Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The Beatles First U.S. Visit Documentary Will Make You Smile

This week I have been watching a 1991 documentary about The Beatles first U.S. tour, aptly titled, The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit. It begins with the Fab Four getting off a plane in New York and includes all the usual "moments" that we've seen briefly in other places, such as their Ed Sullivan Show appearances, screaming fans, traveling by train to DC and the performance there, press conferences and more.

The film was produced by Al and David Maysles, who produced 30 films including Gimme Shelter (1969 Rolling Stones tour that ended in tragedy at Altamont) and Grey Gardens, about the decay and decline of a once-wealthy mother and daughter in the Hamptons. There's nothing fancy about the films which almost seem like home movies, thus their effectiveness

A lot of the Beatles' success had to do with timing and serendipity. Events preceding the U.S. tour certainly helped set up their stunning reception. Did you know that on November 22, 1963 a young Mike Wallace did a news story on Beatlemania. It aired that morning and was scrapped for the evening news because of the much larger story that cast a dark shadow on everything, the assassination of JFK. 18 days later Walter Cromkite was looking for a positive story to add a lift to the evening's news and found this Mike Wallace bit. This and several other concurrent events helped put The Beatles in play.

When The Beatles finally arrived in early February, the Top 100 list peppered with Beatles hits. The film here shows Brian Epstein receiving a phone call that The Beatles owned the top three slots of the Top 10. It doesn't get much better than that. The Ed Sullivan shows were just icing on the cake, certifying their legendary stature.

In the first Ed Sullivan show they did three songs in their opening set: All My Loving, Till There Was You and She Loves You. The screaming girls in the audience were as important to the cameramen as the performers themselves.

Before introducing them later in the show Sullivan read part of a telegram to The Beatles from Elvis Presley and Colonel Tom Parker "wishing them tremendous success in our country." With a wave of the arm he turns as the curtain opens to I Want To Hold Your Hand. Screams erupt even before the arm gesture is complete and if you look close you can see the usually serious face is breaking into a grin. "This is just too over-the-top" one can imagine him thinking, all the while thinking of the ratings coup.

Once more we see the familiar camera closeups of girls ecstasy. Big smiles all around. Ed Sullivan can't contain himself. And even I couldn't remain indifferent.

Cigarets seem ubiquitous in this film. George smoking while the Beatles were being interviewed in a New York press conference. All of them smoking on the train. "Marlboro," John says, grinning.

Their easy-going charm, hamming it up in NY, hamming it up everywhere they go, certainly contributed to their fame.

I remember some of this footage from the Washington DC show. Despite the poor sound quality you could feel their energy, which no doubt was amplified by the fan energy. Look how small their sound equipment was. A few amps, speakers, drum kit and three guitars, skinny boys with tight slacks and Ringo on his pedestal. What a contrast to the McCartney shows several decades later with 25 million dollar laser light shows and SFX, or any Super Bowl Halftime Show for the last thirty years.

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Notes from the Washington DC show:
I Saw Her Standing There
Big bow after each song.
Ringo takes his turn singing I Wanna Be Your Man

Re-Arrange themselves on the stage.... "Thanks for buying this record."
She Loves You... More screams.
Four boys having a blast ......

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It was certainly a time of innocence. I borrowed it from the Duluth Public Library. If you can't find it elsewhere, you can read the reviews here, which will motivate you to try a little harder.

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