Memphis Flyer exploits
Rock-and-Roll Fantasy
Memphis' exploitation-film auteur dissects the night Elvis met the Beatles.

by Mark Jordan

Just weeks after birth week, atonement week has officially begun.

"I would like to apologize for the yellow fever epidemic, Martin Luther King, the destruction of Stax, Alex Chilton, the Flyer not being open on birth week, and of course, the movie not being ready on time," says a genuinely remorseful John Michael McCarthy.

Memphis' exploitation-film auteur, McCarthy is sorry for the recent 'showing' of his latest opus, Elvis Meets the Beatles. Based very loosely on a brief account in Peter Guralnick's Elvis biography Careless Love, the film is a fantasia about the night the Fab Four and the King spent together in 1965.

McCarthy and executive producer Craig Brewer rushed the film through production with the goal of having the premiere during Elvis' birth week. And, indeed, on January 8th the premiere party was held at Last Place on Earth. A few hundred people turned out to see the film and hear bands such as the Subteens, the Joint Chiefs, and Polisiclone, each of which could boast cast members among their line-ups.

Only one problem: no film. A last-minute glitch in transferring the film from the computer to videotape prevented McCarthy from ever showing the film that night. Two weeks later, the problem is now fixed, and this Saturday, at Last Place on Earth (again), a repentant McCarthy will hold a free showing of the Elvis Meets the Beatles. The film will be shown three times straight starting at 9:30 p.m.

The showings will be followed by a performance by a Ramones tribute band being thrown together just for this occasion. "We figured that if you cross the Beatles with Elvis you get the Ramones," says McCarthy of bringing yet another set of music stars into the mix. "And since Paul used to sign into hotels as Paul Ramone, why not?"

Oddly, the problem with the download was a single corrupted frame of footage that popped up in the exact moment in the movie when the filmmakers suggest that Paul McCartney is really dead. It was a fitting coincidence for a film that takes great fun in poking fun at all the weird connections and conspiracy theories that have arisen around these two cultural icons.

The film starts in 1970 with Elvis talking to President Nixon (in an industrial park!) about the dangerous influence of the Beatles, as best exemplified by Charles Manson's use of "Helter Skelter." Then the movie flashes back to August 27, 1965, when Brian Epstein brought the Beatles to Elvis' Bel Air mansion for an audience with the King. In McCarthy's version of events, Ringo (Helmut Ploderer) plays pool with the Memphis mafia and is then seduced by Priscilla; George (Wheat) gets stoned with Elvis' hair stylist/spiritual adviser Larry Geller (Paul Woodard) and unwittingly introduces the king to LSD; and Paul (Basil Wayne Whatley) and a disillusioned John (Archie Muller) pick tunes and pop pills with Elvis (Joe Machamer). The whole thing ends with a send-up of A Hard Day's Night.

Only about 20 minutes long, Elvis Meets the Beatles is a departure for McCarthy, best known for trashy, big-busted epics such as The Sore Losers and Teenage Tupelo. (You can survey McCarthy's oeuvre at

"There are none of my usual trademarks in this one," says McCarthy. "It's exploitation but of a different sort. Everything I've done has been unpopular, so I thought why not take the two most popular music figures of the 20th century and try to make them unpopular." Fans should not despair over the temporarily mature McCarthy, however. His next film — trumpeted in the coming attraction reel at the beginning of Elvis Meets the Beatles, along with Brewers' upcoming feature The Poor and Hungry and Sean Plemmons' and Jim Rose's Strange Cargo — is Superstarlet A.D. about "beauty cults with machineguns in search of ancient stag films, [hunting] cavemen at the end of the world."

Guerrilla Monster in collaboration with BR2 Productions presents a JMM (first) short. E*VIS MEETS The BEAT*ES (or Elvis is Alive, Paul is dead, and I ain't feeling so well). An Unpopular movie about the most popular icons of our time.

Commercial Appeal exploits Elvis Birthweek 2000


by John Beifuss

First came Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.

Then there was King Kong vs. Godzilla.

Now, get ready for the cinematic grudgefest of this millennium or any other.

It's the latest production from local filmmaking maverick John Michael McCarthy, and its irresistible title is Elvis Meets the Beatles.

The 18-minute film - informally subtitled Elvis Is Alive, Paul Is Dead and I Ain't Feeling So Well - is a hallucinogenic but factoid-packed fantasia based on the actual Aug. 27, 1965, meeting of the Beatles and Elvis at Presley's Bel Air home. It will premiere Saturday - which would have been Elvis's 65th birthday - in a special movies-plus-live-music happening that begins at 10 p.m. at The Last Place on Earth, a relatively new nightclub at 345 Madison.

"Historians tell us that nothing very important happened at the party where Elvis met the Beatles," said McCarthy (or "JMM," as he likes to be called in mogul-speak). "But what should they have said? We have them say to each other what was really on their minds."

For instance, when John Lennon said the Beatles were more popular than Jesus, "that had no relevance to anybody who already thought Elvis was greater than God," JMM said. "So I have Lennon saying the Beatles are more popular than Elvis, which is a generational issue and really cuts to the heart of the culture."

McCarthy is the wildly imaginative Memphis auteur whose head should be slapped with a label reading "WARNING: Contents Under Pressure." His mind is so packed with pop culture theories and trivia that every few years his obsessions explode onto the screen like the sparks from a Vesuvius fountain, where they coalesce into such memorably monikered movies-in-search-of-a-cult as The Sore Losers (1997), Teenage Tupelo (1994) and Damselvis, Daughter of Helvis (1993).

Says JMM, of his anti-Midas touch: "What I sought to do with Elvis Meets the Beatles is to take maybe the two most popular iconic images of all time and make them unpopular."

As his film titles reveal, McCarthy - who was born in Baldwyn, Miss., but claims to have been conceived in the King's birthplace of Tupelo - is "always in a constant state of Elvis research," as he says. But the Beatles references are something new.

McCarthy said he was inspired in part by the hype about the end of the millennium, with both Elvis and the Beatles being proclaimed the top entertainer of the century by various publications.

"Elvis was a gospel singer who moved like a stripper, and that sense of duality is what the past 50 years of pop culture is based on," explains JMM.

Also, "at the end of every decade, you start thinking about the Beatles again."

He continued: "Basically, what you have is this big pop-culture amalgam that always comes back to Memphis. John Lennon did nothing but talk about Elvis night and day to his Aunt Mimi. Back in the '50s, you could listen to Elvis and say, `Hey, I'm gonna sing about yellow matter custard dripping from a dead dog's eye and become famous,' but now you can't do that. You have to deconstruct something that used to be popular."

On a less philosophical level, EMtB was inspired by local producer and independent moviemaker Craig Brewer of BR2 Productions, who asked McCarthy if he would be interested in creating a short work for a possible made-in-Memphis anthology movie. (Brewer's own feature, Poor & Hungry, should debut this spring, as should McCarthy's next work, a post-apocalypse feature-length cat fight called SUPERSTARLET A.D.)

Utilizing Brewer's digital cameras and editing equipment, McCarthy and his skeleton crew shot Elvis Meets the Beatles in two days around Thanksgiving. The cast includes Archie Muller as John Lennon, Basil Bayne Whatley as Paul McCartney, Wheat Buckley as George Harrison, Helmut Ploderer as Ringo, Shelby Bryant as Beatles manager Brian Epstein, and Joe Thunder of the band Vegas Thunder as Elvis. Four of the "Beatles asterisks," as McCarthy calls his Beatles actors, play their own instruments on the soundtrack, so "we've got the Rutles beat by two, because only two of them played."

McCarthy's films usually are notable for their cheesecake, but this time, he said, "I only have one starlet, but she's a real cupcake - Victoria Brough as Priscilla."

One thing hasn't changed, however: as usual, McCarthy's press releases are art pieces in themselves. The manifesto for EMtB offers a Cuisinart-load of connect-the-dots conspiracy theories and cosmological coincidences-with-a-question-mark, such as the fact that Brian Epstein was found dead two years to the day after meeting Elvis. The release comes complete with the ultimate disclaimer: "Everything based on what someone else says is TRUE!!!"

In addition to the presence of various Memphis Mafia members and an infant Lisa Marie (played by McCarthy's 11-month-old daughter, Hanna Mildred), the film includes a cameo appearance by Richard Nixon (played by McCarthy himself). In the scene in which the King meets the President, Elvis speaks in the voice of Charles Manson. In McCarthy's vision, "Helter Skelter" becomes "Helvis Skelvis."

Says JMM: "Elvis hated the Beatles just like Manson loved the Beatles. When Elvis met with Nixon, he reported on the Beatles and said they had destroyed culture, but they had already broken up so the point was almost moot - but not with Elvis, because Elvis recognized the staying power of icons. I believe this guy who attacked George Harrison was probably Elvis-obsessed, not Beatles-obsessed."

Said Brewer of McCarthy: "He definitely has a vision. People may not like it, but he has one."

Saturday night's event at The Last Place on Earth will include musical performances by such artists as Vegas Thunder, the Subteens, Reginald, Poli-Sci-Clone, the Hearafters and Muller. The music will bookend the screening of Elvis Meets the Beatles, which likely will take place after 11 p.m. In addition, McCarthy will screen footage of the real Beatles from his film collection.

John Beifuss can be reached at 529-2394 or by E-mail at

This article is © 2000 THE COMMERCIAL APPEAL and may not be republished without permission.

(This movie written & directed by Mike McCarthy. All RIghts Reserved 2009).


All original material by the actors who played the Beatles except "Mohair Sam" by Charlie Rich. This soundtrack outdoes the Rutles because all four Beatle actors in EMTB wrote (and recorded!) their own material - only two of the Rutles did so. The Premiere was held at Last Place On Earth on Elvis Birthweek in Memphis, January 8th, 2000. Elvis (and Jesse) would have been 65 years old.

This cool 300 print run 10 inch vinyl record was distributed by the Italian label ROCKIN' BONES on the LADY KINKY KARROT ROCKS label (#10) and BR2 PRODUCTIONS in 2006. The front cover art is by CHRIS JONES. The main image of Priscilla (Victoria Brough) is by DAN BALL. Art Direction is by BRIAN DIXON.
MIKE McCARTHY wrote the liner notes you can read below.

Questions asked and answered by EMTB:

SEE & HEAR what was REALLY on their minds the night of August 27, 1965 when Elvis met The Beatles! What Lennon meant to say was "The Beatles are more popular than Elvis." Why is a culture obsessed with keeping Elvis alive and Paul dead? Why was Elvis' best friend and guru a "hairdresser"? And why the obsession with salons, hair length, and Ringo's nose? Brian Epstein dies two years to the day he meets Elvis. What is the secret message in the Charlie Rich song they jammed to that night: "Mohair Sam" with it's "IS WHAT AM" matching the metaphysical thrust of Elvis' favorite religious book "The Impersonal Life". Why did Elvis shoot catfight videos with Priscilla and others dressed only in her white underwear? (supposedly destroyed by Vernon Presley upon Elvis' death!) Did George Harrison provide the LSD for Elvis' first (and only?) trip? Were young women cruised for at Shoney's parking lots? When Chapman shot Lennon did he speak with a Southern accent? Why does everything end with assasination and suicide? Can you imagine Revolver being recorded at Stax in 1966? It almost happened...

HELVIS SKELVIS: Everything comes back to Memphis: Elvis hated The Beatles yet covered their songs. Memphis band The Gentrys are originally slated to play The Monkees, who are based on The Beatles. Manson auditions to be a Monkee in 1966. Elvis' paranoia begins during the Manson trials when he receives anonymous death-threats. Memphian Tommy Boyce wrote The Monkees theme, later commits suicide in Gnashville. Like Manson, Elvis ordered a 'hit' on someone and also blamed The Beatles for his bad karma. The Beach Boys cover the Manson-penned ditty "Cease to Exist (Learn to Love)". Paul McCartney hangs out with Mike Love in India writing songs for the White Album. Alex Chilton slept in Manson's bed while on tour with the Beach Boys in 1968.