Celebrate 50 years of Beatlemania with these fab films
It was 50 years ago today—okay, Sunday, Feb. 9—that The Beatles conquered America with the first of three consecutive appearances on the Ed Sullivan TV show. The was back in 1964, and nothing in music, society, or pop culture was ever the same again.
Only two and a half years later, The Beatles stopped touring in order to concentrate on writing and recording the music that was the defining soundtrack of the 1960s. And their influence continued to shape the culture, if no longer on stage, definitely over the airwaves and onscreen. The group made five official movies together as a band, not to mention various individual solo acting projects, vanity productions, and concert films.
The Beatles infectious music and cheeky irreverence are as irresistible today as ever. To celebrate 50 years of the Fab Four, here are some of their best onscreen appearances to get you into that vintage Beatlemania vibe.
A HARD DAY’S NIGHT (1964) The first Beatles movie is a day-in-the-life adventure full of the knockabout slapstick and faster-than-a-speeding-bullet wisecracks that taught an entire generation how to be cool. Scripted by Liverpudlian Alun Owen, it’s also a radical comedy of class and youth as the upstart lads from the industrial north gleefully overrun fusty old rules and traditions. Radical too is Richard Lester’s groundbreaking visual style; shot on the cheap in black-and-white with mostly hand-held cameras, the movie’s kinetic, no-retakes immediacy still looks fresh and invigorating. (And, seriously, were these guys ever that young? George had just turned 21; elder statesman John was not quite 24.) More than a great rock ‘n’ roll movie—and it’s one of the best, especially since the soundtrack was digitally restored in 2000—it has only improved with age.
HELP! (1965) This lavish color musical comedy spotlights The Beatles in the last phase of their clean-cut “four lads” period. It’s a slapstick spoof on the James Bond spy film craze with a tribe of scimitar-wielding East Indian cultists pursuing the boys from London to the Swiss Alps to the Bahamas because Ringo is wearing the sacred sacrificial ring of the next chosen victim. But there’s still plenty of time for music, with songs elaborately staged by director Richard Lester at every whistle stop along the way, including Britain’s ancient Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain.
YELLOW SUBMARINE (1968) The Beatles lent their names, their personalities, and their blessing to this opulent animated fairy tale in the candy-colored Peter Max style, filled with psychedelic visual takes on popular Beatle songs, along with four new songs and an incidental symphonic soundtrack written by Beatles producer George Martin. In the lighthearted, opium-dream plot, The Beatles are whisked off to the magical kingdom of Pepperland to fight the killjoy Blue Meanies with their special brand of music and merriment.
LET IT BE (1970) Director Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s documentary of The Beatles’ last recording sessions explores for the first time the tensions, traumas, and downbeat reality behind the myth. Still in their late 20s, and obviously on the verge of splitting up to go their separate creative ways, John, Paul, George and Ringo nevertheless manage to create some indelible musical moments, from the raucous, previously unrecorded vintage tune, “The One After 909,” to their live performance of “Get Back” to a neighborhood of astonished Londoners from the rooftop of their Apple recording studio.
THE CONCERT FOR BANGLADESH (1972) Years before Band-Aid and Live-Aid, George Harrison organized and headlined this first all-star charity rock concert as a favor to Ravi Shankar, with proceeds from the concert, film and album going to UNICEF to aid refugees in what was then East Pakistan. Compiled from two concerts staged August 1 at Madison Square Garden, the film reunites George and Ringo Starr in a tasty lineup that includes Eric Clapton, Leon Russell, Billy Preston, Badfinger and, oh yeah, Bob Dylan (who had not performed live for five years).
GIVE MY REGARDS TO BROAD STREET (1984) Paul McCartney returns to the day-in-the-life format in the Wings era in this musical confection. Despite a feeble plot, it has lavish costumes, imaginative sets, and a terrific soundtrack of 14 McCartney songs ranging from “Yesterday” and “Eleanor Rigby” to “Band on the Run” and “No More Lonely Nights.” Released exactly two decades after A Hard Day’s Night, it offers a remarkable commentary on 20 years in the pop culture mainstream.