Looking back at the original Beatles films

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Of all the art that the Beatles brought into the world, their cinematic misadventures are probably less fondly remembered than their music. But in addition to 12 studio albums, 13 EPs, and 22 singles, the Fab Four also released five films in their comparatively few years together. These efforts comprised two feature films, a TV movie, a cartoon, and a documentary, all of admittedly inconsistent quality. Looking back now, these films provide a fascinating insight into the phenomenon of Beatlemania.

For Beatles fanatics such as myself, the music alone makes them a joy to watch and re-watch, but as pieces of cinema in their own right there’s plenty to still be enjoyed and appreciated. Their influence on modern culture can be felt from music videos to animated films - perhaps not quite as iconic or ubiquitous as the band’s songwriting, but nonetheless essential in the story of British cinema.

The first Beatles film, 1964’s A Hard Day’s Night, was conceived by United Artists as a cheap cash in on The Beatles’ exploding popularity, and was shot in black-and-white for a limited budget of £500,000. Thanks to director Richard Lester, however, it’s probably the band’s most artistically successful live-action film. These days, Lester is often derided as the man who ruined Superman II, but it’s difficult to fault his work in elevating A Hard Day’s Night into something cinematically spellbinding.

The film ostensibly portrays a day in the life of the world’s four most famous musicians, with Steptoe And Son’s Wilfrid Brambell playing Paul McCartney’s mischievous grandfather. It has a realist, almost faux-documentary style that’s clearly rooted in the British New Wave, but whenever the music kicks in the film veers into hyper-real montage sequences. As the four lads play cards on a train, the first bars of I should Have Known Better drift onto the soundtrack and suddenly their instruments are in their hands, playing along to the beat. These interludes are beautifully shot and edited in a way that captures the energy of the Beatles’ music - it was a new and dynamic style of film-making which crystallised the carefree spirit of sixties Britain.

By: Mark Allison

Source: Den of Geek


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