With Ron Howard’s new Beatles documentary ready for a September release, Getintothis’ Del Pike looks back on the 10 must see Beatles movies that are officially Fab.
It was only a matter of time before Richie Cunningham made a film about The Beatles and here it is, September sees the release of Ron Howard’s documentary, The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years.
The film promises to tell stories thus far untold and include rare and unseen footage. Whether we need another Beatles movie is debatable and we can only hope that Ron Howard’s impressive track record means he will deliver the goods and indeed offer us something fresh and unique. It does seem appropriate that Howard is at the wheel here, as Happy Days, the sitcom that introduced his alterego Richie Cunningham to the world, reflected the domestic backdrop to late 50s early 60s American youth in an extension of George Lucas’ American Graffiti (also starring Ron Howard).
Eight Days a Week is the latest in a seemingly countless portrayal of the world’s most successful band on celluloid. What The Beatles offered and most bands since still cannot fully lay claim to, was personalities to match their musical prowess. Attempts throughout the years to bring all band member’s personas equally to the fore with The Monkees, Take That even One Direction have never quite equaled the universal affection directed at John, Paul, George and Ringo.
Those witty televised press conferences and the band’s willingness to be interviewed endlessly on shows like Ready Steady Go and regional Granada news broadcasts made their nuances known, but it was perhaps their naturalistic performances in their steady output of films that cemented this familiarity. From 1964 to 1970 The Beatles in varying degrees of input, made five films and in this short time each film showed a leap of progress, from lovable, seemingly innocent mop-tops, through psychedelic acid heads to long hairs on the brink of splitting up.
Alongside the five “official” movies we have seen a brace of biogs, some good some bad, from the inspiring Nowhere Boy (2009) to some frankly appalling made for TV efforts like The Birth of The Beatles (1979). Movies have also emerged from The Beatles in a solo capacity, again ranging in quality to absolute extremes.
Before we discover if Eight Days a Week delivers the goods, Getintothis are going to guide you through ten of the best Beatles movies to get you in the mood. So let us introduce to you, the band you’ve known for all these years…
- Give my Regards to Broad Street (Directed by Peter Webb – 1984)
Not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination but a fascinating ego stroking exercise by Sir Paul which deserves a re-visit. Premiered at the Odeon on London Road on the day that Paul received his freedom of the city, this film was hyped! Led by the success of the No More Lonely Nights single and the much publicised Rupert the Bear Short featuring We All Stand Together, the film was guaranteed a full house. Pretty much retelling the story of A Hard Day’s Night but replacing the missing Ringo with the master tapes to Paul’s new album, the film was seen as a folly – a chance for Paul to showcase his already familiar talents. The weak story line glued together by a string of impressive set pieces featuring a mix of Beatles tracks, McCartney favourites and some exclusives for the film. The acting is poor and the casting of Tracey Ullman and Giant Haystacks beggars belief but those set pieces remain enjoyable, particularly if you’re a Macca fan of course.
Highlights include a big all singing all dancing production of Ballroom Dancing from the Tug of War album and a very 80s sci-fi themed reworking of Wings’ Silly Love Songs. Perhaps the most ambitious sequence is an extended version of Eleanor Rigby / Eleanor’s Dream which transports Paul and Ringo with their real life wives to a snowy Victorian dreamscape where Paul loses Linda over a waterfall and ends up in a chilling finale in a graveyard. Honestly.
- The Magic Christian (Directed by Joe McGrath – 1969)
Ringo’s first foray into non-Beatles movie work happened whilst he was still a serving member. His deadpan delivery went down well on screen and is exploited in this surreal comedy based on the book by Terry Southern (Barbarella, Easy Rider). Peter Sellers plays Sir Guy Grand, a ridiculously extravagant millionaire who takes homeless Ringo under his wing as his adopted son, Youngman Grand. The pair carry out an episodic campaign of practical jokes and situations to ridicule the proles. The surreal nature of the film is very similar to that of the 1967 Bond spoof, Casino Royale for which Southern was an uncredited writer. It is so “of its time” and that is the appeal.
Featuring cameos from just about anyone available at the time (much like this year’s Ab Fab film), it is good to see the likes of Spike Milligan, Christopher Lee and Raquel Welch hamming it up. Memorable scenes include Welch whipping dozens of naked female rowers in the hull of the HMS Magic Christian, very daring for the time and the gross out “Free Money” sequence that sees Guy Grand fill up a pool of slaughtehouse waste and scatter money on the top. Office workers from London’s South Bank go from poking the notes with their brollies to jumping right in. It’s a daring and screwed up movie with a great soundtrack including Something in the Air by Thunderclap Newman and the Apple signed Badfinger performing McCartney’s Come and Get it, specially written for the movie.
- Nowhere Boy (Directed by Sam Taylor-Wood, 2009)
Taylor-Wood’s successful biopic of John Lennon’s early years is an affectionate attempt to get under the skin of the young rock and roller and explore what turned him into the Lennon legend. Lennon is played with absolute grace by Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass) and gives heart to the character as well as aggression.
There was controversy surrounding the film in the suggestion that Lennon’s love for his mother Julia may have been something more than maternal, and this was perhaps further exacerbated by the teenage actor’s on-set relationship with the director 23 years his senior. The couple are now married with children and Sam Taylor-Wood has since gone on to direct Fifty Shades of Grey. The film’s strong cast with Kristin Scott Thomas as John’s Aunt Mimi and David Threlfall as Uncle George help to put across a serious account of those formative years and the film succeeded in introducing Lennon and The Beatles to a new teenage audience and becoming something of a cult hit with that age group.
- The Rutles: All You need is Cash (Directed by Eric Idle, Gary Weis, 1978)
This TV movie, a spin-off of BBC2’s Rutland Weekend Television was a surprise hit among Beatles’ fans who saw it as more of a homage than a spoof. The Rutles have since become legendary, spawning a less successful sequel Can’t Buy Me Lunch, three albums and they are still touring in a depleted line-up with the original Ron Nasty and Barry Wom.
Filmed in a rockumentary / This is Spinal Tap style, the story closely follows the trajectory of The Beatles but with Dirk, Nasty, Stig and Barry and their manager, Leggy Mountbatten. With appearances from Brits Eric Idle and Michael Palin and American friends John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radnor and Bill Murray, it comes across as a fusion of Monty Python and Saturday Night Live. The film is given extra levity from appearances from Paul Simon, Mick Jagger, Ronnie Wood and even a disguised George Harrison.
Playing on the personalities of The Beatles, the Bonzo’s Neil Innes plays Ron Nasty with all the acidic humour of John Lennon whilst in a pre-pc world, Indian actor, Rikki Fataar’s Stig O’Hara takes George Harrison’s Eastern desires to extremes. Playing the “Quiet One”, Fataar doesn’t say a word in the whole film. Dirk McQuickly (Idle) and Barry Wom (John Halsey) make up the rest of the Pre-fab Four.
Whilst created for laughs, credit is due to the brilliant Neil Innes and Eric Idle for the soundtrack where the spoofs are as entertaining as the songs they are mocking, notably the Yellow Submarine Sandwich era Cheese and Onions and the Hard Day’s Rut hit I Must be in Love. When The Beatles released their Anthology albums in the 90s, The Rutles followed suit with their Archaeology album. Inspired.
- Anthology (Directed by Bob Smeaton, Kevin Godley, Geoff Wonfor, 1995)
This ten hour documentary is as comprehensive a Beatles biog that you are going to get. An official Apple release involving all three surviving Beatles (at the time), affectionately interviewed at length by Jools Holland and including a treasury of archive footage, the film was originally shown as an edited down TV series for ITV, before a comprehensive DVD release in all its glory.
Being a Beatles fan in 1995 felt like Christmas. Not only did we get the documentary but also two brand new (of sorts) Beatles singles, Free as a Bird and Real Love, featuring Jeff Lynne and archived vocals from John. The songs were originally recorded as Lennon demos and the other three added their bits to make what roughly sounded like The Beatles, but was closer to George’s solo work with Lynne. Three double albums of unreleased tracks, demos and live recordings also hit the shelves over the period of a year.
The documentary is essential for die-hard Beatles fans and novices alike and is worth it just to see George, Paul and Ringo jamming together one last time before George’s death in 2001. An alternative bootleg version has circulated online for a few years made up of time-coded clips and alternative interviews.
- . Let it Be (Directed by Michael Lindsay Hogg, 1970)
Fresh from directing The Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus, Michael Lindsay-Hogg set out to paint a very different picture of The Beatles that had been seen in their previous jaunty features. Not a difficult task, The Beatles of the late 60s had lived the lives of men twice their age and it showed. The long haired, bearded Beatles would have been unrecognisable to their schoolgirl fans of 1964. It’s an unhappy film to be honest, torn from their safety zone of Abbey Road and thrust into the hollow environment of the cavernous Twickenham film studio, they are dis-placed and lost. There are moments of joy, see Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, but they are less memorable than the strained scenes between individual band members trying to gel together. Notably Paul’s attempt to guide George, leading to his “You tell me what to play and I’ll play it” remark evidences that the cracks were there to see. Yoko Ono’s constant presence in the studio was making it difficult to re-engage in the boy’s club atmosphere of the early days, The Beatles had grown up.
The music is the pull though. The songs which would appear across subsequent singles and the Let it Be album are among some of their best. The title song performed by Paul at the piano with additional keys from Billy Preston is priceless as are the stripped down deliveries of Two of us and I Me Mine.
The unparalleled highlight of the film is when the spirit of the old Beatles shines through and they spontaneously take to the roof of the Apple building on Savile Row, for what would become their final performance. Pure class shines out from definitive live renditions of Get Back, Don’t Let Me Down and I’ve Got a Feeling.
The film was meant to show a stripped down version of The Beatles, not seen before, but the album, produced by Phil Spector was too lavish to match the movie. In 2003 the master tapes were officially re-visited and re-presented as Let it Be Naked with the NME heralding The Beatles “The best garage band ever.”
- Magical Mystery Tour (Directed by The Beatles, 1967)
Paul McCartney has often expressed his interest in experimental film and if you are to enjoy Magical Mystery Tour, then in some ways this is how it should be regarded. Considered at the time as incoherent and self-indulgent, this McCartney led project failed to impress when it was shown in black and white as part of the BBC’s Christmas scheduling on Boxing Day. It starts well enough with Ringo booking a bus trip for his Aunt Jessie and himself but once on the bus the plot becomes lost in a series of vignettes, each one growing increasingly surreal and sinister.
The Fool on the Hill can be viewed as an innocent music video with Paul running gaily through French countryside, but George’s Blue Jay Way sequence is nightmarish and acid drenched, better placed as an art installation than a festive treat.
The film is ultimately entertaining and at 60 minutes doesn’t outstay its welcome. Welcome appearances from Ivor Cutler as the unofficial tour guide, Buster Bloodvessel, and Victor Spinetti as a manic Drill Sergeant help to roll the pace along, and scenes like Aunt Jessie’s dream where Jessie and Ivor Cutler are served shovelfuls of spaghetti by a mustachioed John Lennon until she can’t breathe are frankly terrifying. The film is worth a look if only for the completely brilliant I am the Walrus sequence, which sees The Beatles in animal masks with swaying policemen on an airfield and the performance in a Paul Raymond’s revue bar from the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah band of Death Cab for Cutie.
- Help! (Directed by Richard Lester, 1965)
A true product of its time, Help! finds The Beatles at the mercy of a dodgy Asian cult faction, intent on sacrificing Ringo for a sacred ring that has ended up on his finger. This slice of politically incorrect hokum still manages to entertain, but there is an ever present awkwardness in the portrayal of stereotypical Indian characters, played by white actors in turbans, including Warren Mitchell, Eleanor Bron and Leo McKern.
Essentially a full colour, exotic location packed follow up to A Hard Day’s Night, the film fails to capture the same sense of spontaneity by attempting to jump on the Bond bandwagon and squeeze in too many characters. John famously commented that he felt like an extra in his own film. It’s still a lot of fun, and between multiple comic attempts to remove Ringo’s ring, or finger are some great musical set pieces. You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away played out in their extravagant four-in-one terraced house is a stand out, as is Ticket to Ride, a bonafide promo clip shot in the Austrian alps.
The Beatles later admitted to being stoned for pretty much most of the filming and struggling to get shots completed on time, and the sparkle of the dialogue from their previous feature does feel a little duller here. John’s wit seems to have taken influence from his deadpan drinking buddy Peter Cook and Ringo is once again the butt of the jokes.
It has dated horribly, particularly in the Indian restaurant scene, and a bigger budget doesn’t necessarily improve the formula, but it still has an incredible amount of charm and is worth repeated viewings on a rainy afternoon.
- Yellow Submarine (Directed by George Dunning, 1968)
Whilst The Beatles were not directly involved in the day to day making of Yellow Submarine, their presence is felt through the donation of a plethora of brilliant songs and a brief live action appearance at the end. Dunning’s animated film, possibly captures the swinging sixties era more in this film than any other from that time.An explosion of psychedelic colour and themes of Love and Peace from start to finish.
The plot is more interesting than in the other Beatles movies too. The terrible Blue Meanies have invaded the peaceful Pepperland, turning the inhabitants into grey statues and imprisoning their resident band, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in a bubble. Young Fred an elderly submarine captain escapes to Liverpool in his Yellow Submarine and enlists the help of The Beatles, who cross many seas to reach Pepperland and beat the Blue Meanies by spreading some good old fashioned love.
The Beatles themselves did not want to be involved in the film and so their voices are provided quite poorly but not without charm by actors including Geoffrey Hughes (Keeping up Appearances) and John Clive (A Clockwork Orange). Ringo’s voice (Paul Angelis) was perhaps the closest and has become the go to voice when impersonating him. Ringo himself appears to play on it when narrating TV’s Thomas the Tank Engine years later.
The 2D animation still manages to impress and even to entertain kids, even if the references to Magritte, Dali and Lautrec are lost on them. Pop art influences too, add to the spectacle as the Submarine sails through the Seas of Time, Holes and Monsters.
Key sequences include a breath-taking Eleanor Rigby, set against surreal street scenes with a weeping Hell’s Angel, A spasmodic Blues and Reds football match and much Magritte imagery. Commissioned songs, Hey Bulldog, All Together Now and Only a Northern Song are great too. It is good to see The Beatles appear at the end to bid the audience farewell, but in fairness the film holds together well with their cartoon alter-egos. The Blu Ray release is a must.
- A Hard Day’s Night (Directed by Richard Lester, 1964)
The original and best. The most influential pop music movie ever? Probably. Many believe this was the film that invented the music video, and they may have a point. The premise is simple, The Beatles at the height of Beatlemania, board a train from Lime St (actually Marylebone) to London with their managers and Paul’s Grandad, to film a TV special.
Grandad (“A King Mixer!” – Paul) upsets Ringo which leads to him storming off before the show to parade the streets of London, leaving the rest of the cast to find him and bring him back.
The basic nature of the film means that we get to pretty much see The Beatles 100% of the time, either singing or cracking jokes in a carefully scripted Alun Owen screenplay that sounds beautifully ad-libbed. The Beatles come across as true comedians and pretty good actors too. Some of Ringo‘s solo scenes are particularly impressive.The inclusion of Mum and Dad favourites Wilfrid Bramble as Grandad, and John Junkin and Norman Rossington as the long suffering managers, guaranteed a family audience and the film was an absolute smash. Hordes of fainting girls lined the streets when the film premiered in London and The Beatles returned to Liverpool for a special preview and an appearance on the balcony of the Town Hall, cue more fainting fans.
The Can’t Buy Me Love sequence, which saw The Beatles running around in a field, recalling director Lester’s earlier work with The Goons was the scene that was seen to influence millions of promos, and it still stands as a brilliantly edited scene. Studio bound performances of If I Fell and I’m Happy Just to Dance with You look like they could have been shot by Godard or Truffaut. The final concert, played to a real audience of screaming kids, including a young Phil Collins, captures the frantic mood of Beatlemania perfectly.
A Hard Day’s Night is without doubt one of the greatest marriages of pop music and cinema and helped to propel the band into even further superstardom than they were already destined for. Unrivalled to this day, Forever Fab.
- The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years will be in cinemas on September 15, 2016.