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Muscle Shoals

Even if the Muscle Shoals sound isn't on your iPod, you'll like seeing where it came from —Marty Mapes (review...)

Etta sings in Muscle Shoals

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Beatlemania presented many challenges during the filming of A Hard Day’s Night. After a week of shooting the movie’s final concert, camera operator Paul Wilson had a terrible toothache. His dentist could find nothing wrong and concluded that the vibrations of the screaming fans in the audience were the cause of his pain. Wilson’s story is one of many extra features on a new two-disc DVD set of A Hard Day’s Night from Miramax.

A Day in the Life

New Miramax DVD has everything but the BeatlesA Hard Day’s Night perfectly captures the energy and charisma of The Beatles in their early years. The opening sequence sets the tone, with the band members humorously dodging their fans in a train station. In a press conference that showcases their wit, a reporter asks George, “What do you call your haircut?” “Arthur,” he replies.

The film, which has no real plot, follows their adventures on a fictional day in the life of the band, as John, Paul, George and Ringo take a trip to London to appear on a TV show. The movie pits their youthful exuberance against authority figures. When they finally get away from all the pressures, they find an empty field and romp to the tune of Can’t Buy Me Love, in a sequence that has influenced thousands of music videos.

After almost 40 years, about the only thing that feels dated about A Hard Day’s Night is the youthfulness of the band members. The movie has a sense of immediacy and exhilaration that makes it hard to not get caught up in excitement of the moment.

Picture and Sound

A digitally remastered print used for the disc provides a flawless picture – it is crisp and has a full range of black and white tones. The film’s original mono soundtrack has been digitally restored for this disc and is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The dialogue, which comes through on the center channel of a surround sound system, is crisp and clear. The songs have been remixed for surround and the result isn’t an improvement. Many of the songs have too much echo from the rear speakers. In the band’s concert at the end of the film, it sounds as if the disc is trying to duplicate the acoustics of a concert hall — in spite of our amplifier’s carefully calibrated setting — the effect is distracting.

DVD Extras

A documentary about the making of A Hard Day’s Night, “Things They Said Today,” is one of the best extras in this set. It has interviews with director Richard Lester, George Martin (the Beatles’ long-time producer and musical director for the film), and many others connected with the movie. It gives some interesting background about the development of the film as well as many inside stories, like Wilson’s toothache.

The DVD-ROM features on Disc One include a “screenplay viewer,” which plays the movie on the left side of the screen while showing the screenplay on the right side. The DVD-ROM has a website archive which can be viewed without going online. The archive also has the complete screenplay along with hundreds of behind-the-scene photos, news articles, posters and other promotional materials.

Another feature of the DVD-ROM is a link to a DVD destination website, which has more photos and publicity materials. It includes audio roundtable discussions by the cast and crew, who share memories of working on the film. There are also links to a few of the thousands of Beatles websites.

Disc Two has more interviews with people who worked on the film, from Lester and Martin to the hair stylist — even the actress whose scene ended up on the cutting room floor. One segment, “Memories of Wilfrid Brambell,” explains why everyone in the movie keeps remarking on his character’s cleanliness, a joke lost on American audiences. Unfortunately, most of these segments are overkill. While Lester has some insights worth hearing, many of the other interviewees don’t really shed any new light on the movie or the band. Adding only their more interesting observations to the documentary on the first disc would have made more sense.

Nowhere Men

Conspicuously absent from the disc set is any participation by the surviving band members. For all of the views we get of the band from others, it would have been nice to hear from the men themselves; even older interviews would have been a worthwhile addition.

Although not all outtakes are worth viewing, some of them might have merited inclusion on the disc. For instance, the documentary on Disc One mentions a song that was filmed for the final concert and cut from the movie. Also missing are theatrical trailers, which have become a standard feature on many DVDs. Given the film’s longevity and influence, an audio commentary by Lester or a film historian could have been an interesting addition.

The End

The film itself makes this DVD worth watching. Although it was a mistake to remix the sound, it doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of A Hard Day’s Night. The DVD has an impressive number of extra features, but what was left out will leave hardcore fans wanting more.