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The Beatles: BEATLES ON FILM

Research guide devoted to the music and influence of the Beatles

BEATLES FILMS

The Beatles appeared in five movies between 1964 and 1970.  They range from brilliant (A Hard Day’s Night) to downright sophomoric (Magical Mystery Tour).  The one constant in every film was the wonderful Beatles music. 

A Hard Day’s Night, directed by Richard Lester, was famously called “the Citizen Kane of Juke Box musicals” by film critic Pauline Kael.  Shot in a pseudo-documentary style, the 1964 film purports to follow the Beatles for two days leading up to a televised concert, combining aspects of traditional British comedy with outlandish situations worthy of Mad Magazine.  It was extremely influential in setting the style, look and feel for the rest of the youth-oriented 60's.

Help!, also directed by Lester, appeared in the summer of 1965 and tried, at times successfully, to re-capture the magic of the first film.  It spoofs the British secret agent craze epitomized at the time by the James Bond movies with Ringo pursued by a mysterious Indian cult that wants one of his rings. The Beatles flee to Stonehenge, then to the Alps and finally to the Bahamas.  It’s still funny with a terrific soundtrack but lacks the originality of A Hard Day’s Night.

What do you do when you’re the Beatles and you’ve just released the supposed greatest rock album ever, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band?   In this case grab a camera and some actors, hire a bus and film a story about a strange tour group travelling through stoned-out, psychedelic England.  The hour long Magical Mystery Tour was originally shown on British television during the 1967 Christmas season. While the music is great, the film suffers from the lack of a director’s firm hand (Richard Lester is nowhere to be found) and was a critical flop.

Yellow Submarine dazzled audiences in 1969 with colorful animation built around themes from the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album.  The Beatles, accompanied by “Young Fred,” (he’s actually very old!) must save Pepperland from the dastardly Blue Meanies. One major disappointment is the Beatles had little to do with the film with actors providing the Beatles’ voices.  They appear only for a minute at the end.  In spite of this, Yellow Submarine is a lot of fun and was visually innovative for the time.  One point of interest: the background music is provided by the Beatles’ producer, George Martin.

The Beatles’ final movie, Let It Be, unintentionally provides a window into the looming breakup of the band.  Filmed in the spring of 1969 but only released in 1970, the idea was to show the band creating, recording and performing music for a new album climaxing with a live concert.  The Beatles’ constant quarreling disrupted the sessions, resulting in an often dark, sad film that chronicles the band’s disintegration and presents none of the Beatles in a good light.  In spite of all this, the live concert, performed at lunch time on the roof of the Apple Building in downtown London, is uplifting and fun. Even in adversity, the Beatles always made great music.

 The following Beatles films are available at one of the branches of the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library.

By David Lilly