Tuesday, June 4, 2013
Unsung!: The Magic Christian
I have waxed rhapsodic in the past about my love/hate relationship (mostly love) with a beast from my youth known as the Channel Seven 3:30 Movie. Our local Chicago ABC affiliate would shoehorn a movie into their daily broadcast schedule before the 5:00 news, meaning that we would see a sometimes two hour film in a 90 minute time slot minus commercials. They should have called it The Channel Seven Half a Movie.
This is how, at age fifteen, I first watched The Magic Christian. Because the film is episodic (and incoherent) I had no idea there were pieces missing (mostly the dirty parts) and that I was actually seeing less than half of it. Thanks to Olive Films and their delightful reissue program, you can now see the film uncut. “Uncut and Unsung!,” I say.
I am not saying this movie is great. I AM saying it is unique, worth watching, and definitely “unsung.” There are many reasons why you need to see this film:
• The cast. Where are you ever going to find a film that not only features the aforementioned Sellers and Starr, but also Yul Brynner in drag, Richard Attenborough, Christopher Lee, Lawrence Harvey, and Roman Polanski?
ANNOYING BEATLEFAN PAUSE: A certain Beatles bootleg would not exist if it were not for The Magic Christian! During filming, Sellers asked Starr what the Beatles were currently recording, and as a courtesy Starr gave Sellers a cassette tape of White Album demos. When Sellers died, the tape was auctioned off with the rest of his estate and so found its way into the hands of friendly bootleggers. Thanks, Peter! (Look for more Beatle fan digressions tomorrow, when we post our latest podcast on… A Hard Day’s Night!)
• The soundtrack is chock full of hits. There is even a song from Paul McCartney (probably doing his old pal Ringo a favor by penning “Come and Get It” for the film and producing Badfinger’s version of it.) Thunderclap Newman’s “Something in the Air” (perhaps a reference to, you know, the shit vat) is also featuring prominently. Trust me—you have heard this song before. It is one of those oldies distinguished enough to be endlessly played on FM radio, but not quite distinguished enough to lodge in your memory… until the next time you hear it.
• The genre. This is a black, absurdist comedy. We do not have a lot of those, really. In the spirit of Jonathan Swift (well, a chemically altered Jonathan Swift) the filmmakers set out to explore just what people will do for a little bit of money; in the largest sense, the film prophesies the emergence of reality TV.
• The final scene (aka, the Shit Vat), which breaks some sort of record for tastelessness and excess.
• The Magic Christian covers so many days of Junesploitation! In fact, it could be considered the Swiss army knife of Junesploitation: in the most all-encompassing, generic sense, the film can be considered Sci-Fi, so June 6th is covered; one of the film’s main claims to fame is a notorious cameo by Raquel Welch, who in the context of her role here is definitely a “Badass Chick,” so June 11th is covered; the McCartney song, the presence of our friend Ringo, and the whole spirit of the thing make it ideal for “Rock and Roll” day on June 24th; and there are two scenes I do not wish to spoil that make it a contender for “War” on June 29th, too! Needless to say, The Magic Christian is also perfect “Free Space” fodder. Next year, “Shit Vat” gets its own day.
Did I mention the shit vat?