Funny old genre, the Beatlemania-era pop group movie.
Didn’t last long. Only produced one truly memorable movie – the evergreen and now 50-year-old A Hard Day’s Night – and was gone in about as much time as it took the United States to absorb the impact of the British Invasion and start to produce incomparably great post-Beatles pop music of its own.
As usual, the Beatles set the terms (and, as usual, promptly outgrew them). Or rather, Dick Lester did, by understanding them exactly, and filming their crazy everyday lives at the height of British Beatlemania as a sardonically funny, lightly surreal faux-documentary with priceless musical inserts. The main point was: the pop group plays the pop group. Sounds easy, right? Wrong: anybody could imitate it, but nobody could replicate it. Not even Lester, as the more bloated and sluggishly madcap Help! proved 18 months later.
And not John Boorman, in his early apprenticeship as a director, who took a similar approach with his Dave Clark Five movie Catch Us If You Can. The Five weren’t the Fab Four (despite that Daily Express headline “Tottenham Sound Has Crushed The Beatles!”), not musically and definitely not charisma-wise, but you can still watch the movie for some great songs, cute period cars, and for the band members’ clothes and shoes, which are too-too haute-mod 1965, and just to die for. In retrospect, I’m glad Boorman got it all out of his system early on; his next film, his first masterpiece, was Point Blank.
A Hard Day’s Night lit up the London outposts of the Hollywood Studios, who at the time were spending money like water in Britain. So it’s surprising that so few pop-group movies ended up being made, because to hear tell, almost every band got an offer. Even Gerry And The Pacemakers got to star in Ferry Cross The Mersey, which soon vanished completely for decades. And Herman’s Hermits – truly the most execrable cultural waste byproduct of the entire Invasion, who yet became huge family-friendly moptops in the USA – first played themselves in a Connie Francis MGM movie, then starred in Mrs Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter, and every time it plays on TCM, I reach for my Ted Turner voodoo doll and pins. Its absolute polar opposite, the Monkees’ Head – cynical and surreal – may be the best pop group movie after A Hard Day’s Night, but it was also the genre’s death-knell.
Apart from the Beatles, the really great bands avoided movies: the Kinks, the Who, the Animals, the Hollies, the Small Faces, the Zombies. The Stones’ movie offers only resulted, years later, in Performance, the second-greatest British movie ever made (so there!). Be thankful for that, because if the Stones had ever made their own Ferry Cross The Mersey, I fear we’d think very poorly of them today •
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