What does that song mean?

When the Beatles Touched Off a Movie War

Posted Mar 17th, 21:45 by Penguin Pete

Unless this is your first time reading a music blog (how do you like it so far?), you should all be familiar with the Beatles’ A Hard Days’ Night. It’s the first movie the Beatles ever made, and it was all about – wait for it – what it’s like to be the Beatles. They scrounged up a couple side characters and the thinnest excuse for story-lines, but it was basically “The Beatles Movie.” That was 1964.

It was far from the first rock ‘n’ roll movie ever made; Elvis had been stateside cranking these out for years already, and furthermore, Elvis movies were starting to have actual plots. But the Beatles sure got the envious attention of the local band scene. After all, the Beatles weren’t the only band from Liverpool. There was also the Dave Clark Five, and Gerry and the Pacemakers, to name a couple, not to mention The Hollies, The Who, and dozens of other bands that at least managed to sling a few chart hits.

Liverpool Was a Hotbed of Competing Bands

At the time, truly, the Beatles had garnered fame completely out of proportion to their prominence. Gerry and the Pacemakers were putting out comparable music, right up to sharing manager Brian Epstein and sound engineer George Martin with the Beatles. As for the Dave Clark Five, they were the second British band to star on the US Ed Sullivan Show right after the Beatles. They even managed to claim the UK Singles’ #1 spot over the Beatles once – they were hot on the Beatles’ six, and yet the Dave Clark Five just was not destined for the enduring fame of The Beatles.

“Well?” said the other UK beat-bands of the time, “Where’s OUR movie?” Oh Liverpool musicians of the 1960s, be careful what you wish for! There have been times when a British band made a movie and lived to regret it. As we all know, even the Beatles’ cinema shelf-life wasn’t exactly ever-lasting over the years.

But by 1965, the Beatles had the audacity to start filming their second movie. News of which sent every record promoter in England to run around hooking up a director and script for their own bands’ movies. Thus we had three dueling Merseybeat movies by 1965: Gerry and the Pacemakers’ Ferry Cross the Mersey (1964 UK/ ‘65 US), the Dave Clark Five’s Catch Us If You Can (US title: Having a Wild Weekend, 1965), and the Beatles’ own Help! (1965).

Ferry Cross the Mersey : Lesser of the Three

In the first place, Ferry Cross the Mersey is filmed in the same grainy black and white as the Beatles A Hard Days’ Night, and doesn’t look a bit better. It’s a hybrid half-concert film plus some autobiographical back-story, with a tiny excuse plot tacked on that’s really underwhelming. The band is scheduled to play in a beat competition but – gasp oh no – they lost their instruments, so they have to make a big Keystone Kops sequence getting them back.

You’ve played video games with more story than this. Yes, even on the Atari. Ferry Cross the Mersey suffers from being boring, safe, predictable, and so dull you can barely sit through a recap. Onward!

Help! : Kinda Helpless

Help! Is the movie I see discussed the least out of the Beatles’ film canon. Mainly because there’s not much to say beyond “the Beatles play songs and run from a religious cult that’s bent on having the ring off Ringo’s finger.” This puts Ringo in jeopardy through scenes where they come at him with a chainsaw. It’s in color so it looks better than the other movies, but it’s this threadbare story for the most part, with a silly tone that feels more like they’re trying to be The Monkees – a sharp departure from the previous freshness of A Hard Days’ Night.

Still, it seemed to please some fans. It’s lightweight, cartoony fare, but still at least more coherent than, say, their Magical Mystery Tour.

Catch Us If You Can / Having a Wild Weekend : Off-the-Wall Surprise

I will be scheduling this movie for review on my own video review gig at 366WeirdMovies. That’s probably going to drop about a month from now, so I’ll circle back – in the meantime, the Cinema Snob has to suffice. Really, this is the top movie of the three, not only for being directed by John Boorman, but for heading off in a completely unexpected direction and committing to it. Even though this movie is in black and white, Boorman’s direction makes it look like a surreal dream. The strength of this film rests on it breaking one important rule in band movies; Boorman completely ignores the fact that he’s making a band movie.

Four of the Dave Clark five spend most of the movie cooling their heels while Dave himself runs away with an advertising celebrity who’s sick of her career, and it becomes a road trip movie all about just her. It’s even a better story than most band movies come up with – so much so that you could argue that the story overshadows the band itself.

The Beatles Won the Movie War

In the long run, many more Beatles’ movies would come along, to say nothing of their eventual backing of the Monty Python groups’ projects and others. George Harrison would go on to have what you could call a second career as a film producer, while Ringo discovered his natural acting shops. And this all goes into an important lesson about music history.

The current fashion is to put the Beatles down as “overrated,” forcing their fans to justify the Beatles’ talent. But the lesson of 1965, the year of the Three Band Movies, is that it proves that the Beatles did have something else going for them: Natural charisma. When you see them up against Gerry and the Pacemakers or the Dave Clark Five, you can finally appreciate what a unique ensemble the Beatles were. Except for, respectively, Gerry and Dave, you can’t tell one member from another in the other two bands. But the Beatles had four distinct personalities to go with their individual talents. John the Joker, Paul the Playboy, George the brooding intellectual, and Ringo the distant, but relatable, weirdo.

Even though they were in (or the subject of) worse movies, the Beatles stayed ahead of the competition by being just a bit more charming and good on camera. Just good luck that they were in the right place at the right time – being photogenic would never again be as important to a band’s career until the advent of MTV.





comments powered by Disqus
All blog posts