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Symbolism in Ringo Starr's 1978 TV Special

06-13-2015, 11:40 PM #1
Status: Offline Posts:159 Likes Received:252
Recently I read an advanced review copy of a biography of Ringo Starr. I've read so many Beatle-related books, but until this book I hadn't known much about Starr's post-Beatle life outside of his All-Starr tours, his marriage to Barbara Bach, and Caveman. To summarize his existence in the 70s, he drank through much of it while trying to figure out how to make a living. Aside from his successful 1973 album Ringo, his solo career hadn't made the same splash as those of John, Paul, and George. Of course, it helped that the other Beatles contributed quite a bit to that record.

If Ringo had an advantage over his former bandmates, it would involve his natural acting ability. The Beatles' movies tended to focus on Ringo in parts (Ringo had a lengthy solo scene in A Hard Day's Night, and the quest for his ring served as the plot of HELP!). He found work in films, but attempts had been made to break into television. The 1978 TV special, Ringo, was done ostensibly to show off his musical talent and comedic timing.

After reading the book, I sought out Ringo and found a grainy YouTube upload. Had I not found VC first, I probably wouldn't have thought much of the story or its execution, but as it turns out it is fairly ripe with symbolism. Here's the premise of the special, via Wikipedia:

Ringo is a 1978 TV movie starring Ringo Starr as a both fictionalized version of himself, and as his fictional half-brother "Ognir Rrats". It also features an all-star cast, including Art Carney, Carrie Fisher and George Harrison. Ringo performs songs from his then-current album Bad Boy and older material. The film's story is loosely based on The Prince and the Pauper.



Right away, we see that Ringo plays a dual role:
  • Ringo Starr, world famous rock star who can't get a moment's rest. His manager has him on a strict schedule, working him like a machine. He can eat from 3:15 to 3:20 and sleep from 3:20 to 3:30. That kind of mess.

  • Ognir Rrats, poor boy of "average intelligence" who makes a living selling maps to movie stars' homes. He lives with his father, who is abusive, and he's bullied by local punks.

Ognir and his abuser.


Ringo and his abuser.

VC touches often on duality and split personalities and how they relate to abuse. As this story begins, we see each Ringo is being used for some purpose (Ognir's father takes all the money he earns; Ringo is run ragged to make money for John Ritter's handler character.) It's no wonder both wish for something different.

When Ringo and Ognir encounter each other, the plan is hatched to change places, only for a brief time. Ringo just wants to go outside and do something fun. Ognir appears happy to be away from home, but is reluctant to play along in case they get caught. Eventually he concedes and the show segues into a bizarre dance number to "Yellow Submarine."



I have no idea about this set. Are they under a tree? The scene was full of dancers in flesh-toned unitards skipping around.

Once switched, Ringo as Ognir flashes some cash at the local bullies and gets the use of their car. He picks up Ognir's girlfriend (Carrie Fisher) and sings "You're Sixteen" to her. Personally, I'm a huge Carrie Fisher fan - I've read all her books - but I've often wondered about her given her history. Of course, she was big in the late 1970s and purportedly a Beatles fan, which explains her presence. The idea of 38 year old Ringo singing "You're sixteen, you're beautiful, and you're mine," however, seems a bit creepy.

Anyway, this whole number happens in another segued scene, this time an animation a la Monty Python, and featured two Ringos tap dancing on this:


Meanwhile, Ognir as Ringo is snatched up by the manager and sent to The Mike Douglas Show for an appearance. Ringo's joyride with Carrie comes to an abrupt end when the evil father grabs him and locks him in Ognir's room. Ringo is forced to watch his double muck up on live TV:

The whole scene of Ognir bumbling through The Mike Douglas Show is reminiscent of all these incidents with stars acting erratically on talk shows. Farrah Fawcett and Anne Heche come to mind.

After this disaster, Ritter the manager calls in Vincent Price, a hypnotist:


"Ringo" has a concert that night, and they're worried he'll muck up again. It's suggested that hypnosis (programming?) will help Ringo get back to where he once belonged (couldn't resist). As Vincent lulls Ognir into a trance, he begins to dream to the tune of "With a Little Help From My Friends."


Ognir walks through a dream state, singing as Ringo, and runs into some old friends.


He meets cardboard representations of Roy Orbison, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, and I think Hank Williams. Viewers may see this is meant to hat-tip all the early rockers who influenced the Beatles, but maybe there's something to how they're presented here. Cardboard standups, easily manipulated? Also of interest: of this group Buddy and Elvis (and Hank, if that's him) died young under tragic and perhaps mysterious circumstances. Chuck and Jerry Lee had their share of legal troubles (Chuck with the Mann Act, Jerry Lee...you know). I don't know much about Roy's early career, but he would later die just as he was making a comeback.

While this is happening, Ringo manages to break out of the house, get arrested by Angie Dickinson, then escape the police station. Carrie helps him get to the studio just as Ognir takes the stage. Instead of playing the drums, though, the hypnosis backfires and Ognir is trying to selling the audience maps.

In the nick of time, Ringo arrives and the switch is revealed. He takes the stage for his concert in an unusual stage setup:


Anyway, here is the clip I watched:


If you catch anything else, feel free to point it out.

06-15-2015, 04:29 AM #2
Status: Offline Posts:747 Likes Received:982
Bookmarked. Thanks Stu. Smile