News

Beatles’ ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ gets fab 50th anniversary makeover

Randy Lewis
Los Angeles Times (MCT)

Given the sacrosanct aura that’s developed around pretty much everything to do with the Beatles over the past half-century, it seems unbelievable that anything related to the Fab Four might have ever gone missing through the decades.

But in coming up with a 50th anniversary, 4K digital restoration of the band’s beloved feature film debut “A Hard Day’s Night,” technicians at the Criterion Collection and Janus Films had to work around missing chunks from the first and last reels of the original negative. Producer Giles Martin, son of the Beatles’ original producer, George Martin, also had to compensate for a missing stereo master of their early single “She Loves You” and use the existing monaural recording as part of a new audio mix of the film’s dialogue and soundtrack.

All of which serves as a reminder that in early 1964 when Beatlemania was exploding worldwide, musical immortality seemed in doubt for the four lads from Liverpool.

“It was never my dad’s intention to be digging this up after 50 years,” Martin said this week. “I know it was his view that there would be more Beatles projects coming along down the line, and that some other young act would find the Beatles’ spark and the same (phenomenon) would be replicated. I think that was the case really until about 15 years ago. Now the Beatles have become this cultural phenomenon and they are stamped in history, and that hasn’t washed off in any way.”

The younger Martin’s mission in creating a surround-sound mix for a low-budget, black-and-white film that originally was presented in monaural sound in theaters around the world “wasn’t to be a modernized version of ‘A Hard Day’s Night.’”

“It’s not as if I’m mixing ‘Avatar,’” he said. “It still should sound like it’s in 1964.”

In fact, Martin said, “the advantage of 5.1 is that you can actually be more faithful to the mono. ... The film was in mono, and I found it weird that we would be listening to the Beatles talk and have it all come out of the center (channel), but then the band would play and the music would come out of the left and right speakers.”

The restored version expands some of the sonic elements but keeps the Beatles’ voices at center stage. “It makes for a more immersive environment,” Martin said, also noting that for the DVD and Blu-ray home video versions released last week, viewers have the option of choosing between a fully monaural audio mix or the 5.1 surround version. The discs also include bonus features, including the documentary “Things They Said Today” and a commentary track drawn from interviews conducted by Beatles expert Martin Lewis for the 2002 DVD release of “A Hard Day’s Night.”

The film itself “has never looked this good in theaters,” said Criterion Collection President Peter Becker, because “the prints made in 1964 were two or three generations away from the original 35mm negative.”

“When you’re working on the Beatles, it’s really a double-edged sword,” said Lee Kline, who headed Criterion’s film restoration team that located the best existing sections of the missing original negative to use for the restoration. “You’re working with things so many people are excited about, and something that’s very important to people’s hearts. You can’t talk to Beatles fans without some of them overwhelming you with how excited they are, and you take that into consideration.”

The tradition of translating popular music performers to the big screen was a spotty one before the Beatles came along, with movies often placing performers in awkward settings by directors who often had no feel for the exuberant energy of rock music.

“A Hard Day’s Night” director Richard Lester and screenwriter Alun Owen avoided those pitfalls by channeling the Beatles’ inherent personal charm and sense of humor into their script, and allowing John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr the opportunity to improvise many of their lines.

“In this case, the fifth Beatle was Richard Lester,” Becker said, referring to the 82-year-old director who has given his approval to the new restoration. “They trusted him, from his work with Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan and the Goons, which they totally loved. The level of freedom you feel in the film, a lot of that is from some of the things Lester introduced.”

Becker said his hope is that the wide release of “A Hard Day’s Night” will in some way echo the shared international experience it created originally. (“A Hard Day’s Night” opens Friday at select theaters around the country.)

“There are ways to mess up a restoration,” he said. “You can over-produce things, and over-process them to where they start to lose their shimmer, lose their grace, lose their energy. For this film, that would have been a complete tragedy. This is all about life and liberation and freedom. The Beatles are constantly breaking out of rooms, they are uncontainable in every way, which is how they were in life.

“Much of the humor in the film comes from people trying to get them to stay where they’re supposed to be, and they’re always running away to where they’re not supposed to go,” Becker said. “That freedom and freshness has to be there.”


Music

Books

Film

Recent
By the Book

Jack Halberstam's 'Wild Things: The Disorder of Desire' (excerpt)

Enjoy this excerpt of Wild Things: The Disorder of Desire, wherein Jack Halberstam offers an alternative history of sexuality by tracing the ways in which wildness has been associated with queerness and queer bodies throughout the 20th century.

Jack Halberstam
Music

Sotto Voce's 'Your Husband, the Governor' Is Beautifully Twisted DIY Indie Folk-rock

Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ryan Gabos releases another odd, gorgeous home studio recording under the moniker Sotto Voce.

Music

Numün's 'voyage au soleil' Is a Trippy, Ambient Ride and Ambitious Debut

Eclectic instrumental trio numün combine a wealth of influences to create a vibe that's both spacey and earthy on voyage au soleil.

Music

L7's 'Smell the Magic' Is 30 and Packs a Feminist Punch

Abortion is under threat again, and there's a sex offender in the Oval Office. A fitting time, in short, to crank up the righteously angry vocals of feminist hard rock heavy hitters like L7.

Books

Can Queer Studies Rescue American Universities?

Matt Brim's Poor Queer Studies underscores the impact of poorer disciplines and institutions, which often do more to translate and apply transformative intellectual ideas in the world than do their ivory-tower counterparts.

Music

Jim White Offers a "Smart Ass Reply" (premiere)

Jesus and Alice Cooper are tighter than you think, but a young Jim White was taught to treat them as polar opposites. Then an eight-track saved his soul and maybe his life.

Music

Ed Harcourt Paints From 'Monochrome to Colour'

British musician Ed Harcourt's instrumental music is full of turbulent swells and swirls that somehow maintain a dignified beauty on Monochrome to Colour.

Music

West London's WheelUP Merges Broken Beat and Hip-Hop on "Stay For Long" (premiere)

West London producer WheelUP reached across the pond to Brint Story to bring some rapid-fire American hip-hop to his broken beat revival on "Stay For Long".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 4: Stellie, The Brooks, Maude La​tour

Today's playlist features the premiere of Stellie's "Colours", some top-class funk from the Brooks, Berne's eco-conscious electropop, clever indie-pop from Maude Latour, Jaguar Jonze rocking the mic, and Meresha's "alien pop".

Culture

Plattetopia: The Prefabrication of Utopia in East Berlin

With the fall of the Berlin Wall came the licence to take a wrecking ball to its nightmare of repression. But there began the unwritten violence of Die Wende, the peaceful revolution that hides the Oedipal violence of one order killing another.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Electrosoul's Flõstate Find "Home Ground" on Stunning Song (premiere)

Flõstate are an electrosoul duo comprised of producer MKSTN and singer-songwriter Avery Florence that create a mesmerizing downtempo number with "Home Ground".

Music

Orchestra Baobab Celebrate 50 Years with Vinyl of '​Specialist in All Styles'

As Orchestra Baobab turn 50, their comeback album Specialist in All Styles gets a vinyl reissue.

Music

Hot Chip Stay Up for 'Late Night Tales'

Hot Chip's contribution to the perennial compilation project Late Night Tales is a mixed bag, but its high points are consistent with the band's excellence.

Music

The Budos Band Call for Action on "The Wrangler" (premiere)

The Budos Band call on their fans for action with the powerful new track "The Wrangler" that falls somewhere between '60s spy thriller soundtrack and '70s Ethiojazz.

Music

Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" Ruminates on Our Second-Guesses (premiere)

A deep reflection on breaking up, Nashville indie rock/Americana outfit Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" is the most personal track from their new album, Home Team.

Books

For Don DeLillo, 'The Silence' Is Deafening

In Don DeLillo's latest novel, The Silence, it is much like our post-pandemic life -- everything changed but nothing happened. Are we listening?

Music

Brett Newski Plays Slacker Prankster on "What Are You Smoking?" (premiere)

Is social distancing something we've been doing, unwittingly, all along? Brett Newski pulls some pranks, raises some questions in "What Are You Smoking?".


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.