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Wednesday, June 20, 2007 03:41 pm

Fab Four on film

The Beatles left an incredible screen legacy

Untitled Document Forty years ago the Beatles changed music for the second time with the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and it still tops lists as the greatest album ever recorded. I would choose The White Album as their greatest, but Sgt. Pepper is nothing to scoff at. The Beatles, in their short span, left behind an incredible legacy, including several worthy films.
A Hard Day’s Night (1964) coincided with the beginning of the invasion they ignited, and it is the quintessential rock-band vehicle. Purporting to be a behind-the-scenes look at the group, Richard Lester’s romp mixes cinéma vérité filmmaking with comedic silliness that forever endeared the Fab Four to the public. Not only did they create incredible music, but they were also charming, witty, and not above being completely goofy. There is simply no greater introduction to a musical act on film. Despite attempts by others, no one came close. I wouldn’t trade a moment from A Hard Day’s Night for all the Elvis movies combined. Help (1965) reteamed the Beatles with Lester but not quite with the same brilliance. The air of reality is replaced by James Bond-style spoofery as a religious sect targets Ringo, who is wearing one of their cherished sacrificial rings. As the Beatles’ music evolved into psychedelia, their movies shifted into the realm of surrealism. The classic album Magical Mystery Tour became the basis for a bizarre television movie from 1967. A strange bus trip is interrupted by comic vignettes and music videos. The humor may remind people of Monty Python, but this one came first. Ignore the awful reviews. This is one of the finest visualizations of Beatles music. The Beatles’ first U.S. visit is the subject of the comedy I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978). Obsessed fans storm the group’s hotel, hoping to catch a glimpse of their idols. Director Robert Zemeckis made his feature debut with this very funny slapstick farce.
In 1963, before that first U.S. visit, George Harrison spent a little time here in Illinois. Details of that event are chronicled in the documentary A Beatle in Benton, Illinois (1996), made by Springfield writer/filmmaker Bob Bartel. The small budget wouldn’t allow for actual footage or music of the Beatles, but you can get that anywhere. The focus is on informative interviews with the locals who reminisce about their encounters with the “quiet Beatle.” The DVD can be purchased at Now, will someone please release Let It Be (1970)?
New on DVD this Tuesday (June 26): Black Snake Moan, Shooter, Pride, and Peaceful Warrior.