I’m not gonna make any headlines with this statement, but I really like The Beatles. The amount of creativity in their songs is staggering, with melodies and lyrics that are both equally creative.
We all know this group from Liverpool, England who revitalized rock and roll in the 1960s – rebellious but intelligent rhythm guitarist John Lennon, charming and creative bassist Paul McCartney, spiritual lead guitarist George Harrison and comical drummer Ringo Starr – and heralded the British Invasion and Beatlemania with albums like Please Please Me and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but another significant contribution to their fame came from their feature films.
Not every rock star had their own movie while they were touring, and none of them were as good as A Hard Day’s Night (1964), the film that MTV called the father of music videos, and it indeed popularized the idea of combining radio hits with little three-minute short films, something that has now been relegated to online sites like YouTube and hasn’t stopped growing in popularity.
But A Hard Day’s Night was more than just a feature-length series of music videos. It was a cinema verité pop satire that commented on the rigors of being famous, and like The Beatles themselves, it was full of charm and wit.
The film depicted a supposedly typical day in the life of The Beatles, but director Richard Lester brought it to life by not holding back on the absurdity and letting his imagination run wild.
The Beatles never thought of themselves as serious actors but they are very comfortable on camera and their natural likability shines throughout the film, thanks to Lester, who was easy for them to work with.
Songs on the soundtrack included “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “And I Love Her,” “I Should Have Known Better,” and obviously the title tune “A Hard Day’s Night.”
Richard Lester also directed The Beatles’ second film Help! (1965). All four band members returned for another wacky film, this time involving a religious sect trying to recover an important ring from Ringo Starr. Like A Hard Day’s Night, the film has some wild gags and a great sense of humor, also broken up between musical interludes, the soundtrack this time including “Help!,” “Ticket to Ride,” “Another Girl,” and “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away.” Not as startlingly fresh as A Hard Day’s Night but still an amusing film.
My favorite Beatles film, however, can’t be anything but the psychedelic masterpiece Yellow Submarine.
Mainstream animation had a pretty clear-cut evolutionary pattern up to the sixties. When you think of the thirties, you think of black & white rubberhose animation. When you think of the forties, you think of full Technicolor animation, and when you think of the fifties, you think of UPA.
Yellow Submarine seemed like something else. It was a bit like UPA, but even more ambitious and artistically daring.
As usual with Beatles film, the story wasn’t important. The music, the visuals and the witty dialogue made the film.
While The Beatles tried to save Pepperland from the Blue Meanies with transport aide from a flying submarine, the film’s creative visuals were the star of the show, as brilliant as the music was.
In addition to the title tune, the soundtrack included “Eleanor Rigby” (one of my favorite songs of all time), “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “When I’m Sixty-Four,” and “All You Need Is Love.”
1960s audiences who brought their families to see movies like One Hundred and One Dalmatians and The Jungle Book were not used to films like Yellow Submarine. In fact, the only animated hits at the box office to this day are straight-forward family fare from studios like Disney, Illumination, Pixar, etc.
However, Yellow Submarine has a huge cult following and it opened the door for underground animation on the big screen (we call it indie animation now), a niche that would be filled in the coming years by Ralph Bakshi, Bill Plympton and a ton of animated films from Japan.
So as you can see, The Beatles were not just important to the music world. They have a significant place in film history as well. A Hard Day’s Night has even been accepted into the Criterion Collection. This is not a music history blog, and you will not read a lot of articles here about musicians and pop artists, but in this case an exception needed to be made.