Written by 4:42 am Audiophile Music

Beatles #1 Plus: Stunning Proof That Celluloid Heroes Live On

Fab Four fanboy Mark Smotroff reels in the years as his Liverpool heroes rock back life in new Blu-ray Set


One of The Beatles’ foremost compositional competitors — or peers, if you will — from the original 1960s British Invasion musical movement wrote a song in 1972 ruminating on the eternal nature of Hollywood’s movie stars and how they are preserved on film, frozen in time. This notion resonates more than ever in our modern times of all things digital-archival-preserved, and the song takes on new relevance when considered in respect to the world of popular music.

That song,”Celluloid Heroes,” is one of Ray Davies’ most poignant compositions ending with these lines:

I wish my life was a non-stop Hollywood movie show

A fantasy world of celluloid villains and heroes

Because celluloid heroes never feel any pain

And celluloid heroes never really die”

 

AR-Beatles1PlusScreenOpener.jpgThat song by his band, The Kinks, was the first thought that came to mind as I watched with gleeful abandon the absolutely essential, wonderful 2015 video-centric version of The Beatles 1 greatest hits album!  

Now called The Beatles 1 +, watching the set stirred up some deep and positive emotions upon viewing it for the first time. Neither melancholy nor bittersweet nostalgic, in watching this Blu-ray set for the first time, I recaptured the sheer sense of excitement and joy about The Beatles (and rock ‘n roll for that matter) all over again. That indescribable “thing,” that energy and verve that established The Beatles as arguably the best rock group in pop music history just jumps out of your TV screen when watching this collection. 

Part of this realization included the happy notion that my original heroes will always be my heroes. Even though John and George are gone, and thus there never will be a “reunion” — a longtime dream for most original Beatle fans — I could not deny that special, warm ‘n fuzzy feeling one can get when looking at a photo of a departed loved one while watching these two Blu-ray discs.  

Chockfull of pretty much the creme de la creme of Beatle promotional short form films, The Beatles 1 + set made me feel great knowing that The Beatles will always be here, preserved for eternity (or as long as we exist as a species).

Hey hey, my my… Celluloid heroes never really die…  

AR-BeatlesOnePlus225.jpgYou see, I never got to see the Beatles live in person. Heck, I never even got to see Wings in person!  I have seen Paul McCartney perform live twice and those were both majestic events. But for the most part, my life-experience of seeing The Beatles has always been through the lens of a film or video camera as conveyed through a TV screen.  Believe it or not, one of the the three earliest things I can remember as a wee child of three years old was seeing The Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan show (for those not familiar with the program, it was sort of like the American Idol of its day only without the contest element … you had to already be buzz-worthy to get on that show… Ed Sullivan was more than just a taste-maker —  his was a make-or-break show for most acts). 

All this was a really big “ah ha!” type realization for me in watching this set — all my life, I have ONLY seen the Beatles performing live on film and pre-recorded promotional clips. 

Thus, in effect, The Beatles were celluloid heroes all along. 

The Beatles knew this early on. They’d become so big that they physically could not meet all the requests for live television appearances. They’d become caricatures of themselves. So that is when they started making their own promotional films to be sent around the world for airing in local markets. 

AR-hellogoodbyegroupshot225.jpgThose promotional clips are the genesis and heart of this set…  And Beatle fans will understand the joyousness with which I write here upon the official release of 50 original promotional films — music videos before the term existed — from the four lads from Liverpool who turned the world upside down during the course of their stellar run from 1963 to 1970.  Disc one features all 27 #1 hits and the bonus “+” disc has 23 additional films which, while not #1s, are essential companions in telling The Beatles’ story.

Watching these films — which appear chronologically — you really get the sense of just how special The Beatles were and how monumental their ascent to stardom really was. The official release of these films in this form is momentous. Sure, in the 1990s we got The Beatles Anthology on Laserdisc and VHS (later reissued in the early 00s on DVD in 5.1 surround sound), but that was a long form documentary program, so most of the clips shown were incomplete. From the press release put out with this set, we learn that a full 20 of the films and videos were not in The Beatles Anthology and the remaining 30 were only seen in part or in alternate edits.  So this is a whole different ball game, as they say.  There is all manner of joy and wonderment to behold amidst the 200 or so minutes of video in this collection. 

Now it is important to add in perspective of the hardcore Beatle fanatics (like me) to the mix of this review… You see, we are the people who had first seen a lot of these clips at Beatle festivals (aka Beatlefest!) which began in the 1970s. A lucky “few” of us were fortunate enough to see some of these clips when they aired the for the first time on television. In addition to seeing one of the The Ed Sullivan Show performances, I remember seeing the US debut of “Hey Jude” on The Smothers Brothers Show.  

With the films being computer and hand restored, I can honestly say I’ve never seen these videos looking so good before. 

]]>AR-BeatlesVideoRestoration.jpgThe early clips in black and white are pretty remarkable, taken from best available sources and sync’d up with the latest pristine mixes of Beatle music. While many of the clips are so called “lip sync” performances, there are in fact some clips that feature high quality live performances such as “From Me To You” (from the Royal Variety Performance in November 1963) and “She Loves You” (taken from a TV appearance in Sweden filmed in October 1963). “Can’t Buy Me Love” from the Around The Beatles program of 1964 is a wonder in that the band is lip-syncing to a live recording they made especially for this show as they knew the show would be a complex shoot — so it is live and it is not at the same time!  

Its really amazing to see the live version of “A Hard Day’s Night” from a live broadcast in Paris — it really shows great scenes of the crowd losing themselves in the rhythm and the music (especially fun to see this one lad “frugging” vigorously in the middle of the crowd). 

A promo for “Eight Days A Week” never actually existed, so one was assembled for this collection. What is exciting about this newly made music video is that the producers repurposed footage from the legendary Shea Stadium concert in New York which was filmed in its entirety back in the day. Some of this footage is super crisp and obviously taken from an original film or film-negative source. Again, you may ask: why is this detail exciting? Because it means that — speculating, hopefully — perhaps we’ll someday get an official release of the full Shea Stadium film on Blu-ray. Somewhere, this sort of pristine footage of the Shea Stadium concert film exists! My hopeful fanboy fingers are crossed!

One of the more remarkable clips is for “All You Need Is Love” which we’re seeing completely in high resolution color for the first time. This performance was actually a live recording session in progress that was broadcast globally — the first of its kind , by the way — in color for the “Our World” program.  On The Beatles Anthology DVD the clip begins in black and white including bits of the early transmission showing producer George Martin working the in the engineering booth. And then as the band starts up and the cameras zoom in on The Beatles, the image morphs into color. On this new clip for The Beatles 1 + set, this clip is presented entirely in color and appears in a higher resolution form than the DVD version from Anthology. Now you can really see The Beatles’ performance of this now-classic anthem in all its fine bejeweled paisley glory!  It would be nice if they had put the full original program on the disc as a bonus — which, again, shows the behind the scenes prep for the live broadcast — but I can understand the producer’s desire to keep the clip primarily just to the music portion, to fit the context of the “#1” album concept. Perhaps some day we will get a well researched and compiled collection of these types of films (many of which are up on YouTube if you poke around).

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By the time the band was established as a studio – only act, they were producing promotional films in color and many of those are of very high quality, particularly those done on 35 mm film such as “Strawberry Fields Forever.” In fact, the resolution is so good, my mind was pretty much blown seeing details I only imagined might exist down to the multiple colors of paint being poured over the strings and the piano. 

Now on the swirling trip of “A Day In the Life” you can pick out even more tiny little details that (at least my) minds-eye formerly glossed over, such as the moment where Monkee Mike Nesmith seems to be caught on camera scratching his chest — you can see the wrinkles on his white pinstriped shirt. I’m sure its been there all the time, but honestly I never noticed it before as the images were not as clear as this Blu-ray Disc. “A Day In The Life” seems to use the same 5.1 mix that most people overlooked from The Beatles Anthology DVD set… except now it sounds and looks that much better! So, yeah, the seminal epic from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is available for your listening and viewing pleasure in fairly discreet 5.1 Surround Sound (remember, this was recorded on sync’d up four-track machines, so there may only be so much they can do with the original mixes). Perhaps someday The Beatles will employ some of that new fangled computer extraction software that I know exists out there in technology-land to create a discrete Surround mix. But until then, this is sounding pretty wonderful.

AR-hellogoodbyegroupshotsuits225.jpgThe “Hello Goodbye” clips — all three versions are included — let you see incredible details of the sets, instruments and performers. The band in their Sgt. Pepper suits look amazing! If you look closely you can see the holes in the buttons on Ringo’s shirt and fingerprints on George’s sunburst Epiphone guitar. You can really see just how young The Beatles really were even at this later period in their career. Even though they were starting to sport the look of world-weary older men of times-past — with mustaches and muttonchops and such — you can see that they were still pretty much young kids.  George’s face is lightly dotted with acne! You can make out the individual blades of grass the Hula dancer’s skirts at the end of the clips. 

The Bonus disc on The Beatles #1 + contains 23 additional videos including the newly discovered and reassembled-for-this-set original promotional film for “Hey Bulldog.”  This footage had originally been shot and curiously edited for use in the “Lady Madonna” promo clip; when the footage was discovered to be from the actual recording session for “Hey Bulldog,” the producers restored it and created this brand new promotional film-that-never-really existed (though it should have!).  Now in this video you see the recording session footage in sync with the song (which later appeared on the Yellow Submarine film and soundtrack). It is especially interesting that the vocal performances by Lennon and McCartney at the end of the song appear to have been what they were recording at that point during the filming session, so we actually get to see them doing all that wild mad vocal improvisation live on film — this is a really cool thing (and I think most Beatle fans will agree).

The “new” Beatle songs from the 1990s Anthology “reunion” hold up remarkably well and can be appreciated anew on Blu-ray. I enjoyed watching “Free As a Bird” with finer details making it easier to pick out the hidden “clues” in the film. The sound on “Real Love” real nice.

AR-PepperSuits225.jpgWe also get the promotional video made to promote The Beatles’ collaboration with Cirque Du Soleil called Love. This wonderful mash up of “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “Within Without You” is a highlight of the Love soundtrack and this appropriately trippy video looks great. It includes (what I’m pretty sure is) the 5.1 surround mix found on the DVD Audio deluxe editions of the Cirque Du Soleil soundtrack.    

Gosh… I could go on…. a few more details before wrapping up… 

On this set we finally get the super rocking version of “Revolution” — a mix unique to this promotional clip that is harder edged than even the original single version, featuring George and Paul chiming in with “shoo-bee-doo-wops” in answer to John’s blazing vocals. The versions of “The Long and Winding Road” and “Get Back” are based on the Let it Be — Naked release (which are closer to Paul McCartney’s intention vs. the Phil Spector mixes used on the original soundtrack album from 1970).  

This leads me to discuss how this set sounds overall — this IS AUDIOphilereview, after all!   

I’m happy to report that for the most part the fidelity is pretty grand.  The early lip sync performances have been meshed up to mostly Mono recordings — these sound great in 5.1 surround.  5.1 surround mono?  Yes, its essentially five – speaker Mono, but the sound fills up the room nicely with tasteful reverb ambiance mostly filling up the rear surround channels.  As an start-to-finish listen, this approach makes for a smooth transition to the later stereo-centric and more discreet 5.1 recordings. For the most part the surround mixes presented here are not aggressive and the focus is mostly front and center. 

And you know what? I’m ok with that. Maybe someday producer Giles Martin will create a more immersive Beatles / Film/ Surround-Sound project with lots of mad ping ponging of sounds and such. But for now I’m more than pleased that this collection has finally seen the light of day.  

Now I can enjoy my celluloid heroes any time I want to hitch a ride on that spirit train again.  

In a way, this set is lasting evidence that The Beatles as an entity were indeed the first real superheroes of the pop music world, even more so than Elvis and Sinatra. And like most lasting comic book superheroes, from Superman to Batman, they will live on forever. 

Because celluloid heroes never really die…

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