The Beatles get a new lease of life on Criterion 4K UHD
Meet the Beatles! Just one month after they exploded onto the U.S. scene with their Ed Sullivan Show appearance, John, Paul, George, and Ringo began working on a project that would bring their revolutionary talent to the big screen. This film, in which the bandmates play slapstick versions of themselves, captured the astonishing moment when they officially became the singular, irreverent idols of their generation and changed music forever. Directed with raucous, anything-goes verve by Richard Lester (The Knack . . . and How to Get It) and featuring a slew of iconic pop anthems — including the title track, “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “I Should Have Known Better,” and “If I Fell” — A Hard Day’s Night, which reconceived the movie musical and exerted an incalculable influence on the music video, is one of the most deliriously entertaining movies of all time.
The Beatles were back in the spotlight recently with the release of Peter Jackson’s superb Get Back. A nearly 8 hour documentary, that uses restored footage from 1970 to chronicle the recording of Let It Be, and the eventual disintegration of the group. A Hard Day’s Night is a joyous antidote to that, one that harkens back to the beginning of this quartet’s journey stateside after drawing 70 million viewers during an appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964. Richard Lester’s feature rode that wave of popularity, embedding the characters of this band in pop culture as much as their music had started to. The film is essentially a humorous day in the life, a road trip for the band to make it to an evening performance. Meeting fans and farce en route, it’s really an opportunity for their (mildly exaggerated) personalities and quirks to come out. A showcase for the Fab Four’s musical talents and affable natures.
There’s a fly on the wall aspect to proceedings, director Richard Lester (Superman II, Superman III, The Three Musketeers) delivering a look and tone that feels remarkably fresh even today. The black and white, and flitting with slapstick comedy makes the film akin to old Chaplain or Buster Keaton films, especially when footage is sped up. But the use of multiple (handheld) cameras, viewpoints, and splitscreens, shake things up. This is of course enhanced by The Beatles themselves, adding their own energy, wit, and rascally charm. We also have the manic feel that comes from the crowds that surround the quartet, who seem visibly surprised by their success at times. The screenplay by Alun Owen is simple, but playful, and skillfully makes the inexperience of the group on screen an actual strength. It all amounts to a technically impressive, and beguiling composition, one that heightens joy and exuberance felt during this British invasion of the states.
Criterions release adds to their growing 4K collection, with a restoration approved by director Richard Lester. Black and white films are usually unforgiving when it comes to showing off the quality of a transfer, and here, the results are exceptional. A sharp image, solid blacks and white, with an impressive range in between. Grain is kept at low levels, no artificiality apparent, not any defects or artifacts. Consistently high quality image throughout. The release is stuffed with some quality extra features:
- Audio commentary featuring cast and crew (dual-format and 4K UHD only): Assembled from various materials, offers a lot of info from various supporting elements involved in the film from actors to cinematographer Gilbert Taylor, associate producer Denis O’Dell, second assistant director Barrie Melrose, and more
- In Their Own Voices, a program featuring 1964 interviews with the Beatles with behind-the-scenes footage and photos: Audio from interview, focusing on personal memories form the shoot, laid over footage from filming
- “You Can’t Do That”: The Making of “A Hard Day’s Night,” a 1994 documentary by producer Walter Shenson including an outtake performance by the Beatles: Just over an hour in length, it puts together narration with Phil Collins, over clips and archival interviews with various film and musical personalities. A very diverse number of takes and insights on the film from Roger Ebert to the President of the New Jersey Beatles fan club
- Things They Said Today, a 2002 documentary about the film featuring Lester, music producer George Martin, screenwriter Alun Owen, and cinematographer Gilbert Taylor (dual-format and 4K UHD only): compiles clips from a lot of the key figures involved in making the film and also pushing it upon release
- Picturewise, a program about Lester’s early work, featuring a 2014 audio interview with the director (dual-format and 4K UHD only): An interesting look at some of the creative/artistic choices and approaches made by Lester while shooting the film. Written and produced by critic and filmmaker David Cairns, narrated by Rita Tushingham, with an interview from Lester himself. It drives home how unique and refreshing the director’s approach to the film was and how influential it would come to be
- The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film (1960), Lester’s Oscar-nominated short (dual-format and 4K UHD only): A delightful addition, shot for less than $100 and featuring some of the royalty of British comedy from the 1950s, including Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan
- Anatomy of a Style, a 2014 program on Lester’s methods (dual-format and 4K UHD only): Pairs screenwriter Bobbie O’Steen and music editor Suzana Peric in a breakdown of the shooting and editing of the five key musical sequences
- Interview from 2014 with Beatles biographer Mark Lewisohn (dual-format and 4K UHD only) — The Beatles: The Road to A Hard Day’s Night: Recorded for Criterion, the author gives a great overview of the band’s career, and their long lasting impact on music and pop culture
- PLUS: An essay by critic Howard Hampton and excerpts from a 1970 interview with Lester (dual-format and 4K UHD only): contained within the included booklet, which also contains details on the film restoration and transfer
The Bottom Line
A Hard Day’s Night remains as exuberant and enjoyable as it undoubtedly was in 1963. Bringing the charms and talents of The Beatles to the big screen, with Lester admirably capturing the frenetic fandom that surrounded them. Criterion’s transfer is immaculate, and this celebration of The Beatles is capped off with a fine selection of extra features.
A Hard Day’s Night is available via Criterion from Jan 18th