Music fans regularly discuss The Beatles and their legacy. They were – and many would argue, still are – the most-beloved pop/rock music group in history. For some fans, their favorite Beatle album is Abbey Road. For others, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club and Revolver get high praise.
Still others debate what was The Beatles’ best performance or best music video, or what was their best film. The outstanding catalog of work (The Beatles also made five movies) makes it hard to pick a single song or movie, or DVD, but since we’re professed Beatlemaniacs we thought we’d try anyway:
Top Three Beatle DVD’s
The best Beatle DVDs cover the initial rush of Beatlemania that swept over America in early 1964. While it may seem strange to focus on one era, considering their massive catalog, there is a valid reason: Later-period Beatle movies were mostly bizarre comedies and psychedelic romps that were often difficult to follow. Still, each Beatles video cited here captures the infectious energy the band originally generated, while each is from a different cinematic angle:
1. The Four Complete Historic Ed Sullivan Shows Featuring The Beatles (1964)
Why It Tops The List: The Beatles’ Ed Sullivan performance is one of the most famous television broadcasts of all time.
If you really want to witness how The Beatles upended American entertainment, you need to watch the original Ed Sullivan shows, which made the band an international phenomenon. On this two-disc collection, not only do you get The Beatles in all their mop-top glory (with the most appreciative studio audience in broadcast history), but you also see the “normal” TV acts that usually populated American variety television…an assortment of comics, singers, jugglers, impressionists, etc. In addition, you even get some of the original network TV commercials that ran during the original historic broadcasts. This is living history.
2. The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit (1990)
Why It Tops The List: This behind-the-scenes documentary captures the moment when pop culture took over not only America, but the world.
In this AP Photo, The Beatles meet reporters at Kennedy Airport in New York City on February 7, 1964, after their arrival from London for their first American tour. The band (from left to right): Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison and John Lennon.
NYC erupted when the Fab Four landed at JFK Airport. This movie captures that moment in a fascinating documentary. The filmmaking Maysles brothers had unprecedented access to the band members, following them around as they remained shut-ins at their hotel, which was then under siege by thousands of crazed teens screaming as if they were being boiled alive. Best moments: The boys break free and head to a dance club where they shake and shimmy with the rest of the crowd: “There’s the Peppermint Lounge crammed to the limit with continental hipsters and transistor sisters all razor-cut and Fabu-lashed, moving and grooving to the Push and Shake,” wrote critic Ronn Spencer.
3. A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
Why It Tops The List: This crazy, backstage comedy featuring the antics of the Fab Four is considered a cinematic classic.
Paul, Ringo, John and George run from frantic fans. The chase was real and director Richard Lester used it in the amazing opening of A Hard Day’s Night, which perfectly captured all the energy, the fun and the excitement. This was Beatlemania.
Made quickly and with tremendous energy – as Beatlemania was still very much happening - A Hard Day’s Night follows the band on tour on England, in much the same sense as The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit follows the group around New York. Add bright, punchy jokes, some of the greatest tunes in Rock ‘n’ Roll history, and a ridiculous sub-plot of Paul watching over his mischievous grandfather, and you’ve got A Hard Day’s Night. Now considered one of the inspirations for modern music videos, director Richard Lester’s quick cutting, visual wit and marriage of image and sound make A Hard Day’s Night play fresh even now, almost as if it was made just a few weeks ago.
The Rest of The Beatles on DVD
From this point forward, reviewing the rest of the Beatle movies requires some degree of patience. The plot lines get weirder, the visuals become more psychedelic (as was all the rage back then) and the stories become harder to follow. These films also take place as the band is becoming more of an introverted studio band and less of a touring group. Consequently, gone (for the most part) are the lovable, cheerful mop-tops who charmed the world just a few years before.
Why Watch It: For the songs, The Beatles and John Lennon’s glasses.
Primarily a secret-agent spoof (remember, the film was made in James Bond’s heyday), Help! has some great numbers in it (like the title track and “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,”). It also has a plot that’s more tangled than a game of Twister, but it features some interesting bits of Beatles trivia, including the first appearance of John Lennon on film wearing his trademark round granny glasses. (Recommended, with Reservations)
Magical Mystery Tour (1967)
Why Watch It: There are some great songs, but with a confusing and psychedelic plot, it’s a movie only a Beatlemaniac could love.
The soundtrack ain’t bad, but the plot (featuring a bus tour of oddball characters and Beatles) was (and maybe still is) too far out for public consumption. Some of the images—such as John Lennon costumed as a mustachioed waiter serving spaghetti literally by the shovelful—are amazing, but often too surreal. This film was one of the few Beatles projects that bombed with both critics and fans. (Not Recommended)
Yellow Submarine (1968)
Why Watch It: It’s an animated classic. Although sadly, currently it’s out of print and unavailable.
One film later, The Beatles returned to form with this charming animated feature. Yellow Submarine is an eye-popping presentation that took existing Beatle themes (such as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the title track) and spun them into a wondrous, pop-art excursion. The film is still as entertaining as it is colorful and Yellow Submarine is being remade by Robert Zemeckis as a 3D computer-animated release. (Highly Recommended)
Let It Be (1970)
Why Watch It: It showcases The Beatles’ last public performance and their squabbles, which would ultimately permanently separate the band. Also, currently out of print.
The decision to release Let It Be as a film was based on financial reasons. The Beatles spent so much money on the project that their accountants informed the band they couldn’t afford to bury it, as much as the Beatles wanted to.
The Beatles were always light years ahead of the contemporary culture; here the band anticipates today’s reality TV obsession by creating the first portrait of a four-way divorce ever filmed. Let It Be is supposed to capture the taping of the next-to-last studio album, and it does that. But it also recorded all the ugly in-fighting that was taking place within the band as it started heading toward complete meltdown. You’ll hear great songs if you can stand wading through all this painful bitterness, especially the impromptu rooftop jam that would mark the group’s last public performance. (Highly Recommended)
The Beatles Anthology (1995)
Why Watch It: It’s the comprehensive and final word on all things Beatle.
There is one mega-DVD package to rule them all. The Beatles Anthology was made with the extensive cooperation and many interviews with the three remaining Beatles of the time – Paul, George and Ringo. It’s a five-disc documentary that starts at the very beginning, back when the four lads were starting out. From the band’s Liverpool origins, to its rugged apprenticeship in Hamburg, to the extraordinary early recordings, to worldwide celebrity and critical acclaim, all of the important themes are covered in depth. For dedicated Beatle fans who want a good ten-hour overview of the world’s top pop band. (Highly Recommended)
Following in The Beatles’ Footsteps
The Beatles’ creativity knew no bounds. Not only did they dominate and revolutionize popular music, they also triumphed in the world of film. In addition, they were visionary in their approach to blending the two.
Music and film have been fused together for years now and both media are constantly overlapping in today’s global entertainment marketplace. If the Beatles were still around today, you’d see them using some the technological tools now available to create powerful music and films. Thankfully, unlike the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, technology is considerably more accessible and cheaper. Today all you need is a computer and a little direction to follow in The Beatles’ footsteps.
For teens and kids, computer summer camps like Digital Media Academy can teach both music production and filmmaking. In some cases, music and filmmaking summer camps and programs are combined for the best of both worlds. The Beatles would certainly approve.
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