Just months after it appeared in cinemas, director Ron Howard’s documentary about The Beatles’ touring years has been released on DVD and Blu-Ray with plenty of extra features to make it a worthwhile purchase.
Watching The Beatles belting out She Loves You in glorious colour at the ABC Theatre in Manchester in 1963 was a great way to start out this film, proving just how exciting The Beatles were as live performers. And while the thrill of watching this on my home TV is quite the same as seeing it up on the big screen, it’s still great to be able to revisit whenever I want to.
Trainspotters took aim at some of the techniques employed at restoring the footage and the sound from the archival footage featured here, but really, there’s plenty to like about Howard’s straightforward telling of the Beatles’ touring days…although my feeling is that the claim about them helping the civil rights movement in the US by refusing to play to segregated audiences is a little overblown.
If you plan to own a copy of the film, be sure to snag the two-disc set with extra features and a 64-page booklet.
The booklet contains two hefty essays, one by Howard, the other by music journalist Jon Savage. Howard personalizes the film for us a bit, revealing his own Beatle stories while Savage expands on many of the scenes in the film, often retelling and reciting the same incidents verbatim. The booklet is also littered with plenty of great black & white photos of the band touring and performing.
The extra features really are worth checking out.
The first is a 24-minute feature titled Words & Music and finds Paul revealing insights into how he and John wrote while on the road, how George had to work his way into being allowed to contribute songs and how they wrote for other artists. Peter Asher (of Peter & Gordon) and Elvis Costello also appear.
Next is an 18-minute feature called Early Clues To A New Direction which feels like outtakes from the film and features further comments from Whoopi Goldberg and Sigourney Weaver, both of whom saw The Beatles back in the day and, for some reason, filmmaker Paul Greengrass and Malcolm Gladwell, who really don’t add much to the story.
For those wanting to see entire performance clips, there are five, including the above-mentioned version of She Loves You along with Twist And Shout from the same show, Can’t Buy Me Love from ’64, You Can’t Do That recorded in Melbourne and an excellent version of Help! From 1965.
The best is the 43-minute feature titled A Deeper Dive. There are several exceptional segments including interviews with three female fans and their behind-the-scenes stories of how they got to meet their heroes. Also very entertaining is Ronnie Spector, of The Ronettes, telling how she and her bandmates met up with The Beatles in London and then took them on a tour of Harlem during their first visit to New York in early 1964.
Also included is a “Liverpool” section that tells just how that early footage of The Beatles at The Cavern Club was shot and why, and also there are comments from Allan Williams, the Beatles’ first manager who passed away just a few days ago.
There is also a section that focuses on The Beatles first trip to Japan that was only included in Japanese cuts of the film.
Finally, there is a rather unspectacular 3-minute alternative opening for the film that rounds out the second disc.
I must say I was disappointed to see that the complete Shea Stadium concert was not included, as it had been featured as a “bonus” at the end of the cinematic showings, but according to Billboard Magazine, a lawsuit was filed by a group representing Shea promoter Sid Bernstein’s estate claiming ownership over that footage, so I’m guessing that’s why it’s not here.
Even so, there’s more than enough new material to warrant checking out this expanded version of the film.
Hey, as far as I’m concerned, you can’t have too much Beatles!