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Published on September 7th, 2009 | by Darren Byrne


The Beatles at the Movies

A Hard Days Night

A Hard Days Night

The Beatles appeared in five motion pictures, most of which were well received. The pretty much unscripted TV movie Magical Mystery Tour was panned by critics and flopped, but the other four were successful. There have also been countless documentaries and a few films based on the life and work of the group. It’s fair to say that while the mythology of The Beatles began with the songs, it was film and TV that created Beatlemania.

A Hard Day’s Night, directd by Richard Lester, who later went on to direct Superman II (after Richard Donner was fired) and Superman III, introduced the world to four charismatic young men from Liverpool. A loosely scripted comic farce, it focused on Beatlemania and the band’s hectic lifestyle. A Hard Day’s Night is a black and white mockumentary of the four members as they make their way to a London television programme.

In 1965, Help! was also directed by Lester, on a bigger budget and in more exotic locations, from the Salisbury Plain to Salzburg and on to the Bahamas. Filmed in colour, this was even zanier than A Hard Day’s Night. I watched it again yesterday (for the first time in many years) and I had forgotten how headscratchingly funny it could be.

I’ve never seen The Magical Mystery Tour. From what I’ve heard, I’ve not missed much. The film was Paul McCartney’s idea – it was loosely inspired by press coverage McCartney had read about Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters’ LSD-fuelled American bus odyssey. McCartney felt inspired to take this idea and blend it with the peculiarly English working class tradition of the mystery tours, in which children took chaperoned bus rides through the English countryside, destination unknown.

Yellow Submarine

Yellow Submarine

The animated Yellow Submarine followed in 1968, and is nothing short of a masterpiece as far as I’m concerned. Having had little direct input from The Beatles, apart from a live-action epilogue and the contribution of some new songs. Endlessly quotable, it’s manic and funny and very clever. It’s more than just a series of songs strung together witha loose plot. It epitomised what The Beatles had become – no longer the happy-chappies form A Hard Day’s Night, no longer the cheery buffoons in Help! They were now superstars, otherworldly. Onscreen, they had become what Beatlemania already thought they were – unbelievably colourful, fighting against all that is dull and grey in the world.

Let It Be was an ill-fated documentary of the band that was shot over a four-week period in January 1969, which was originally intended to be simply a chronicle of the evolution of an album, but actually captured the prevailing tensions between the band members and unwittingly became a document of the beginning of their break-up. The band initially rejected both the film and the album, instead recording and issuing the wonderful Abbey Road album. When the film finally appeared in 1970, it was after the break-up had been announced.

After The Beatles

John Lennon and Yoko Ono went on to create less than successful avant garde films, such as Rape, from the point of view of a cameraman chasing a young woman through the streets of a city.

Paul McCartney did a cameo in Peter Richardson’s 1987 film Eat the Rich and realised his own film Give My Regards to Broad Street in 1984 in which Ringo Starr can be seen as well.

In 1969, Ringo Starr took second billing to Peter Sellers in the satirical comedy The Magic Christian, in a part which had been written especially for him. In 1971, Starr played the part of Frank Zappa in Zappa’s epic cult film about a rock and roll band touring, entitled 200 Motels. Starr later embarked on an irregular career in comedy films through the early 1980s, but it was Harrison who would achieve the most success as a film producer – The Life of Brian, Mona Lisa, Time Bandits and Withnail and I, among other.

Here, There and Everywhere

Across the Universe

Across the Universe

Recently, a musical based on Beatles songs was made into a film starring Jim Sturgess. Across the Universe has taken the music of the Fab Four and interpreted them in a way I never would have thought possible. Rather than take from the music, they have added drama, beauty and romance. Both Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr praised the film after release, as did Yoko Ono and Olivia Harisson, but I have no doubt that both John and George would have loved it too. It’s both faithful and original in its approach to the Beatles work, particularly notable in I Wanna Hold Your Hand.

Here’s the trailer:

In 1994, Backbeat chronicled the early days of the Beatles, following the original Beatles drummer Stuart Sutcliffe. Though it featured none of the Beatles hits, it was an excellent film about the early days of the group. In late October this year, Nowhere Boy is released, telling the story of John Lennon’s childhood and teenage years, starring Kristen Scott Thomas as John Lennon’s aunt and Thomas Sangster (the kid from Love Actually) as Paul McCartney.

There’s many many documentaries and films about The Beatles, of course, but these are the few significant ones, as far as I’m concerned. Have I missed anything important? Is there any films you would have included?

Tomorrow, I’ll complete my Beatles week with a look at The Beatles influence on pop culture. Mostly, I’ll just be looking at all the Simpson’s references to the Fab Four. 😀

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About the Author

Blogger, writer, movie buff, amateur dramatist and all round nice guy. When I'm not spouting about on Culch.ie, I can be found Tweeting inanities @DarrenByrne or @Culch_ie. I am the admin behind Culch.ie and if you want to contact me for anything, drop me a mail.

3 Responses to The Beatles at the Movies

  1. Great post, there’s an awful lot of information to take in there.

    Now I don’t feel as much of a Beatles fan as I did.

  2. Darren Byrne says:

    Colonel, the original draft was about three times longer but I didn’t think anyone would read it, so this is the heavily edited version. I’ve really only scratched the surface. There’s so much to the band, it’s impossible to drain it down into a series of short posts.

  3. Niall says:

    Personally I was a big fan of The US v John Lennon. Nothing to do with the Beatles of course but a good take on his political activism.

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