Probably, like me you have commuted to work on public transport. No matter how good the service, the day finally arrives when your bus is late leaving you to wait for what seems an eternity. Then out of the blue, three of the blighters turn up, all at the same time. What that has to do with the Beatles might not appear immediately obvious to you now, but allow me to explain.
In the world of the Arts, things follow a recognised pattern until all of a sudden something happens, and like our three buses there is a burst of activity where creative minds explode simultaneously in the same place and at the same time. Perhaps a good example of this was La Belle Époque in nineteenth century, Paris where bohemians of all sorts gathered together to create new movements in the world of Arts. Well, something similar happened in the Swinging 60s, in England which might be typified by the Beatles.
Throughout their recording career the Fab Four always used their albums to showcase a spectrum of popular music which demonstrated not only their wide musical influences and song writing talents, but also determined everything that happened there after in the audio-visual world until the next album was released. They were a key stone in popular culture, suffice more than half a century later, few among us cannot name and hum a Beatles’ tune.
The lads from Liverpool made in total, four feature length films over a period of seven years. Yellow Submarine, (the feature length animation) had little to do with the mop tops themselves, other than one song which may have been written specifically for the project. (All together now). The character’s voices were voiceovers done by actors. Not all the Beatles films were, box office however, but the sound tracks certainly topped the charts worldwide.
Now clearly, John, Paul, Ringo and George were not alone and attracted about them many creative people but part of their success was the group’s refusal to accept that which had gone before them, and instead, they wanted to break all the rules. Their venture into cinema was as ground breaking as neither Lennon nor McCartney, were happy with the tried and tested musical format of the day, where characters just burst into song for the benefit of the narrative, instead, they preferred the music to be incidental to the plot.
In their debut film, A Hard Day’s Night (1963), a title coined by Ringo after a gruelling all-nighter in the recording studio, Lennon wrote the song but could not reach the high note, so Paul took lead vocal.
The screen play was written by Alun Owen and the film directed by Dick Lester. Owen had previously been successful with the play. ‘No Trams to Lime Street’ which featured Liverpudlian dialogue. The Beatles felt comfortable with this and relished working with him. Lester shot the movie in black and white in a style akin to Cinéma vérité. This was a new documentary filmmaking format developed by the French and combined improvisation with the use of the hand-held cameras to unveil truth or highlight subjects hidden behind crude reality.
An ideal medium for the fly on the wall glimpse into a day in the life of a successful 60s pop group. Here the princes of pop played themselves, casualties of their own fame, confined by a punishing schedule of performances and studio work. All over the head of the majority of fans who just wanted to see the Fab Four on the big screen. However, the film truly revealed what it was like to be a Beatle.
Many of Lester’s stylistic innovations became conventions of modern musical videos, in particular the multi-angle filming of a live performance.
Lester went on to direct their second film ‘Help!’ (1965). By contrast, this was a big budget technicolour project, set on several exotic foreign locations. Surrounded by the cream of British and Australian character actors, the four working class lads this time, felt trapped like extras in their own movie. Shot in a "haze of marijuana", the title track. ‘Help’ said more about life the fast lane than most of us could ever have realised at the time.