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Television Reviews : 'Sgt. Pepper' Part Nostalgia, Part History Lesson

November 11, 1987|TERRY ATKINSON

Remember the media blitz last June over the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album and the Summer of Love? Just when you thought that the pressed power-flowers had all been put back, PBS belatedly offers a two-hour documentary tonight about 1967 titled "Sgt. Pepper: It Was 20 Years Ago Today." Which should have been called "It was 20 Years and Five Months Ago Today."

Better late than never. Much better in this case. These two hours, produced by Britain's Granada Television, are good nostalgia for those who were in their teens and 20s during the late '60s--and good history for others. The show airs 8-10 p.m. on Channels 50 and 24, and 9-11 p.m. on Channels 28 and 15.

As George Harrison says here, 1967 seemed to take "about 50 years to complete." Even with two hours to work with, the producers had to go over highlights as if they were hot coals.

For example, several rock bands buzz by, but only two songs are shown in their entirety--Jefferson Airplane's short "White Rabbit" and a climactic, moving "All You Need Is Love" from the Beatles. And while there's material on the making of the "Sgt. Pepper" album (and some marvelous stop-action animation based on its cover) it isn't examined in detail.

Still, this allows the program to treat our eyes and ears to the consciousness explosion that "Pepper" symbolized and emboldened: the be-ins, the hippies, the Diggers (actor Peter Coyote was one), the march on the Pentagon, the Monterey Pop Festival. There's some terrific footage--and plenty of reflective, funny comments from both period and current interviews with Leary, Ginsberg, Hoffman, Lennon, McCartney, et al.

While some viewers may object to a slant that portrays the political/musical/drug revolution of the time in a generally positive light, those of us who remember "20 years ago" as an era when the world was most hopefully alive will find some wonderful old feelings evoked here--and a renewed sense, as Coyote and some of the others on view assert, that the good vibes of '67 are still reverberating, however softly.

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