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A Hard Day's Night: Collector's Series

It seemed just an instant in time between when The Beatles conquered America in January of '64 and the release of A Hard Day's Night, as the powers-that-be realized there was virtually no limit to the popular appeal — and talent — of the lovable Liverpudlian mop-tops. But nobody really expected A Hard Day's Night to amount to much more than a cynical exploitation film, slapped together quickly for some instant box-office and increased vinyl sales. However, with a carefree script by Alun Owen and the Fab Four only too happy to goof around in front of the camera, director Richard Lester came up with one of the best movies ever about rock-and-roll, be it fiction or documentary. And as it stands, A Hard Day's Night is neither. Working with just the barest thread of a plot, Owen's story simply follows John, Paul, George and Ringo as they journey by train from Liverpool to London, where they are expected to perform on a national television show. And since so much of Western civilization's attention was given to the daily activities of the Fab Four, not a lot happens that didn't really go on at the time (some of the screaming fans in the film are extras — many are not). By setting the boys free to joke about, Lester encapsulated what everybody had suspected from those witty press conferences in the States earlier that year — these toe-tapping bandmates were a bunch of cheeky monkeys as well, unwilling to take a defensive or pious position when questioned about their clothes or hair or music (as Elvis Presley often did), but instead ready to reply with the nearest non sequitur ("What do you call that haircut?" a reporter asks George. "Arthur," he says.) Oddest of all (and perhaps a remarkable feat of hubris at the time), nowhere in the film is the band's name mentioned — ever. There are press photos and those garish beetle posters that hang on the TV set, but it's assumed from the get-go that everybody knows who we're watching. Lennon said at the time that they were "bigger than Jesus," and they certainly were bigger than Presley, Brando, and Dean. If you didn't know this was The Beatles, you probably had just parked your spacecraft.

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Miramax's two-disc DVD release of A Hard Day's Night is a must-have for Beatlemaniacs young, old, and somewhere in between. The excellent anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) showcases the restored source-print, which has been buffed clean and offers solid low-contrast details, looking as good as it must have at its premiere. Audio has been emboldened with a new Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that fills the soundstage during the musical numbers. Along with the feature film, Disc One offers the retrospective documentary "Things They Said Today" (36 min.) with comments from director Richard Lester, music producer George Martin, and various other cast and crew attached to the film (unfortunately, none of the surviving Beatles contributed to this DVD release). Also on Disc One are DVD-ROM features, including a screenplay viewer, a scrapbook, and Web content. Disc Two is filled entirely with interviews and retrospective clips. Featured are Lester and Martin's extended recollections of the film; comments from seven cast members, four of the crew members, and four film and sound editors. Martin also contributes a song-by-song analysis of the music in A Hard Day's Night. A five-minute spot recalls actor Wilfrid Brambell, who plays Paul's snarky grandfather in the film — this sequence offers a look at his other famous role on BBC-TV's "Steptoe and Son" (and reveals the Beatles' running comments in the film on how he's "a clean old man" is a twist on the TV show's catch-phrase "You dirty old man!"). Also contributing interviews are actress Isla Blair (whose scene was cut), photographer Robert Freeman, clothing designer Gordon Millings, publicist Tony Barron, Beatles confidante Klaus Voorman, and American concert promoter Sid Bernstein. Dual-DVD digipak with paperboard slipcase.

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