Emmys: Beatles Film vs. Stones Film – It’s the Beatles by a Walrus Hair

“Magical Mystery Tour” is far more focused than "Crossfire Hurricane," zeroing in on a single year and a single project

This story appears in TheWrap's EmmyWrap Reality Issue.

Last year, the Emmys’ Outstanding Nonfiction Special category saw a head-to-head battle between George Harrison and Paul Simon, with Martin Scorsese‘s “George Harrison: Living in the Material World” winning over a field that also included Joe Berlinger‘s “Paul Simon’s Graceland Journey: Under African Skies.” 

But wouldn’t the Beatles vs. the Rolling Stones be an even more delicious battle? After all, that’s a time-honored rivalry, as Keith Richards explains in the Stones doc “Crossfire Hurricane” when he talks about how manager Andrew Loog Oldham consciously positioned the group as a rival to the Fab Four.

“The Beatles got the white hat,” says Richards. “What’s left? The black hat.”The black hats could conceivably go up against the white hats at the Emmys this year with the Brett Morgen-directed “Crossfire Hurricane,” part of HBO’s always-formidable doc slate, battling PBS’s "Great Performances" doc “Magical Mystery Tour Revisited,” a look at the Beatles' 1967 TV movie, which was widely panned in the U.K. and never even broadcast in the United States.

“Crossfire” covers lots more ground, using old footage and new interviews with band members Richards, Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts and Ron Wood and former members Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor (recorded, at the Stones' insistence, on audio only) chronicling the band from its beginnings to the late ’70s, with a slightly baffled-sounding Jagger explaining, “We’ve gone from being unacceptable to totally acceptable.”

But it doesn’t tell you much about how the Stones wrote or recorded their songs; produced by Jagger and Victoria Pearlman and executive produced by Richards, Wood and Watts, it’s more about cultural impact than musical insight.

“Magical Mystery Tour” is far more focused, zeroing in on a single year and a single project — but like the Stones film, it’s all about the Beatles as agents and arbiters of social and cultural change. The intriguing part is that the original “Magical Mystery Tour” film was considered the band’s first significant misstep, so director Francis Hanly’s doc is at least partly about a band that had reached the top of the mountain doing something that made them look like fools on the hill.

Paul McCartney, widely considered the driving force behind “MMT,” defends it for its avant-garde nature in new interviews, as do admirers like Scorsese, Peter Fonda and Terry Gilliam; in archival footage, George Harrison is more bemused and slightly dismissive.

Other music documentaries with a shot at nominations include “Beyoncé’s "Life Is but a Dream,” which she co-directed, and Alison Ellwood’s two-part, three-hour “History of the Eagles” on Showtime. But really, who doesn’t want to see Lennon and McCartney squaring off against Jagger and Richards?