The Beatles

A Hard Day

The uniquely discordant strum of a guitar introduces the now-iconic image of the Fab Four careening down a London-as-Liverpool street, chased by a horde of screaming young fans. George attempts to sneak a glance behind him, then loses his balance and careens to the ground, bringing poor Ringo down with him. John looks back to witness the instantaneous mayhem and continues running elated with laughter. This wasn’t a moment of acting or planning or choreography, but a purely spontaneous interaction between members of the most famous band in the world captured on film. The contrivance of the scene produced a “mistake” which then inspired a genuine, unpremeditated moment between the bandmates, a real glimpse at John’s interaction with (and affection for) his colleagues outside the trappings of unprecedented fame and millions of dollars in royalties. Throughout A Hard Day’s Night, director Richard Lester toys with the obvious contrivances of filmmaking, a façade made ever more evident by the fact that this film was an out-and-out cash grab. The bandmates played themselves in quotation marks, taking the piss out of fame, rock ‘n’ roll, Mod chic, mass media, the British aristocracy, and ultimately themselves, a caricature that ironically helped distinguish The Beatles’ individual members for American audiences. The manic irreverence of Lester’s brand of comedy regularly broke cinematic rules of continuity and logic, making for a less anarchic kind of Breathless. But perhaps what most consequently made A Hard Day’s Night the essential pop musical it is today is the fact that nobody – from […]

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All This And World War II

Pop nostalgia is an odd thing. It’s the connective tissue between the new movie Jersey Boys and this week’s Doc Option, the tremendously obscure 1976 film All This and World War II. Jersey Boys is based on the hit 2005 Broadway play of the same name, a dramatization of the rise and fall of The Four Seasons. All This and World War II features the music of The Beatles, the act that dethroned The Four Seasons from their perch at the top of musical popularity in the mid-’60s. But the doc also incorporates The Four Seasons and its perpetual frontman Frankie Valli into its mix. If you’re wondering what kind of a production would concoct such a situation, well, the answer is stranger than anything you’re probably expecting. All This and World War II is an 88-minute recap of World War II, consisting of newsreel footage and clips from movies and propaganda films of the period, all set to covers of Beatles songs. Ambrosia’s cover of “Magical Mystery Tour” plays as Hitler and his cronies go about their day in Berlin. “I Am the Walrus,” as played by Leo Sayer, scores the bombing of Pearl Harbor. And Japanese-Americans are rounded up and shipped off to concentration camps with Sayer intoning “Let It Be” in the background. Valli’s cover of “A Day in the Life” scores a montage of military fortifications and soldiers going about their daily work (the Four Seasons track is “We Can Work It Out”). So on and so forth. If all of this sounds incredibly crazy, well holy shit you don’t know the half of it.  […]

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The Beatles in Magical Mystery Tour

NBC has been busy trying to make the “event series” into a legitimate thing (because a sub-par Rosemary’s Baby remake sounds so much more epic if you label it an “event”), but now television’s proud, strutting peacock has an actual event on its hands. According to Deadline, the network has begun work on an eight-episode series that would chronicle the lives of The Beatles, arguably the most important musicians of the 20th century. The miniseries, which for right now remains title-less, will be written and executive produced by one Michael Hirst, a smart pick to cover the Fab Four. Hirst is both well-versed in television — most recently, he’s done the writer/executive producer thing on History’s Vikings and Starz’s Camelot –and he’s roughly as English as the Queen, eating a crumpet and swimming in a small reservoir of tea. Hirst’s filmography is almost exclusively about ancient British folk being both ancient and British, starting with Elizabeth, then Elizabeth: The Golden Age, The Tudors, Camelot and Vikings (Vikings who regularly venture into England for pillaging galore). Also The Borgias, which I’m assuming was a mistake (English actors as Italian characters? That could trip anyone up). If NBC wants their Beatles to be authentically across-the-pond-ian, than Hirst’s a wise choice.

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Good Ol Freda

Editor’s Note: Our review of Good Ol’ Freda originally ran during this year’s SXSW film festival, but we’re re-running it now as the film opens in limited release today. Is there any pop culture subject that’s been more exhaustively covered through documentaries than The Beatles? Both John Lennon and George Harrison have received excellent posthumous documentary treatments, and the band as a whole enjoyed one of the most comprehensive official docu-treatments in rock history with the 8-part Beatles Anthology. It seems like we’ve got the most popular band in modern history just about covered, right? Not so fast. Of the many (repeated) stories told about The Beatles time and again, there have also been stories about those who surrounded the band, who took essential roles alongside the margins in making The Fab Four exactly how we perceive them to be today. George Martin is now one of the best-known producers in the history of rock n’ roll. Manager Brian Epstein is viewed as a martyr of a former England that criminalized homosexuality. The Hamburg-based romance between pre-fame Beatle Stuart Sutcliffe and photographer Astrid Kircherr has been immortalized in rock history (specifically through Kircherr’s iconic black-and-white photographs of the band in their earliest years). And now another previously sidelined story has been brought to the fore. Ryan White’s second documentary feature, Good Ol’ Freda, chronicles the life and work of an important but rarely discussed member of the close-knit world of The Beatles: Freda Kelly, Epstein’s secretary and the head of […]

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Good Ol Freda

Freda Kelly is one of the unsung chapters of Beatles history. One of few surviving members of the band’s inner circle, Kelly became the Beatles secretary, head of the fan club, and Brian Epstein’s personal assistant shortly after seeing them live in Liverpool in 1961. As a fan who became in charge of the fan club, Kelly, more so than anybody attached to the Beatles, could speak authoritatively about the band as well as the nature of Beatlemania. Ryan White’s documentary Good Ol’ Freda is a wonderful testament by and character study of a woman who had been, up until now, one of the quietest members of the Beatles community. It’s a piece of Beatles history we didn’t know we were missing. I had the pleasure of speaking with Kelly a few days after the film’s premiere at SXSW, and here’s what she had to share about her history with the most popular band of all time.

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Good Ol Freda

Good Ol’ Freda, an engrossing character study of Freda Kelly – the Beatles’ secretary, head of the fan club, and living time capsule of Beatlemania – is only Ryan White’s second feature documentary, but he’s already making a name for himself in the world of non-fiction. His first film, Pelada, premiered at SXSW in 2010, and he’s already hard at work on his third film, one that focuses on the lawsuit challenging California’s controversial Proposition 8 making its way to the Supreme Court. During SXSW, I sat down to talk with White and producer Kathy McCabe about the difficulties and surprises of documentary filmmaking, especially when it comes to the Beatles.

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Jimi Hendrix

There are a lot of things that writer/director John Ridley’s upcoming biopic of rock great Jimi Hendrix, All Is By My Side, has going for it. The most obvious asset being its star, André Benjamin, who has shown potential as an actor, has a ton of experience being a musician, and looks pretty much exactly like Jimi Hendrix once he’s all dressed up in costume and letting his afro roam free. There’s one huge stumbling block that has a lot of people questioning what the point of making this movie is at all though: the Hendrix estate didn’t sign off on letting them use any of the musician’s music in the film. How do you make a movie about Hendrix’s music career without showing him playing any of his music? Rolling Stone has the scoop. Apparently the biggest strategy Ridley and company are employing when it comes to getting around the issue of not being able to use any of Hendrix’s copyrights is that they’re going to focus on an isolated part of the musician’s career, the period where he was just emerging onto the scene in ’66 and ’67. Or, as producer Sean McKittrick puts it, “This is the story of Jimi being discovered as a backup musician and how he went to London and became Jimi Hendrix.” In McKittrick’s opinion, focusing on just the early part of Hendrix’s career is smarter than making a movie that covers his whole life, because, “That would be like making a movie […]

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Culture Warrior

Television’s manufacturing of nostalgia often reduces the past to its most obvious series of events. Whether in revisiting popular culture on VH1’s I Love the ‘70s or in TV movies ranging from The ‘60s to The Kennedys, “the past” rarely adds up to anything more than what we already know about it. The past, then, becomes reduced to a series of iconic historical events that are imbued with the hindsight-benefit of the present rather than portrayed in a way that provides any sense of convincing every-dayness. AMC’s Mad Men has largely avoided this trap. Where NBC’s The ‘60s framed the entire decide as a monolithic event whose every singular moment one nuclear family was improbably involved in, Mad Men integrates personal storylines into major events in a way that gives them a believable microscopic intimacy which make them feel like artifacts of the present: the Kennedy/Nixon election occurs in the background during a raucous and promiscuous office party in Season 1, Don Draper’s (John Hamm) marriage dissolves as the Cuban missile crisis escalates in Season 2, and Roger Sterling’s (John Slattery) daughter’s wedding is forebodingly scheduled on November 22, 1963 in Season 3. But these are the events we have come to expect and anticipate Mad Men to touch upon as its timeline moves forward. What the show is particularly adept at doing – and what separates its from traditional and redundant encapsulations of our culture’s most-revisited decade – is its use of smaller moments. Examine the news landscape each […]

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Criterion Files

Tune into VH1 Classics on any given day, and this is something you’re likely to see: a rock video of a mid-80s hair band playing on a giant stage, complete with sleek cinematography, wide camera angles, and a stadium-sized audience packed to the brim. At first you might be confused, thinking that this is possibly some Whitesnake or Guns N’ Roses song that somehow escaped your memory. But then the music video ends and in the bottom left corner the band’s name comes up. You’ve never heard of them before, and you’ve definitely never heard this song before. Yet this video depicts monstrous popularity that suggests nothing less than massive cultural phenomenon. While it’s possible for a one-hit wonder to develop this degree of renown for a certain frame of time, it becomes something of a schizophrenic moment when you consider that this hit single both inaugurated the now-forgotten band’s moment of popularity and depicted it simultaneously. With so many hair bands, how is it possible that every single one of them sells out stadium-size crowds? The answer, of course, can only be one thing: an association with mass popularity is, for hair bands, only a reality for the privileged few, but for the rest it’s a fabrication that’s all part of the musical aesthetic – it’s what makes this subgenre of rock that’s reliant on spectacle so spectacular. It’s fitting, then, that one of the landmark mockumentaries of American filmmaking chose as its subject a genre that itself relies […]

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This week, on a very special episode of Reject Radio, Associate Editor Kate Erbland drops by to play Best/Worst and talk Found Fauxtage Films. Plus, we speak with author Ray Morton to get the whole story of why The Beatles made A Hard Day’s Night and we get a special announcement directly from Vimeo that will sound like sunshine to weary independent filmmakers. That is, the filmmakers who want to save some money. Download This Episode

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Film fans already got a glimpse at the early days of The Beatles’ career with 1994’s Backbeat, a dramatization of their days working the club scene in Hamburg. Now there’s a new film in the works that is going to tell the story of their last days together as a band. Richard DiLello worked as a gofer for The Beatles’ late-career recording company, Apple Records, between 1968 and 1970, and his written account of his time there The Longest Cocktail Party is going to serve as the source material for the new film. During his time working at Apple, DiLello established personal relationships with each member of The Beatles, as well as their closest friends and family, and his book is told from his own perspective, watching this huge world crumble with outside eyes. The film version of The Longest Cocktail Party is being produced by a team consisting of Michael Winterbottom, Oasis’ Liam Gallagher, and Winterbottom’s longtime producing partner Andrew Eaton. The screenplay is being adapted by Four Lions writer Jesse Armstrong, and Winterbottom himself intends on directing. That makes perfect sense, as he already has experience directing a film called 24 Hour Party People, so The Longest Cocktail Party shouldn’t be much of a stretch. The biggest hurdles in the way of getting a film like this together are going to be affording the rights to enough of The Beatles’ catalogue to put together an appropriate soundtrack and finding the right actors to bring the iconic quartet to life. […]

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Criterion Files

For the rest of the summer, Adam and Landon will be focusing on films included in the Criterion Collection released by the legendary BBS Production Company whose anti-establishment films rocked the world of Hollywood in the late 1960s and early 1970s. So dust of your old LPs, set out on the highway, and embrace your countercultural sensibilities with one of the most eccentric and essential stories of New Hollywood. When rummaging through the Criterion Collection’s available box sets, one thing becomes abundantly clear: the serious and traditional role that authorship has played in forming both the Collection and its reputation. Whether it’s five films by John Cassavetes, Sergei Eisenstein’s sound years, or Truffaut’s cinematic adventures of Antoine Doinel, the Collection places the director as the primary author of the text, just as they do when ascribing possession to individual titles (“Orson Welles’s F for Fake,” for instance). Then came the BBS set, which frames authorship to a group of films not because of the signatures of the directors who made each individual title, but as a group effort through the umbrella of a production company. BBS may refer specifically to Bob Rafelson, Bert Schneider, and Steve Blauner, but the talent pool that determined the artistic output of this company was hardly exclusive to them, incorporating the then-young talents of Dennis Hopper, Peter Bogdanovich, Jack Nicholson, and Henry Jaglom. None of these figures solely inhabited clear and exclusive occupational signposts like “writer,” “director,” “producer,” or “actor,” but a combined contributions to […]

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Every day, come rain or shine or internet tubes breaking, Film School Rejects showcases a trailer from the past. The Beatles are arguably the largest worldwide, music phenomenon of the 20th century. Their influence and skill cannot be overstated, and they are partially (alongside The Beach Boys) responsible for the past four decades of pop music (for better or for worse). But in 1964, they were just beginning their takeover, and part of their attack plan as a silly little movie that sees them channeling the Marx Brothers in between jam sessions. It’s absurd, but it’s also the least absurd movie they ever made. Check out the trailer for yourself:

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What is Movie News After Dark? This is a question that I am almost never asked, but I will answer it for you anyway. Movie News After Dark is FSR’s newest late-night secretion, a column dedicated to all of the news stories that slip past our daytime editorial staff and make it into my curiously chubby RSS ‘flagged’ box. It will (but is not guaranteed to) include relevant movie news, links to insightful commentary and other film-related shenanigans. I may also throw in a link to something TV-related here or there. It will also serve as my place of record for being both charming and sharp-witted, but most likely I will be neither of the two. I write this stuff late at night, what do you expect?

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I’m hoping that a casting director for Robert Zemeckis asked Cary Elwes to star in Yellow Submarine, and he answered, “As you wish.”

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YellowSubmarine

Robert Zemeckis is moving forward with his remake of a movie based on one of the lesser works of pop icons who didn’t even appear in the first film. Explain to me why this is relevant.

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jason-lee-header

It appears as if Brodie from Mallrats is all grown up. Not only is Jason Lee making his way from Earl to another TV series, he’s taking to directing.. and he’s going back in time.

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Hot off the success of Love You More at the Cannes Film Festival, director Sam Taylor-Wood hopes to strike a chord in the hearts of John Lennon fans with Nowhere Boy.

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It might be a bold claim, but not only do I think the remake shouldn’t be made, I don’t think it can be made, and I doubt that it ever will. I also think it already has – how’s that for mind boggling?

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post-acrosstheuniverse.jpg

Oh my, what could have been. Across the Universe is not as bad as it could have been and it’s also not as great as it should be. The third musical (second rock musical) of the year, Across the Universecan’t quite ascend to the level that Once is on but instead it is more in the realm of Hairspray, which isn’t bad either.

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