people r mixed about it but 1 thing everyone agrees on it’s a great idea
May 22, 2020 8:05 AM   Subscribe

Remember Yesterday - the movie about how the Beatles never existed save one guy who remembered? Interviewed a year after it's release Jack Barth relates how his first feature film script, which he sold after working in comedy biz for 40 years, turned into a serious of disappointments. From getting cut from writing credits, to paying his own way to the premier, Barth ultimately gets erased from the whole project. The irony - the main difference appears to be that Barth's screenplay was a "meditation on professional disappointment", while the movie turned out to be a romcom about a fella who had to decide between global fame and his a childhood crush.
posted by zenon (41 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well. Richard Curtis sure comes off as a lying turd of a person in that article. I wonder how much of what's in there is true.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:27 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


The Basically, how important you are determines when or if something is legally considered profitable comment reminds me a bit of mathowie's giphy woes.
posted by scruss at 8:31 AM on May 22 [9 favorites]


On the one hand, I can kinda see where "And then... Harry Potter!" could easily be a case of parallel evolution: The Beatles and Potter are (especially to Americans) the two biggest pop-culture things to come out of the UK. And Lennon often said that he wanted to be a fisherman, so it's not unreasonable for someone to do a little research into his life and decide that's where he would end up in the non-Beatles world.

But jeez, Richard Curtis, you got all of the screenplay and half of the story credit. You're making more money. No one's going to take that away from you or think any less of you for saying "It was a great story, and I took the bones of it and made it into a different story, and I'm very proud of my work and very grateful to Jack Barth for sharing his idea with me."
posted by Etrigan at 8:44 AM on May 22 [5 favorites]


Certainly this story generally, and Richard Curtis specifically, will do quite a lot of damage to the widespread assumption that the movie business is full of ethical and trustworthy people.
posted by uberchet at 8:52 AM on May 22 [16 favorites]


Yesterday looked dull enough to overcome my appreciation for Danny Boyle's work as a director, so I didn't see it. I have no idea whether the Barth version would have been successful, but his premise sounds much more interesting than what was actually made.
posted by chimpsonfilm at 8:55 AM on May 22 [6 favorites]


The final version was completely uninterested in the high concept, only using it to further a relatively weak romcom script. There is one scene where the protag meets literally the only other two people on the planet that remember the Beatles, and instead of them asking the obvious questions - why? how? why us? - they talk about how much they like the Yellow Submarine.

The movie was so boomer-blinkered that it took for granted that a guy, in 2018, could just play any song by the Beatles and rocket to instant stardom regardless of our current cultural context where rock is a barely relevant pop genre. The original pitch seems much more interesting.
posted by Think_Long at 9:04 AM on May 22 [43 favorites]


I am so cynical that my initial thought upon seeing the Yesterday trailer is that there are some contractual obligations requiring studios to produce $X of Beatles IP every Y quarters. But it sounds like typical Hollywood disappointment and story-crediting. Too bad the screenwriter couldn't work in a Only a Northern Song reference.

Also, I was unaware of John's nautical aspirations.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:20 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


I really enjoyed Yesterday but, to be honest, I think I would have enjoyed the original script much more.
posted by Corduroy at 9:22 AM on May 22 [4 favorites]


The poor guy. His experience proved his own point: the industry did not want him as he was, so the industry did not want his product as it was.

If he had written the story as a novel first, then sold the rights, they could easily have made the same bastardized version and shorted him on the profits the same way, but his name would at least be stamped on the process. Still, there's no just writing a book; or rather there is, but it's the same as talking to spirits--anyone can, but do they answer you? That would assume that he can write prose (or hire a ghost) and that the resulting book would be published by a big publisher or catch the right eyes or become a breakaway hit.

It's hard to say whether Lennon would have been happier as a fisherman with a talent for music on the weekends. No one would have tried to assassinate him--a regular old murder, maybe, for regular old reasons--and no one in the wider world would have been particularly disappointed in him for being a racist and beating his wife.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:34 AM on May 22 [2 favorites]


I didn't see Yesterday, but am delighted to discover that there is more material available from the mind behind A Fish Called Selma! Most of his stuff seems out of print, but International Spy Museum's Handbook of Practical Spying looks it might still be active. Click click click! Hope he got a better compensation deal on that project than on the screenplay.
posted by apparently at 9:39 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


The original script sounds much more interesting to me too, and I have loved quite a few Richard Curtis projects (4 Weddings, Blackadder, etc).

Yesterday was really flawed, from the impossible idea that the average joe leading man didn't notice the supermodel beautiful woman who followed him everywhere, to the horrible hammy performance Kate McKinnon blights the film with (to be fair she was working with some awful script work here), and the nonsensical choice between being a musician and marrying his sweetheart when he could clearly do both. Finally the idea that there is any significance in uploading his songs for free, when technology has made that a routine thing. Heard of a mixtape? Piracy? Spotify? YouTube?
posted by w0mbat at 9:46 AM on May 22 [6 favorites]


The movie was so boomer-blinkered that it took for granted that a guy, in 2018, could just play any song by the Beatles and rocket to instant stardom regardless of our current cultural context where rock is a barely relevant pop genre.

Certainly wouldn't be instant stardom, but we've seen time and again that a well-done reprise of a style (with slight contemporary twists) can succeed. No one could have predicted that the world wanted more Glam Rock when The Darkness came around.
posted by explosion at 9:55 AM on May 22 [4 favorites]


Interesting. I enjoyed Yesterday for what it was, including the suspension of disbelief necessary for magical realism. I really didn't see it as a rom com -- rather, for me it was all about the feeling of being a fraud. Like, how do you handle impostor syndrome if you actually are an impostor? The romance plot was secondary for me.

I don't see how it would have worked with Barth's original concept. Sure, you show that the Beatles' success was about more than just the songwriting, but so what? Why do I want to watch a movie about a musician who is still a failure even with someone else's (better) songs?
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 9:57 AM on May 22 [5 favorites]


Certainly wouldn't be instant stardom, but we've seen time and again that a well-done reprise of a style (with slight contemporary twists) can succeed.

I'd add the fact that there are many one-hit wonders whose only hit was a cover of someone else's song. (Soft Cell, Tiffany, Naked Eyes, etc.)
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 9:58 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


I think a Beatles type act could easily dethrone the contenders (Coldplay, Imagine Dragons, One Republic, Maroon 5) as the rock infused power pop band alongside the current landscape of hit makers even though the rock genre is largely irrelevant.
posted by Selena777 at 10:02 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


There was a documentary on Swedish TV last night about The Boppers, a band that became popular here in the late 1970s with covers of American 1950s songs as well as their own songs. I gotta say, that was surprising to me. Speaking as someone who knows pretty much nothing about music, popular or not. Like chimpsonfilm I skipped this movie. I took one look at the trailer and said to myself, I don't care if it's Danny Boyle, not seeing it. I am often wrong about these things but maybe not this time. Thanks for the post, OP.
posted by Bella Donna at 10:10 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


Hadn't heard this story and appreciate the post.

I skipped Yesterday and will never watch another Curtis film after suffering through Love, Actually, which I put among the worst films I've ever seen. I've only ever liked 2 Danny Boyle films (127 Hours, 28 Days Later), so his work is an easy pass for me. Forever skipping a film by the two filmmakers together is a no-brainer.
posted by dobbs at 10:37 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


I saw the movie and found it charming. I think it deserves some credit for casting Himesh Patel in the lead. He's great and his voice is quite wonderful.

It also deserves a bit more than a write-off as simply a rom-com. It's hard in these days to bring a musical to theaters (if you're not disney), and weaving Beatles songs, as awesome as they are, is no small feat, as much because they are so familiar.

I guess that it's been out so long that spoilers are inevitable, but I wish the article hadn't spoiled both the moments with the two others who clearly remembered the Beatles as well (it's a nice bit of tension), and the John Lennon reveal. Also the ending is lovely (the sing-along not the Harry Potter joke).

Curtis does come across as a cad for insisting that he came up with everything after the one-line pitch (i might have skipped watching the film if i had seen that he was involved because he's written so much other garbage), but I suspect Barth's story is the norm not the exception in the biz. Perhaps this story can serve as cautionary for future writers doing business with him.
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:42 AM on May 22 [9 favorites]


I saw Blinded By the Light a few weeks after seeing Yesterday, and though I love the Beatles and was more or less indifferent to Springsteen, I really enjoyed Blinded... and was disappointed it didn't get nearly as much attention as this mediocre film. (It's similar to the way I felt about seeing the marvelously entertaining Rocketman right on the heels of suffering through the woefully inept Bohemian Rhapsody.)
posted by Atom Eyes at 11:04 AM on May 22 [11 favorites]


I guess that it's been out so long that spoilers are inevitable, but I wish the article hadn't spoiled both the moments with the two others who clearly remembered the Beatles as well (it's a nice bit of tension), and the John Lennon reveal. Also the ending is lovely (the sing-along not the Harry Potter joke).

Totally agree. Having been raised by two parents who absolutely idolized the Beatles (my mother saw them in concert when she was 14) and distinctly remembering Lennon's assassination even though I was only 5 years old, I absolutely wept when he opened that door. Now, I may be the target audience for the movie (frustrated former musician who adores the Beatles), but I'm surprised how many people disliked it.

(It's similar to the way I felt about seeing the marvelously entertaining Rocketman right on the heels of suffering through the woefully inept Bohemian Rhapsody.)

I couldn't agree more with this statement. Rocketman was thoroughly inventive and entertaining.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 11:21 AM on May 22 [3 favorites]


Yesterday, for me, failed for the same reason I hated Downsizing – both movies start with a brilliant premise, then basically lose interest in it halfway through and blunder into a bland, predictable plot. You can just see the storytelling-by-committee tearing apart whatever genius was there to begin with, and it's so disappointing.

Also, at least one-quarter of Yesterday was pure Ed Sheeran product placement.
posted by oulipian at 11:44 AM on May 22 [7 favorites]


Also, at least one-quarter of Yesterday was pure Ed Sheeran product placement.

We absolutely howled with laughter at the thought of Ed Sheeran suffering a nervous breakdown at the idea that someone would displace him from his position as Greatest Songwriter That Ed Sheeran Has Ever Met.
posted by Etrigan at 11:54 AM on May 22 [7 favorites]


Slight derail:
I'd add the fact that there are many one-hit wonders whose only hit was a cover of someone else's song. (Soft Cell, Tiffany, Naked Eyes, etc.)
Soft Cell's 12 top 40 singles and 4 top 20 records (in just 3 years) would like a word.
posted by ApathyGirl at 12:53 PM on May 22 [7 favorites]




... to the horrible hammy performance Kate McKinnon blights the film with...

omg that performance was so bad
posted by Corduroy at 1:09 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


Also, at least one-quarter of Yesterday was pure Ed Sheeran product placement.

We absolutely howled with laughter at the thought of Ed Sheeran suffering a nervous breakdown at the idea that someone would displace him from his position as Greatest Songwriter That Ed Sheeran Has Ever Met.


Oh damn, I just made this connection: that part was written for Chris Martin of Coldplay, and now it makes perfect sense.
posted by Etrigan at 1:40 PM on May 22 [4 favorites]


BungaGunda was right!
posted by dannyboybell at 2:06 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


The movie was so boomer-blinkered that it took for granted that a guy, in 2018, could just play any song by the Beatles and rocket to instant stardom regardless of our current cultural context where rock is a barely relevant pop genre.

Certainly wouldn't be instant stardom, but we've seen time and again that a well-done reprise of a style (with slight contemporary twists) can succeed.


In the early 60's rock was pretty moribund as a musical style in the US, the big things were girl groups and teen pop, and then the British Invasion made rock dominant on the charts again; without the Beatles that might not have happened, conceivably? So the past 60 years of popular music history would look very different (and in that world hearing something written by Lennon and McCartney at their best might indeed sound like some sort of revelation and totally New and Different).
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 2:28 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


I really enjoyed Yesterday (and loved Kate McKinnon in it). The idea that the Beatles songs would automatically be a hit was ridiculous but once you bought into that, it was pretty great. I saw the rom com plot as secondary; the main plot was about imposter syndrome as mentioned above. But also I thought they did a really clever thing with the romance: in our original world, his manager is just his manager; in the new non-Beatles world Oasis never happened (this is one of the throwaway Google scenes), so he couldn't have sung Wonderwall in high school (which is what led to his manager believing in his talent and becoming his manager) so she's his manager because she's always loved him... like, it retcons their entire relationship. I thought that was pretty great.

It irritated me that they never established why the Beatles never happened, when it could have been as simple as two lines of dialogue when he meets Lennon, something like "Hey, do you know what happened to Paul McCartney?" "Who?"
posted by joannemerriam at 2:55 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


For some reason even thinking about this film makes my skin crawl.

I tried to write an explanation about why it makes me angry and I really don't have the words.

By the way, John Lennon went to art school, and knew he had ambitions to do something, painter perhaps, but something. Fisherman my fucking arse.
posted by Grangousier at 3:14 PM on May 22 [3 favorites]


No one could have predicted that the world wanted more Glam Rock when The Darkness came around.

that's only because people never stopped believing in a thing called love.
posted by Bwentman at 4:46 PM on May 22 [4 favorites]


By the way, John Lennon went to art school, and knew he had ambitions to do something, painter perhaps, but something. Fisherman my fucking arse.

Maybe they're reconstructing him from the Gallagher brothers' lumpen impressions of him.
posted by acb at 5:04 PM on May 22


Oh wow, I actively hated this movie when I saw it - it was flat and boring and just had no energy to it? But everyone I knew loved it - honestly it provides me with a sense of relief to see other people here had no time for it.
posted by liquorice at 8:56 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


Yesterday would have been a lot funnier if he’d played Ruttles songs.
posted by larrybob at 9:33 PM on May 22 [6 favorites]


By the way, John Lennon went to art school, and knew he had ambitions to do something, painter perhaps, but something. Fisherman my fucking arse.

Yeah, I've heard the core of the 'Yoko broke up the Beatles' myth comes down to John Lennon obsessing over artistic projects, and only having room for one of them at the time. When he met Yoko, he obsessed over her instead of the Beatles. I do find it hard to believe he would have actually become a fisher, instead of saying that because it sounded like romantic, honest work with your hands.
posted by Merus at 10:36 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


No one could have predicted that the world wanted more Glam Rock when The Darkness came around.

The Darkess were (self-) consciously a retro act though, it's not the same thing as if they showed up without the 70s and 80s ever existing.

Of course it's fairly impossible to imagine that scenario for the Beatles, because of their outsized influence. If we assume a world in which the Beatles *did* exist, and did shape pop music, but were suddenly wiped from the memory of everyone alive in the year 2000... I think they would be a critically acclaimed and relatively popular indie/"indie-as-a-genre" band. Maybe have a couple modest hits, get songs in commercials and on TV soundtracks, you know.
posted by atoxyl at 3:03 AM on May 23


For some reason even thinking about this film makes my skin crawl.

I tried to write an explanation about why it makes me angry and I really don't have the words.

By the way, John Lennon went to art school, and knew he had ambitions to do something, painter perhaps, but something. Fisherman my fucking arse.


I would really love to read your angry words, as a massive beatles fan who had massively lukewarm feelings about this film.

(I think in part because it seemed like such a . . . mediocre dude fantasy. Which I feel like is really explained in part by this interview, which suggests the original premise was more complex.)

+1 for Blinded by the Light and Rocketman
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:02 AM on May 23 [5 favorites]


In a way this is a perfect destiny for the script.

Barth wrote a script about why someone who wasn't the Beatles wouldn't be successful with Beatles songs.

In the end, he found out that someone who wrote an interesting script wouldn't be a successful Hollywood screenwriter.
posted by chiquitita at 4:28 PM on May 23 [3 favorites]


BungaGunda was right!

Oh dang, I forgot about that! I thought the description of the original plot sounded familiar...
posted by BungaDunga at 5:33 PM on May 23


By the way, John Lennon went to art school, and knew he had ambitions to do something, painter perhaps, but something. Fisherman my fucking arse.

Well, a fisherman would have been a step up in social responsibility. There's an interview somewheres wherein Lennon professed to believing that he would've gone into some form of petty crime if the music career hadn't worked out. Total Beatles fan here, and into Lennon in particular, but, c'mon, World Class Narcissist and Megalomaniac aren't just trendy t-shirt slogans.

On topic: I liked the movie but this reveal vitiates the appreciation somewhat in retrospect.
posted by Chitownfats at 8:09 AM on May 24


There was a documentary on Swedish TV last night about The Boppers, a band that became popular here in the late 1970s with covers of American 1950s songs as well as their own songs.

Around the same time, Shaun Cassidy became a millionaire teen heartthrob with an album entirely of 50s covers. I was in middle school, and so just the right age to sigh over his pictures in Tiger Beat with my girlfriends.
posted by Orlop at 8:48 PM on May 26


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