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MPI Networks presents
The Beatles: DVD Collector's Set (2000)

"We went right from the hotel—poof!—straight to a press reception, straight to the theater and at no time were they actually allowed to enjoy what was supposed to be success."
- Alun Owen (Screenwriter, A Hard Day's Night) in You Can't Do That

Review By: debi lee mandel   
Published: July 22, 2000

Stars: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr
Other Stars: Phil Collins, Leo McKern, Eleanor Bron, Victor Spinetti, Roy Kinnear, Brian Epstein, Wilfrid Brambell, Richard Lester and Walter Shenson
Director: Richard Lester

MPAA Rating: G for (MMT has a censored scene at a strip club, but the suggestion is still there)
Run Time: 04h:43m:00s
Release Date: August 08, 2000
UPC: 030306763026
Genre: documentary


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A A+B+B B+

DVD Review


"There's nothing you can know that isn't known/Nothing you can see that isn't shown...."All You Need is Love

If you were alive in 1963 you felt a rumbling murmur. In 1964, you heard the word BEATLES and your skin tingled, even before you understood. And if you only breathed the rarified air secondhand in your mother's womb, it still singed you. Nothing short of Mother Nature had ever created this electrifying sensation before, or since...Was it just perfect, careful marketing? Was it manipulated or innocent? Does it matter? Even in retrospect, there is nothing anyone can find in any attempt to dissect Beatlemania that can change what HAPPENED.

Eight or eighty, you had to be there. I mean this both ways—either you remember in your bones because you were swept up in it, or you were one of the unavowed, forced to put up with it because The Beatles were everywhere, a pervasive plague on the radio, newspapers, the evening news—there was no escape. By the time John, Paul, George and Ringo landed in New York, the fervor was complete, and the release of the wait was as close to en masse ecstasy as the world will ever know.

Our national hysteria is easily understood. We had just lost our youthful, charismatic president, one who promised change, instilled hope that the future was fresh and new and ours. We were in mourning; shell-shocked, desperate to feel something again. These young men with their lively Liverpool lingo, their rebellious charm, arriving in their father's suits but with their own style of hair, humor and music, displaced our grief, gave us back a piece of that promise—and we continue to live by that legacy into the new millennium.

This collection is a fabulous documentation of The Beatles and the times. I was amazed how many emotions I felt watching these discs and the avalanche of memories they brought home. If you weren't there, this is as close as you'll get, and I'd bet that by the end of your viewing, you'll feel the ecstatic energy as well...That's how it was.

[Note: These are in chronological order, but my suggested viewing would be to reverse the order.]

The First U.S. Visit

"That's the way it is, Friday, February 7th, 1964"
— Walter Cronkite (heard on the television in The Beatles' hotel suite after reporting on their arrival as the new "British Invasion.")

The jewel of this collection, this documentary fulfills the promise of the original excitement of The Beatles' arrival in the States. We saw the coverage, but now we see them: excited, tired, anxious, bored, amazed and as natural as possible with their ever-present entourage and ubiquitous cameras. They were jet-lagged and hungry, and seemed genuinely surprised by the fervor they inspired. This is the true A Hard Day's Night.

We witness Beatlemania from the inside out. We have always seen the camera's view of the crowds pressing against the cars; here our view is inside the car, fans faces pressed against the glass. We watch these steady musicians struggling to hear themselves above the screaming audience, straining toward the key and the beat. In Washington, D.C. the guys turn Ringo's drumset after each song, by themselves, trying to please the throng. There's a wild scene where a couple of girls are discovered wandering the halls of the hotel, and their vain attempt to shake the house detectives to find what they claim is "their room."

The contrast of their demeanor on the Ed Sullivan Show and at the live D.C. concert is telltale. On the former, they appear innocent, adorable and fun (amazingly, Lennon appears a bit shy, unable to carry a song alone); in the latter, they are in their domain—there's more personality, more mop-tossing action, and in retrospect, the real thing. And in retrospect, the concert is a musical disaster. They're painfully off-key, especially poor Ringo with his strained voice pumping out the beat with no air left for his lungs. If they weren't already the tightest band in rock'n'roll history, it would have been an utter fiasco. But they were, and the fans adored them.

The most delightful scene in Visit takes us along on the boys' night out at the famous Peppermint Lounge, where Ringo, already standing out on camera, twists the night away with some very lucky girls while the chaps look on.

This is history—theirs and ours, a legend in the making, the recording of a phenomenon that would be like having your camcorder in perfect order when that UFO finally lands in your yard. Even while it was happening, people KNEW it was something, knew what impact these young musicians would have on our culture and eventually, western society. They taught us to let our hair down and be ourselves. They spoke their minds and in emulating them we launched the decade known as the '60s (which really spans 1963-73 or so), and The Beatles are one of the few icons to survive their times and still hold relevance today.

The Beatles arrived on U.S. soil, "...and there was music...."

You Can't Do That: The Making of "A Hard Day's Night"

"...basically The Beatles were prisoners of their success."
- Walter Shenson, producer, quoting the screenwriter Alun Owen

The Beatles returned home from their first American tour riding the crest of Beatlemania and everyone wanted to cash in quick, before it "inevitably" ebbed. United Artists offered the most creative concept—producing a feature length film so that they could then spin-off the soundtrack album. Brilliant move, for whatever reason. Cheers, UA.

Phil Collins is our host for this rich and informative documentary on the making of a fictionalized documentary that gives us "a day in the life" of the Fab Four. There's behind-the-scenes footage (almost indiscernible from the film footage), interviews with the producer Walter Shenson, director Richard Lester, writer Alun Owen (nominated for an Academy Award®), and a string of other musicians. Yeah, yeah, yeah—and Roger Ebert, who proclaims AHDN is "...up there...with Singin' in the Rain."

There's a lot of great background information about the script and general production, like who contributed what unforgettable moment (John suggests the title is from one of Ringo's witty misuses of the English language). Near the end we hear about the film's restoration from Michael Friend, Director of the archives at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Several folks compare the film to Casablanca and JPG&R to the Marx Brothers. They show the Andrew Sarris quote, calling AHDN "...the Citizen Kane of 'jukebox' movies." The president of the New Jersey chapter of The Beatles' fan club tells how the marketeers promised them police security to camp out at the theater the night before the premiere...just tons of tidbits to help us remember this landmark of musical cinema.

Included within this "making of" is the outtake of the great tune, You Can't Do That, pared from the final release, and as it opens with the original trailer it also ends with a trailer made specifically for the Continent. A superb documentary that will leave you drooling to see the film again, and I guarantee it will seem as fresh as the first time.

HELP!

"And now my life has changed in oh so many ways/My independence seems to vanish in the haze/But every now and then I feel so insecure/I know that I just need you like I've never done before...."
- title track from HELP!

Now conscious of their impervious fame, the boys seem to willingly indulge in the game. They know what we want—anything and everything they will give us—and this time dish it up with full camp and comedy.

Our first look at our cultural heroes in living color has a mad plot that begins in the temple of an eastern cult that still participates in human sacrifice. The victim must wear an enormous ruby ring for 24 hours before the deed, and the current victim sends it to her idol, Ringo, in a fan letter. When the High Priest (McKern) discovers the rouse, he and his lackeys head for London to reclaim the ring, or whoever is wearing it.

Meanwhile, we see our boys living in a single flat that has four separate doors, leading them to personal areas as distinctive as they are. It's amazing to remember how this affected our view of them as individuals, as if these spaces were REAL, indicative of their actual personalities. (I blushingly admit wanting a pit like John's—with him in it, of course!) As the story unfolds, everywhere Ringo goes someone lies in wait, trying to steal back the sacred ring. Eventually, the hour comes when it is now Ringo who must be sacrificed, and the wild ride begins. Throw a couple of madcap scientists (Spinetti and Kinnear) into the mix ("With a ring like that I could—dare I say it?—rule the world!"), a converted priestess (Bron) and the self-protecting Superintendent of Scotland Yard and the zany comedy is complete.

This film is surprisingly well done. There is a scene on Salisbury Plain designed to mimic Stonehenge that is stunning (don't miss how long this took to shoot by comparing Ringo early in Harrison's I Need You to his wind-flushed shivers near the end). In a lovely moment when they are running from the tanks, John stumbles and the boys encourage him to get up, referring to him affectionately as "Johnnie," something rarely heard. And note that any time there is incidental music or recorded Beatle music as part of the plot, it is the older stuff, not the tunes created specifically for the soundtrack. By far the quintessential scene that plays up their interaction is in the parlour at Buckingham Palace, where JPG&R are actually alone, together, as the three wittily prod their drummer to give up his finger to save them all. Classic.

HELP! is an absurd, humorous romp, a Bond genre sendup that still holds up over 30 years later. The supporting cast carries the weight of the script, but Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr deliver the best lines themselves. Listen carefully for their personalities leaking out through innumerous double entendres. Ringo is the ham, hands down the most comfortable in front of the lens. The songs are as perfect as Beatle music gets; if you can watch without singing along, you were probably DOA before the movie began. Richard Lester at the directorial helm again created this super-historical memento of our lives and times, led by the phenomenal "boys who could."

I am thrilled to have this DVD, if only for Lennon's You've Got To Hide Your Love Away—this lifelong Beatles fan still has to suppress the urge to jump up and kiss the screen!

Magical Mystery Tour

"Semolina pilchard, climbing up the Eiffel Tower/Elementary penguin singing Hari Krishna/Man, you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allan Poe/I am the eggman, they are the eggmen/I am the walrus, goo goo g'joob g'goo goo g'joob...."
- I Am the Walrus (Lennon)

Did I say we'd take anything The Beatles say or do? Here's the proof.

According to the historical notes included on this DVD, MMT is one of the first projects after the death of their beloved manager, Brian Epstein. They were independent now, ready to take the helm of their juggernaut. Surprisingly, this was McCartney's invention, and of equal surprise is the knowledge that "Mystery Tours" were already something popular in Britain, just not quite as "Magical."

Of course, not much magic here, either. The Fab Four put Ringo in front again, this time burdened with his Aunt Jessica. They board the psychedelic bus where an odd group of passengers are assembled and take off on their unknown adventure. Not much of a story, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing. We have the spirit that would be Monty Python here, and the legacy of those early British comedies devout Anglophiles adore. We have a silly, stoned, capricious day out, freeform as a poem without cadence or reason. It is magical in that anything goes, and whether interesting or not, strange things happen to ordinary people, even if it was only that they spent a day or two with The Beatles.

It is only just more than 3 years since they were introduced outside of Britain, and they are very different men, no longer ours. We love them; we follow them, even through this poorly executed menagerie, but to no avail. They are changed, and in finding themselves begin to lose each other.

Originally meant to be a feature-length film, it was ultimately edited to its current runtime of 50 minutes for television.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1:37:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review:

The First U.S. Visit
My guess is that there was a great deal of affection for this documentary as all the wide-ranging footage is as clean as we could hope for. Although obviously grainy throughout, especially in outdoor and stage-lit situations, just about any time there is a face on the screen the image has been lovingly restored. There is intermittent speckling throughout, but I noted no edge enhancements or major noise. There's a cigarette burn about 35 minutes in. The televised footage is in the best condition that I have seen it (with the exception of the original broadcast!). I'd say any flaws were inherent in the source (considering mostly hand held camerawork in any and every lighting situation), and that MPI has done a successful job of transferring this historic document.

You Can't Do That
The opening trailer for AHDN has some speckling, as does much of the black & white behind-the-scenes footage, but some segments have been cleaned up beautifully. Some of this footage is shimmery and/or grainy, but considering the wide range of source collateral it is ultimately watchable. The scenes derived from the film itself have been cleaned up beautifully, with contrast and black levels in excellent range. The contemporary interview segments are clean and free of noise.

HELP!
Although the colors are rich and well balanced, the film is grainy with flecks and speckling here and there throughout. I thought I noted some edge enhancements in some of the interior shots. The lighting challenges are purposeful in the original (faces sidelit and haloed, lens flares, etc.), making it difficult, I imagine, to know where to step in. Parts of the film are crisp and clean, good contrast and excellent fleshtones. The extras include an in-depth article on the restoration process, including the return to various bits of the raw source materials to come up with a new master for this transfer. When all is said and done, it's a thrill to see HELP! in this current incarnation, especially considering no color separations were ever made.

Magical Mystery Tour
Not much time taken with this one at all, it is by far the worst of the 4 discs included in the set. It seems virtually untouched from the condition it was received—washed out, grainy, poor contrast with dirt and flecks abounding everywhere. Very few spots in the film would even command a C rating.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, French and Spanishyes


Audio Transfer Review:

The First U.S. Visit
The audio here is a mixed bag. I confess to watching it through (the 2nd or 3rd time, much to my housemate's dismay) with the subtitles on to catch the mumbling nuances of their Liverpudlian accents, especially in relaxed hotel room scenes. There's a smattering of distortion, again inherent to the original recording. But the legendary music comes through brilliantly, as clear as it could be heard at the time it was recorded, over the shrill screams of fans. As near to perfect as I can imagine, a very good stereo remastering.

You Can't Do That
The mix is near perfect here, too, as it moves from film footage to contemporary interviews in various locations, although bits of the film footage seem a bit hollow. Another very good stereo remastering.

HELP!
Really superb, again considering what it took to restore it all in one piece. An optical track was lifted from an original print, transferred to magnetic tape with truly stunning results. The songs are of course the best part, in excellent stereo presentation with little or no distortion.

Cheers to the care taken to restore this film, and to MPI for their crisp transfer.

Magical Mystery Tour
Definitely the highlight of this disc is the soundtrack, most specifically the music. The dialogue is a bit touchy at times, so that the subtitles again are a welcome relief. It's a bit tinny in spots but otherwise clean.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 68 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French and Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
4 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring A Hard Day's Night
1 Deleted Scenes
Packaging: other
4 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review:

The First U.S. Visit
Subtitles in English, French and Spanish
15 chapter Scene Index
Biographies: The Beatles and The Filmmakers
Chronology 1940 (Ringo's birth): 1995 (The Beatles Anthology airs on ABC); Singles in the U.S. (presented creatively like the song list on a dream Capitol LP, numbering 35); a U.S. Discography (a bit difficult to read—why do these all these designers believe a single pixel drop shadow solves every challenge??? —numbering 25); a list of the 5 Beatles films; list of their 11 Grammys® some of their record-breaking statistics, and a few words on the Maysles.

There is also a fun trivia quiz, but they've missed giving the first answer!

A word from someone who had the enormous insight to be in on this important document would have been a delightful addition, but I cannot complain, it's really all here.

You Can't Do That
Subtitles in English, French and Spanish
Scene Index with 15 chapters
Biographies of cast (Spinetti & Brambell), crew (Shenson, Lester, Owen & George Martin) and Phil Collins
A trivia quiz with very funky navigation (I couldn't complete it)

We will always hope for commentary from the boys themselves, but also never expect it. They've done their bit, and the rest is history.

HELP!
Audio tracks in English, French and Spanish
Subtitles in English, French and Spanish
Scene Index with 17 well placed chapters
A load of good stuff in Additional Material section:
Bios on Shenson and Lester, and supporting cast members (McKern, Bron, Spinetti and Kinnear).
Original theater trailer (which serves well to see in what condition we might suspect the film came to them).
Film Set Footage contains some black & white off-screen stuff and a montage of color publicity photos with very amusing voice-overs that seem to be possible radio spots.
Newsreels include restored footage of the boys receiving an award and their arrival at "London" Airport after their 3rd U.S. tour.
The above mentioned 9-screen article on the Restoration Process proves very interesting.
MPI's own trailers for A Hard Day's Night and the other discs in this set

The omission of a separate soundtrack is sad, leaving favorites like I've Just Seen a Face in obscurity. I do imagine this might have been cost prohibitive, a darn shame.

Magical Mystery Tour
Subtitles in English, French and Spanish
21 Chapters
Additional Materials section:
A Brief History covers a bit of background info on the untimely death of Brian Epstein, this stage of their career and MMT itself)
Newsreels in black & white announcing their new boutique as the Beatles become purveyors of "Hippie Gear" and showing the boys visiting the Mahareesh Maresh Yogi in India
MPI's own trailers for AHDN and the other discs in this set

(Mark Zimmer notes that the original, separate release of Magical Mystery Tour lacked subtitles, which he found infuriating, "when you can't understand the dialogue on that miserable pressing." I am not familiar with this earlier disc so I cannot promise this one's any better, this time round, but if you're a fan of MMT, the subtitles are a blessing.)

Again, the lack of a separate soundtrack is sorely felt, this time omitting songs like Hello, Goodbye and Penny Lane....

My one true complaint is the package design for this 4 disc set—what were they thinking? It is too tall to fit anywhere, flimsy after little use and the disc drawers are begging trouble. Interesting concept that fails the test.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

"...and I thought, God, this goes on every day of their life....There's a price to pay for that sort of success. You see them running from place to place doing things, but at the same time, being in peril...and the only freedom they ever actually get is when they start to play music and their faces light up and they're happy—but mostly they are confined." - Alun Owen

We hope, for a time, they enjoyed the aftermath.

This indelible collection reminds us just what it was, whatever it was, about the four lads that made us look at ourselves—young people who could have a voice and stand up to the establishment, say what we thought, and act on our strength. It also shows us just a glimpse of what it cost them—their own youth, their privacy, and perhaps in those early days a bit of self-respect they did win back in the end. It's their story, it's our story. I winced more than once at the various voice-over appearances, remembering that George, who met his wife, Patti Boyd, on the set of A Hard Day's Night would later lose her; Paul would have the love we would wish for him and then lose her to cancer; Ringo would try his hand in movies and fail, somehow always the happiest of the lot, and that sweet-faced John Lennon would be slain on a sidewalk in New York City by a crazed stranger. There will be no reunion—but we have them then and forever.

This set is the ultimate cornerstone of any Beatles collection and wins my highest recommendation.

 


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