Give My Regards to Broad Street

Morbid curiosity brought me to watch this movie — slack-jawed astonishment kept me watching.

It’s awful, a train wreck, but not in the way I thought it would be.

It’s utterly wrong-headed, flat-footed and depressing — but again, not in the way I thought it would be.

Paul McCartney (Paul McCartney) is a successful musician and composer with a busy schedule. He’s got a business meeting, a recording session, a complicated film shoot, a band rehearsal and a radio interview, all in one day (given McCartney’s passion for appropriating all of Beatles history, I’m surprised the movie’s not titled A Day in the Life). At his morning business meeting, it is revealed that the master tapes for McCartney’s new album have gone missing. I’ll spare you the details, but the upshot is that if McCartney does not recover the missing tapes by midnight, the record company will be taken over by a big evil corporation. Why this should be so is not explained. Why the poorly-run business affairs of the record company should be McCartney’s concern is also not explained.

So: McCartney has to find his missing tapes before midnight and he’s got an ultra-busy day already planned. What’s he going to do to recover the tapes? If you guessed “nothing,” you’re right! In fact, no one in the cast ever does anything to actually try to recover the missing tapes! The label executives sigh and keen, various roadies and lackeys posit theories and sling accusations, but not one character actually commits a single action toward actually righting the imbalance created by the inciting incident. No one makes a phone call, goes ’round to anyone’s house, checks to see if the courier ever got home the night before. Instead, they just show up every now and then and look balefully at McCartney and worry aloud that the big evil corporation is going to take over the record company. And we, apparently, don’t want that, although it seems to me that any record company who’s going to lose my master tapes and does nothing to try to recover them while I bust my ass running all over town trying to create product for them to sell maybe shouldn’t be my record company any more.

So the tapes are missing and McCartney’s feeling the strain. Feeling the Strain would be a more apt title for this movie. McCartney pads through his day, looking doleful, depressed and tired. In a movie about Paul McCartney, written by Paul McCartney, it’s a big fucking drag to be Paul McCartney — all these goddamn recording sessions and movie shoots and band rehearsals and radio interviews, it’s all just a big tiresome pain in the arse. It’s like a remake of A Hard Day’s Night with the youthful joy sucked out, replaced by a heavy cloud of grownup responsibility.  In other words, comedy gold!

So — the tapes are missing and Paul has to get them back by midnight, and no one is helping. You would think that would create some kind of crisis for Paul, or at least some kind of impetus to act. But he does not — he’s got responsibilities! He’s got to, why, he’s got to go to the recording studio, where he’s scheduled to record a medley of “Yesterday,” “Here, There and Everywhere” and 1982’s “Wanderlust!” Who is demanding this medley of two classic Beatle love songs and a middling number from Tug of War? I have no idea, but its recording takes precedence over recovering the precious master tapes, which have been given a stated value of 5 million pounds.

Anyway, the recording session takes a couple of hours, as recording sessions do, and then it’s off to the film studio, where Paul is, apparently, filming a musical, or a couple of videos, or something, it’s not clear. One film shoot seems to revolve around another Tug of War song, “Ballroom Dancing,” staged here as a slightly surreal, British take on West Side Story. Why he should be shooting this is not explained, but it at least makes more sense than the next number, a robotic, 80s version of “Silly Love Songs,” with Paul and the band made up like David Bowie, posing like mannequins while a skinny black dancer does The Robot in the foreground. And you thought you didn’t want to see this movie!

How soulless, uncaring and tired is McCartney? He shows up at the movie studio, goes onto the set for his video, starts shooting, and about a minute into the song we realize that Linda McCartney is on the bandstand, playing keyboard, and he doesn’t even acknowledge her. He doesn’t greet her, kiss her, look her in the eye, smile, or nod in her direction. Nothing would indicate that they’re married. Paul On Business is, apparently, a very cold bastard indeed. And just as you’re thinking “Well, it’s a movie, maybe this is supposed to be some kind of alternate-universe McCartney where Linda isn’t really his wife, but then they show him eating lunch in the commissary, and there she is sitting next to him — and he still doesn’t say a single word to her, although Ringo is, for some reason, given multiple scenes where he chats up Barbara Bach (who, strangely, does not play herself, but instead plays a journalist writing an article about Ringo). 42 minutes into the movie, Tracey Ullman shows up. She’s the girlfriend of the guy who disappeared with the tapes. She doesn’t know where he is and she’s upset. McCartney takes a good deal of time consoling her and talking through her problems while his wife Linda sits six inches away, ignored and without dialogue.

Does Tracey provide a clue as to where the missing tapes are? No, she sure doesn’t! Does McCartney press the point? No, he sure doesn’t! So after he finishes shooting his two videos (it’s about 2pm by now) he slouches off to a joyless, perfunctory band rehearsal in a warehouse across town, even though the band he’s rehearsing with is the exact same band he was just filming with at the movie studio. How they managed this is a mystery. We see McCartney leave the movie studio, get in a beat-up van, be driven across town, be dropped off on an empty loading dock, and go upstairs to a rehearsal hall where all the musicians he just left at the movie studio are already set up and ready to rehearse.

Ah but this is all made worthwhile by the songs right? No. It is not. They suck.

Paul is finding it hard to concentrate on work (I can’t imagine why) and finds his mind wandering. His mind wanders a lot in this movie — he remembers the day when he first hired Harry (that’s the guy who’s gone missing with the tapes), he fantasizes about what his pals the record executives are doing now, he worries about what this corporate takeover might mean to his career. Like I say, it’s a big fucking drag to be Paul McCartney in this movie.

Paul asks a roadie if he’s seen Harry. The answer is no. Sigh. Off to a radio interview.

(I realize I was wrong about Paul not doing anything to recover the missing tapes.  He does do something — he worries.  I’d like to write a Bond movie that adopts this narrative strategy — Bond is told that Blofeld has a big space-laser pointed at London and it’s going to go off at midnight, but Bond’s got a big day planned of clothes-shopping, bar-hopping, card-playing and casual sex, so he can’t really get to the space-laser thing.  So instead we see him shopping for clothes, drinking, playing Baccarat, maybe fiddling with some gadgets at Q Branch, all the while worrying about that space-laser and how it’s going to destroy London in a few hours.  And everyone keeps coming around and saying “Boy,it’s a drag how Blofeld’s space-laser is going to blow up London in a few hours,” and Bond’s mind wanders to a day a few years ago when he was having lunch with Blofeld and Blofeld said something about maybe building a giant space-laser — or was he just kidding that day?)

Now it’s evening and we’re well into the third act and Paul has still not reacted to the inciting incident. Instead, as he sings “Eleanor Rigby” in a studio for an audience of stupid, uncaring radio personnel (no one in this movie is the slightest bit impressed with the idea of working with Paul McCartney), he has a very long, bizarre, over-produced Victorian fantasy that dares to invoke both “Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe” and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. This fantasy ends with a vision of his wife and friends dying in a tragic boating accident — all because of those lousy missing tapes.

This baroque, incoherent vision apparently rouses Paul to some kind of action, and he drives out to some kind of pub or hotel or something, where he runs into Ralph Richardson, who lives in a dumpy, overstuffed apartment with a monkey. Aha, you think, here’s the big scene where the truth is revealed — it’s Ralph Richardson with a monkey!

Nope. Nothing. Ralph lectures Paul on spending too much of his time running around, because, you know, you never see the world that way. This from a man who does not seem to have left his room, or his monkey, in years.

Now midnight is approaching and the tapes are no nearer to being gotten. Then, a revelation! Paul remembers singing “Give My Regards to Broad Street” to Harry as he went off with the tapes! Aha! To the Broad Street railways station!

Where he wanders around for about ten minutes. No seriously. He’s not looking for anything, he has no clue or hunch, he just wanders around. As midnight approaches, he sits down on a bench and imagines life as a busker, singing Beatles tunes on a railway platform.

Is this the movie’s message? Is this McCartney’s fear, that if a big evil corporation takes over his record company he will become a homeless busker singing Beatles songs on a railway platform?

Anyway, turns out Harry left the tapes on a bench while he went into a storeroom he thought was a bathroom. Case closed.

So Paul calls his wife (the first time he’s spoken to her in the movie) and she calls the record company, who seem relieved, but not that relieved, and everybody’s happy, and the big evil corporate guys are chagrined. And the viewer goes “Whaaa — ?”

Then it turns out the whole thing was a dream. No really. Turns out there are no missing tapes, no corporate threat, no days crammed full of the joyless drudgery of creating pop hits, nothing. The whole thing was a dream Paul had while passed out in the back of his limo on the way to his office. No really.

I note that this was the first and last feature by director Peter Webb.

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23 Responses to “Give My Regards to Broad Street”
  1. mcbrennan says:

    Like “Magical Mystery Tour” without the ruthlessly efficient narrative

    I, um, I rushed out to see this in the theatre. Opening weekend. I literally had a hard time finding a seat. Because they were all empty and I couldn’t make up my mind where to sit.

    Disturbingly, I remember this somewhat fondly, but I was young, and as you’ve no doubt noticed by now, I have a great affection for terrible borderline-camp films starring people I’m interested in. I remember thinking the robotic 80s “Silly Love Songs” looked preposterously dated then. Only Paul McCartney would dare to steal, um, create an homage to, both Bowie’s “Blue Jean” video AND Styx’s “Mr. Roboto”. And make them both seem comparatively inventive and clever in the process. I remember going into the theatre hoping it would be like a Beatle movie, and I remember leaving, knowing it stank, baffled about what I’d just seen, but still kind of having enjoyed spending a few very strange minutes with Paul, Ringo and Ralph Richardson’s monkey. What can I say, I didn’t get out much.

    Upon mature examination, of course, it makes the Nilsson/Ringo Son Of Dracula look like The Magnificent Ambersons. New Wave Robot Ambersons in Bowie drag, sure, but still. And hey–wait a minute! “Not Such A Bad Boy No More”!? When the hell was McCartney a dangerous knife-wielding punk? He’s the My Little Pony of the Beatles!

    Poor Peter Webb (if that is indeed his name). He probably thought he won the lottery when he got the job of directing a huge hit Paul McCartney musical! Feels sort of like a deal-with-the-devil out of Bedazzled. Blow a raspberry, Peter Webb!

  2. craigjclark says:

    Unsurprisingly, much of the failure and incoherence of Give My Regards can be laid at McCartney’s feet since he wrote the screenplay himself without so much as consulting a professional writer. Shoot, he didn’t even think to ask George Harrison — who had spent the previous five years producing a string of successful independent British features, including Monty Python’s Life of Brian, The Long Good Friday and Time Bandits — for advice.

    Then there’s also the fact that he never rewrote it. Essentially, what you are looking at in the film is the first draft. In a rather telling interview later on, Paul recalled seeing Steven Spielberg on television saying something to the effect of “Thank God for the 14th draft.” He then conceded that shooting his first draft might have been the problem.

    I’m surprised you didn’t point out the most ludicrous thing about the ending: The evil corporation has demanded that the tapes be found by midnight. When Paul’s manager (played by Bryan Brown!) takes the call at 11:59 and nonchalantly tells them, without offering any sort of proof, that “we’ve got the tapes,” what’s to keep the corporation from turning around and saying, “That’s nice. Show them to us right now or the takeover goes through. Oh, you can’t because they’re across town because your boy start the entire day farting around? Oh, that’s too bad. EVILCO WINS!”

    Oh, and there was a point before the ending where Paul spoke to Linda. At the end of the “Ballroom Dancing” number, when the set is it tatters, he looks over at her and says, “Lunch?” She, of course, doesn’t reply back, but I have every reason to believe that Linda may have requested that she have as little dialogue as possible. Best to leave that sort of thing to professionals.

    Speaking of which, this was Sir Ralph Richardson’s last film. How sad is that? In my book, that is pretty damn sad.

    • Todd says:

      A proper ending would have Paul and Harry bursting into the boardroom at the stroke of midnight with the tapes and the Evilco guys gnashing their teeth, instead of a phone call to his wife — think of that, they shoot the whole goddamn movie and at the last moment they don’t even have him bring the tapes in, or have him call the place himself — no, that job falls to his wife, whom Paul dreams about as dying in a tragic boating accident but who he won’t say hi to on a movie set.

      A better ending would involve a, you know, reason why the tapes were missing, maybe having to do with the Evilco guys absconding with them. An even better ending would involve a surprise twist that would unexpectedly bridge (1)McCartney’s dissolution at being a super-busy popstar (2)the troubles of his music company (3) his trouble with Harry (4) Evilco’s attempted takeover and (5) a creative problem he’s in the middle of.

      There — I just thought more about the structure of this movie than the screenwriter did. And he’s a knight of the realm!

      • craigjclark says:

        Believe me, I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about the dramatic structure of Broad Street myself over the past two decades. In fact, I was even considering doing an Alcott-style “What Does the Protagonist Want?” review of it until you decided to bite the bullet. Sadly, I probably could have written mine from memory.

      • Todd says:

        UPDATE: a reader has tactfully reminded me that McCartney, in Broad Street, is suffering from disillusionment, not “dissolution.” That is indeed what I meant, not that he was dissolving (although there are aspects of that in the movie as well).

  3. autodidactic says:

    You know how “regular” (read: non-Beatle people) will sometimes have a bummer of a dream regarding being at the office or the factory or some other mundane thing, and then they’ll wake up and be, like, “Shit, and now I’ve got to go to real work! Why couldn’t I have a cool James Bond dream or something?”

    Maybe that’s what this movie was for Paul… his own recreation of an anxiety dream. Life is different when you’re destined for knighthood, maybe.

  4. curt_holman says:

    Give My Regards to Broad Street

    “I’d like to write a Bond movie that adopts this narrative strategy — Bond is told that Blofeld has a big space-laser pointed at London and it’s going to go off at midnight, but he’s got a big day planned of clothes-shopping, bar-hopping and casual sex, so he can’t really get to the space-laser thing. So instead we see him shopping for clothes, drinking, maybe fiddling with some gadgets at Q Branch, all the while worrying about that space-laser and how it’s going to destroy London in a few hours.”

    Didn’t Godard actually make this?

    I haven’t walked out of many movies, but ‘Broad Street’ is one of them.

    • Todd says:

      Re: Give My Regards to Broad Street

      Godard was certainly an inspiration for McCartney, more on Magical Mystery Tour than Broad Street. The difference between Godard and McCartney is that Godard started with a deep understand of film and its forms and McCartney — didn’t.

      In any case, Broad Street clearly wasn’t intended to be “experimental” or something to outrage the squares — it was intended as a straightforward “80s musical,” like McCartney’s All That Jazz or something. But it’s hard to even type Broad Street and All That Jazz in the same sentence.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Great review, as always. God I can feel McCartney there, just so …stoned.

    Maybe he was just in a long and winding shock. The 80s were his Shakespearean set up. He, the old 60s King, realizing the mortal limits enclosing from all sides, past and future. Four years earlier, his compatriot Lennon was murdered. During that film production, the new prince, “singing buddy/friend” Michael Jackson was negotiating to buy the publishing rights to around 200 or so Beatle songs (McCartney’s Legacy to some degree) which he finalizes a year after the bombed film. The 80s sucked for Macca. He was even arrested in Japan, man.

    I’m guessing that it was a tax write-off for his corporate empire from the beginning, he wasn’t going to commit more than so many hours to it, expecting it to be like a series of connected music vids. McCartney is doing what amounts to a film in the way a corporate would think, because that’s the 80s synergy thing to do (the 90s would be symphonies, or his individual “artist” painter side as well.)

    The oddest, really uncanny thing about McCartney is that he is incredibly divided, able to so well handling something ‘live’ – anything with spontaneity, look at the youthful interviews, any of the stage appearances, or his recent talks or gigs, like with Ringo on Larry King the other nite or just ANY – and he commands whatever is his situation. But on the same stage, if he has to reveal something, or tries to speak seriously on some topics, he can drift quickly to places that are… just not matching in any way. (On Japan, “I spent my time [in the Tokyo jail] making a mental list of all those drugs which are legal but dangerous. We’re all on drugs — cigarettes, whiskey and wild, wild women.)

    The man does NOT want deep introspection, that’s clear there is a barrier in conversations. But get him just simply “being” live supporting or doing his music career, and it all just appears so damn easy for him.

    So when he thinks about the scripted cineaste form, determining something ahead of time, planning and working out the text, the form, the acting, the whole thing fails miserably – yet he should appreciate that control on the other hand. He shares with Lennon an ego that can’t stand back enough at times to get advisors input, or understand at all what is required in certain non-music larger productions. (George on the other hand, could produce, which…says something.)

    Even the loss of the back-catalog is blamed on the two not working together to pool their powerful combined stock options and Lew Grade therefore getting control.

    But then again, it’s precisely that ego which was perfectly tuned to the requirements of a stellar music career, and worked his real art in the 80s – his establishing and firming up his corporate value.

    Oh and did I mention, I guess he was stoned?

    • Todd says:

      It seems obvious from the dream nature of Broad Street that the corporate threat McCartney fears does not come from an outside source — no doubt that is the meaning of the Jeckyll-Hyde reference. McCartney in the 80s probably felt torn between the artistic demands of his creative life and his desire to become a billionaire and industry magnate.

      • Anonymous says:

        “felt torn between the artistic demands of his creative life and his desire to become a billionaire and industry magnate.”

        yeah…THERE’S a tough one – remain a multi-millionaire, with one of the most impeccable musical back catalogs that keeps on paying, or throw that credibility slowly away, in exchange to become a billionaire and industry magnate.

        Oddly though, perhaps because I grew up with the Lads music, I never could truly fault McCartney, I just can’t understand what he would actually WANT!? I never felt McCartney made any proverbial deal with the devil to keep his youthfulness, his tuneful abilities, his Beatleness.. like there was nothing really that he lost in order to gain, no Jekyll nor Hyde. The Beatles were already over the line to supernatural, so it couldn’t be something so mundane as selling souls. To that degree he is an enigma.

  6. teamwak says:

    Is Yellow Submarine any good?

    I loved it as a kid, with the Blue Meanies being a classic.

    • jbacardi says:

      Well, I love it myself, but Todd may not agree…

      • Todd says:

        Todd loves the world of limitless possibilities and the joy of the hippie dream presented in Yellow Submarine, but Jesus Christ on a pogo stick does that movie drag.

        Now then, if Broad Street contained genuine “Beatle Humor” a la Yellow Submarine (which of course contains only a clever imitation of Beatle Humor), McCartney might have had something. But instead he went in the opposite direction, making his movie a kind of sour, British Neo-Realist Drama, kind of like The Long Good Friday Light, with half-hearted stabs at “Beatle Humor” (Ha! Ringo can’t find his brushes! Ha! Ha ha! Look, he’s looking in a drawer! Hahahahaha! Stop it Ringo, you’re killing me!) and a passive protagonist who sits around moping all day. If McCartney had made Yellow Submarine (and it’s my understanding that he was angry about his characterization in that movie as a vain, superficial peacock) it would have been about the Beatles living in their fantastic house trying to make a record and waiting for the Submarine to show up. Then it would show up in the last five minutes and take them to Pepperland, the end.

        • jbacardi says:

          That’s true, there are some definite slow spots. Not surprising, considering the piecemeal way it was scripted and animated. In a lot of ways, it’s a miracle and a testament to the imagination of the animators that it works as well as it does!

  7. moroccomole says:

    Ha! All must bend to my will.

    Loved reading this, mainly because as much as I’ve hated this movie over the years — I too saw it in an empty theater on opening weekend, but only because I had to review it and they didn’t have press screenings for it where I was living — it turns out to be EVEN MORE AWFUL than I remember it being. So awful, in fact, that I’m putting it on my TiVo wish list right now.

  8. jbacardi says:

    Ah, but you see, everybody loves each other, And that, in McCartney’s stated worldview, makes all the difference. And everybody’s peaceful at the end. Love and peace, man, that’s the Beatles legacy, you know. So it’s all right.

    Yeah. Boy did this movie suck. What a mess. Saw it on HBO, so at least I didn’t pay ticket price. Had the soundtrack on cassette, but never rebought it on CD or vinyl or anything. “No More Lonely Nights” at least had a decent melody, but the other new songs are absolutely forgettable. The buzz was, at least as far as the soundtrack went, all about Paulie performing Beatles songs, which (if memory serves) he’d done very little of prior to this…so many wanted to hear new takes on “Yesterday” and “The Long and Winding Road”…and in the case of the latter he proved what a dog of a song it really was, and vindicated Phil Spector’s treatment in the process.

    Like Prince, if Paulie had just seen fit to bring in a scriptwriter with some ideas…but of course he didn’t, and this is what we got.

    • Todd says:

      The McCartney versions of Beatle classics on the soundtrack are uniformly awful to the point of unlistenability. They are everything the originals are not — sappy, overplayed and maudlin.

      • craigjclark says:

        Not only that, he cut an entire verse out of “Here, There and Everywhere.” Why didn’t he just retitle it “Here and Everywhere” and have done with it?

        • Todd says:

          He alerts us to his intentions when he changes the first line to “To lead a better life, I need a love of my own,” which makes no sense at all. So, wait, the problem is that your love is someone else’s? And that’s why she not here? Does she even know she’s your love? Is this a stalker song, like “Every Breath You Take?”

    • Anonymous says:

      The Long & Winding Road is A Beautiful Song!

      The Long & Winding Road is a beautiful song!

  9. ndgmtlcd says:

    I actually liked this movie because I didn’t expect it to be a movie. I never went out to see it in a cinema. I just taped it when it was broadcast and watched it over and over again. For me it’s a straight dump of Sir Paul’s psyche at the time.