It was 39 years ago, give or take a couple of weeks, that the Beatles began recording Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, a landmark album that virtually invented modern pop culture. In a sign of the recording's pervasive influence, Sgt. Pepper inspires the latest round of short cinematic exercises from the Dailies Film Project. Screening Fri.-Sun., Nov. 18-20, at PushPush Theater, Return to Pepperland presents 10 short films, each inspired by a different song from arguably rock music's first concept record.
Of the five films made available before the event, the best is Evil Edison Productions' "Lovely Rita," a quirky love story about a geeky young guy (Jeff Pack) with a crush on an anal-retentive meter maid (Angie Fox). "Rita" offers some amusing psychological insights about how childhood plants the seeds of grown-up obsessions, but soars with droll running jokes. I bet John Lennon would've laughed when the guy quacks to ducks and they talk back to him in subtitles.
"A Day in the Life" by Psycopia Films and Itaki Design Studio proves more enigmatic, but equally accomplished. Almost free of dialogue, the film flashes back and forth between a World War II soldier and a young office drudge (possibly the soldier's son) during the 1960s. The later sequences, you gradually realize, quietly track the "Woke up, fell out of bed ..." verse of the song. The film's meaning proves elusive, but "A Day in the Life" impressively evokes wartime locations with simple, economical images.
The other entries are more mixed. Howdy! Digital Pictures' "Within You, Without You" mostly puns on the song's title in its heavy-handed, off-color gag about the symbiotic relationship between a farmer and his cow. "She's Leaving Home," directed by Matt Ruggles, comes closest to being a conventional music video (only without the actual song) as it depicts the troubled home life of a restless young woman. Plexus Pictures' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" seems to focus on the tune's history as an ode to LSD as five young people tediously hallucinate during a camping trip.
The five samples of Return to Pepperland, however intriguing, fall short of capturing the multifaceted, pop-art energy of Sgt. Pepper, from the psychedelic lyrics to the splashy album art to the orchestrations from modern rock, India and England's music halls.
Dailies: Return to Pepperland screens Fri.-Sun., Nov. 18-20, 8 p.m., at PushPush Theater, 121 New St., Decatur. $12 ($8 if dressed in Bealtes-esque costume). 404-377-6332. www.pushpushtheater.com.