July 02, 2014

A Digitally Restored 'Hard Day's Night'

The 1964 screen debut of The Beatles became a cultural phenomenon. Take a look at scenes from the movie. Bruce and Martha Karsh/Janus Films. Rock movies were never the same after "A Hard Day's Night."

The 1964 screen debut of The Beatles was meant to cash in on the wave of Beatlemania sweeping the band's native England and produce a soundtrack album that American movie studio United Artists could market through its music division. It did that and more: Like its stars, the movie became a cultural phenomenon.
"It elevated the art of the pop-music film," said Beatles biographer Mark Lewisohn, author of "Tune In: The Beatles: All These Years." After a string of peppy jukebox musicals in the late 1950s such as "Rock Around the Clock," the Beatles film set a new standard. "It was the first of its kind to treat the subject with some intelligence and a more sophisticated level of humor."

Janus Films will release a digitally restored version of the film in about 100 cities on July 4, commemorating the 50th anniversary of its premiere at the Pavilion Theatre in London's Piccadilly Circus. The Criterion Collection released a DVD/Blu-Ray edition Tuesday.
"This is the film where we literally get to meet the Beatles," said Peter Becker, president of The Criterion Collection and a partner in Janus Films. The distributor, which released Academy Award-winning "The Great Beauty" digitally to theaters, said a digital projection of the Beatles movie allowed for a much wider simultaneous release than a film version. "It just plays like gangbusters," he said.
The loose-limbed comedy, directed by Richard Lester, follows the Fab Four—Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr—as they travel from Liverpool to London for a TV performance. Antics ensue, many instigated by a mysterious older man (Wilfrid Brambell) that Mr. McCartney claims is his grandfather. Mr. Starr goes on a walkabout. And when they're not singing, or on the run from screaming fans, the performers riff as only slightly exaggerated versions of themselves—making the most of clever one-liners concocted by screenwriter Alun Owen. 

The movie made an impact on generations of Beatles fans. Some of them grew up to direct their own pop-oriented films.

"To me it's probably the greatest rock film ever made," said Morgan Neville, a longtime director of music documentaries whose "20 Feet from Stardom" won the Academy Award this year. "There were a thousand ways that movie could have gone off the rails, but every other pop band since has tried to make it."
Mr. Neville credits much of the movie's success to Mr. Lester. The American filmmaker, then known for his work with British comedians Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan ("The Goon Show"), infused the film with a spirit of "sheer humor and anarchy," Mr. Neville said. It anticipated the work of ensembles like Monty Python's Flying Circus. "He was really at the forefront of the British new wave." Mr. Lester's inventiveness was such that when Lennon was unable to appear in part of the "Can't Buy Me Love" sequence, which was shot outdoors, the director stood in for him: He put on the absent Beatle's shoes and pretended to be Lennon holding the camera.

The film version of "A Hard Day's Night," whose title was taken from one of Mr. Starr's off-the-cuff comments and became the last song written for the film, has many other distinctions. One of the most conspicuous is the group's thick Liverpool accents. "The biggest pop star in Great Britain before the Beatles, Cliff Richard, had adopted a mid-Atlantic accent in the hope that he would be more acceptable to Americans for not sounding completely English," Mr. Lewisohn said. "The Beatles said, 'Here we are and this is us and you can take it or leave it.' Everyone took it."
The seminal Beatles film "A Hard Day's Night" is hitting more than 100 theaters July 4 in a digitally restored version. WSJ contributor Steve Dollar joins Tanya Rivero with a look at the revival of the 1964 classic and its influence. Photo: Janus Films 

The film also reveled in running jokes and sight gags that might slip by a casual viewer. The elderly gent played by Brambell is continually referred to as "clean." As an actor, he was better known as the grubby lead in the BBC comedy "Steptoe and Son," the basis for the American series "Sanford and Son." And in a moment typical of the film's attitude, there's a glimpse of John Lennon with a bottle of Coca-Cola raised to his nose. "Sniffing coke," Mr. Lewisohn said. "It's just there and it's gone."
Some of those subtleties may be more apparent in the restored film, which includes a soundtrack remixed for stereo and surround formats by Giles Martin, son of Beatles' producer George Martin. To ensure the highest fidelity, Mr. Martin went back to original source materials, including stock sound effects that were archived by the BBC. 

In other instances, the producer enlisted a little help to stir some extra Beatlemania. During the performance at the end of the movie, he instructed co-workers to shout out the names of individual Beatles, which weren't very audible in the film amidst all the shrieking. 

"There's a little girl who does the Internet here," Mr. Martin said. "She's the quietest character. She went ballistic. 'PAULLLLLL!!!'"
Despite such enduring enthusiasm, Mr. Martin was mindful of not overdoing it. "You want to have a feeling like you're there," he said. "But I'm not remixing a Michael Bay film."

Source: http://online.wsj.com/articles/a-digitally-restored-hard-days-night-1403814666





By Mark Cerulli
After a meticulous 4K restoration by none other than the Criterion Collection, the Beatles’ first film, A Hard Days Night, was unveiled at LA’s Raleigh Studios. Yes, the image was crisp and clean, not a smudge or scratch in sight. (No surprise there as the film’s director Richard Lester personally approved the restoration.) And yes, the music sounded glorious in a new 5.1 mix. In fact, George Harrison’s iconic opening riff on the title track just about knocked this Cinema Retro scribe off his seat! But what was really special about this whimsical film was watching it through the prism of fifty years. From frame 1, we know how we lost both John Lennon and George Harrison. We are living with climate change, al-Qaeda, overpopulation and deforestation, so this movie is a welcome relief, capturing a simpler time in a quainter London which was then still throwing off the shadows of WW II. Most importantly, the film delivers The Beatles in close-up after close-up – all are young, strong and so full of life. To say they “stole the show” doesn’t apply, they ARE the show. The plot, about the trials and tribulations of getting the white-hot group to a live performance is basically filler between musical set pieces, but it earned writer Alun Owen a 1965 Oscar nomination. George Martin’s thumping score also landed an Oscar nod.

Along for the ride is Paul’s cranky grandfather (Wilfrid Brambell) who keeps the band and their managers (dour Norman Rossington and goofy John Junkin) on their toes. Odd looking and angular, Brambell, a major UK TV star at the time, was a sneering contrast to the Fab Four’s glowing charisma.

The film is as much about movement as it is music. The band is always on the move, - on foot, in trains, cars and a helicopter. Richard Lester’s cameras are on the move as well, with numerous hand-held shots and a beautiful aerial sequence where the band escapes a stuffy rehearsal to mess about in a playing field accompanied by Can’t Buy Me Love. With much of the dialogue improvised on the spot, A Hard Day’s Night has a breezy, cinéma vérité feel that obviously worked for its stars as they seem to be having a blast from start to finish.

When The Beatles finally go “live”, the climactic concert delivers vintage “Beatlemania” in all its screaming glory. The lads blast out Tell Me Why, If I Fell, I Should Have Known Better and She Loves You, intercut with an audience full of hysterical teens and the show’s harried director (Vincent Spinelli) having a meltdown in the control booth. It’s all innocent, upbeat and just simply, fun. Are there plot holes you could drive a double-decker bus through? Sure. But who cares? For a brief shining moment the Beatles are together again and all is well with the world.

On July 4th, Janus Films will re-release this restored version of A Hard Days Night in more than 50 cities across America.