but still recognizable George Harrison) lend their talents at perfect moments. Telling the ridiculous story of The Rutles with an ostensibly straight face and a documentary style only makes it more hilarious, most particularly during a “very expensive” visit to discover the origin of the blues in New Orleans.
If you want to see what a fantastic job Idle and Innes did parodying both the Beatles’ music but also their stage presence and mannerisms, check out this clip of that famous night on the Ed Sullivan show…
p.s. A generation later, Idle revisited the same terrain in Can’t Buy Me Lunch. Not as fresh as the first time around of course, but still a pleasing follow-up to the original.