Blu-ray Review: Swallows and Amazons

Starring: Virginia McKenna, Ronald Fraser, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton
Director: Claude Whatham
Rating: 7/10

swa_co_tra_ 009This big screen version of Arthur Ransome’s classic story dates from 1974, a time that in terms of its attitude to childhood now seems hardly less distant than the novel’s between-the-wars setting. The Walker children are on their hols in the Lake District – a week devoted to the idyllic pleasures of sailing their boat, the Swallow, and camping out on an island. Perhaps because making a movie with young children and sailing dinghies is a technical, time-consuming business, not a lot happens in director Claude Whatham and scriptwriter David Wood’s pared down adaptation. The film’s rhythm is episodic and pleasantly inconsequential. The children get to be little Bear Gryllses, learning about fishing and foraging, setting up makeshift tents with blankets and ropes. They have a run-in with the aptly named Amazons, some very strapping mean girls who have a boat of their own. There’s a comedy relief adult, Uncle Jim (Ronald Fraser), a silly old duffer who is Ransome sending himself up. And there’s a little bit of intrigue to do with some burglars and Uncle Jim’s stolen trunk.

Not exactly action-packed, but it’s plenty to be going on with, because for the children the real adventure – and this the film captures very well – is being out and about by themselves, with no parents to order them about and with the world (or at any rate Coniston Water) as their oyster. Yes, modern kids might struggle to connect with the frightfully posh, relentlessly upbeat Walker children, and they might find a good part of their seafaring chatter incomprehensible, but they would probably still long to be in their shoes, and that’s all that matters.

For adults, watching Swallows and Amazons will create an ache of nostalgia. The wholeswa_co_tra_ 008 thing is steeped in a kind of naivety and innocence that seem unobtainable for modern children. The film benefited from a leisurely seven week shoot, making use of the exact locations that Ransome referred to in his book, and the young actors were allowed to mess about on the water in a manner that probably wouldn’t be permitted in these health and safety conscious days: their acting skills might be variable, but they all seen well up to handling a boat. On this excellent HD transfer, Denis Lewiston’s Eastmancolor cinematography has the gauzy shimmer of a Newlyn School painting. The scenery is enchanting, the film is packed with covetable vintage trimmings, including gorgeous clinker-construction dinghies (all wood, no fibreglass), and it’s enough to turn the most confirmed shut-in into an outdoors person.

The Blu-ray comes with a nice selection of extras. There are Interviews with Sophie Neville (Titty) and Suzanna Hamilton (Susan), who talk about how their sailing improved over the course of the shoot, how sweet Virginia McKenna was to them, and the director’s unusual approach to drawing performances from his young cast – the children weren’t allowed to see a script but had each scene explained to them as it was rehearsed and shot. There’s also an extremely interesting featurette that revisits the film’s key locations, such as Peel Island and Bank Ground farm, many of them largely unchanged.

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Blu-ray Review: The Last Horror Film

Starring: Caroline Munro, Joe Spinell, Judd Hamilton
Director: David Winters
Rating: 7/10

Vinny (Joe Spinell) is a seedy New York cabbie who lives with his mum, but who the-last-horror-film 7daydreams about being a big shot Hollywood director and making movies with his favourite actress, scream queen Jana Bates (Caroline Munro). Against his mother’s advice, he takes himself off to the Cannes Film Festival in hopes of meeting his idol, but his pasty, scruffy appearance marks him out as not nice to know and he’s thwarted at every turn. Soon the people who are rude to him start disappearing in mysterious circumstances, and the rumour spreads that there’s a mad killer loose on the French Riviera.

the-last-horror-film 4The Last Horror Film (1982) plays like a cross between Peeping Tom and The King of Comedy. Like Michael Powell’s murderous protagonist, Vinny takes refuge behind a camera. As he looks through the viewfinder the soundtrack goes deathly quiet, except for his heavy breathing, to reflect his blissful insulation from reality. But unlike Powell’s character and like Scorsese’s Rupert Pupkin, he’s not content to stay in the shadows. He’s a volatile fantasist, a Walter Mitty with a dark streak, and he’s in a constant sweat in his efforts to transform himself from a nobody to a somebody. Meanwhile, a drip-feed of news reports over the radio about John Hinckley, the man who attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan as a love offering to Jodie Foster, seem to suggest that Vinny and his ilk are a sign of the times.

the-last-horror-film 3Yet one of the attractive things about The Last Horror Film is that on some level it appears to understand and share Vinny’s yearnings. As it records, guerilla-style, the glamour and hype and dazzle of Cannes, the fast cars, the topless bathing beauties, the giant billboards, the red carpet (there are snatched shots of Isabelle Adjani, Marcello Mastroianni and Kris Kristofferson braving the press gauntlet), you sense the filmmakers’ own desire to be included in the winners’ circle. And indeed the whole project had a whiff of wish fulfilment for Caroline Munro and her then-husband Judd Hamilton (who produced, co-wrote the script and appears on-screen as her director and lover). Part of the appeal of the shoot, surely, was that it gave them both a chance to stay in fabulous hotels and the-last-horror-film 6pretend to be the celebrity couple they weren’t quite in reality. (The film may not have been A-list, but it wasn’t short of cash and opportunities for the cast to indulge themselves. The budget ran to $2 million, and when Vinny corners Jana in her shower, he threatens her with a very nice bottle of Moet et Chandon.)

the-last-horror-film 5On a production that seems to have been something of a free-for-all, Spinell poured himself into his role, infusing Vinny with his own quirky traits. He shot the early scenes in his own apartment with his real mother and went off with his best friend Luke Walters to film bizarre mood sequences that capture Vinny’s fractured psyche. Putting that much of yourself into a role takes courage, and he showed physical bravery too in a scene where he had to walk along a narrow parapet of Jana’s hotel to her room. The trouble with the movie are the parts that he had less input into. The scenes with Munro are so bland and uninteresting, you wonder whether it was on purpose. They seem designed – perhaps by Hamilton – to keep the actress at arm’s length from the film’s grimy undercurrents. Similarly, her parade of ’80s fashion victim outfits have a way of undermining the seriousness of what we’re seeing. Nor are movie buffs likely to be the-last-horror-film 1thrilled at the way the script hypocritically peddles the line that Jana has brought her ordeals on herself by making horror films that have a bad effect on weak minds. (And if you want to know what weak-mindedness looks like, according to this movie, it looks like a middle-aged New York cabbie reading Starburst.)

The Last Horror Film doesn’t quite hang together as well as it might then, but you only have to reach into the messiness to find morsels of real cult movie goodness. For instance, there’s an intriguing sequence where Vinny sits down in a cinema with a tub of popcorn to watch a gory flick. Earlier, we’ve been shown that he’s in some ways an ideal audience, identifying totally with what he’s seeing. But this time he finds himself becoming physically ill: because of the violence in his the-last-horror-film 8heart, the violence on screen has become too real to him. And when we learn that fear of the serial killer is causing celebrities to abandon Cannes in droves, it seems to wittily prefigure all the times in the recent past when Hollywood has shunned the Festival because of whispers of terrorist threats.

This Blu-ray boasts a very nice transfer – no grain, dirt or scratches, some lovely depth to the exteriors, and even the wintry, overcast New York sequences come across sharp and bright. It’s hard to imagine the film looking better. The extras include a rambling but engaging 23-minute chat with Spinell’s long-time friend Luke Walter, who worked on the film off-screen and on. We drive around the streets of New York and go to Spinell’s regular diner, which serves very tasty-looking toasted sandwiches. Along the way Walter talks with affection about his old buddy and shares raunchy stories of life on set. Maniac II: Mister Robbie is a crackly but atmospheric and bloody 8-minute short, with Spinell starring. There’s an interview with Maniac director William Lustig – brief (only three minutes), but full of interesting info about what sounds like a totally anarchic production. Lastly, there’s an 11-minute Q&A with Caroline Munro, with the actress in engaging form, talking about another of her films, Slaughter High.

Blu-ray Review: Rapture

Starring: Patricia Gozzi, Melvyn Douglas, Dean Stockwell
Director: John Guillermin
Rating: 7/10

John Guillermin is one of those directors where you might not know the name but you’ve almost certainly seen one of his films. The Towering Inferno was one of his. So was Death on the Nile and the 1976 King Kong remake, plus several WWII movies that used to be staples of afternoon TV. And then there’s Rapture (1965), the odd one out. It’s the only John Guillermin movie where you make a point of checking the director’s credit because you wonder who would be crazy enough to put together a film like that.

rapture 3Shot on location on the coast of Brittany, it concerns a family who live in picturesque squalor in an isolated farmhouse. There’s grouchy old Frederick (Melvyn Douglas), a retired judge; Agnes (Patricia Gozzi), his teenage daughter; and Karen (Gunnel Lindblom), their nubile housekeeper. Like Breton cousins of the Starkadders in Cold Comfort Farm, the characters nurse their secrets and fly off the handle at each other at the slightest provocation. Agnes is a half-savage waif in the grip of a febrile sexual awakening; she’s only happy running wild on the cliff-tops, where she has a secret cave full of treasures. Then she befriends Joseph (Dean Stockwell), an escaped prisoner, confusing him in her mind with a scarecrow she has made because he has stolen the old suit it was dressed in.

It’s a story full of jarring, implausible notes (a police van tumbling end over end in front rapture 2of the family as they walk home from church is, in this context, something you take in your stride), and these are only heightened by a mise-en-scene that feels stilted and mannered. It’s certainly a motley crew to find under one rooftop: crotchety character actor Douglas, putting on a French accent; Stockwell, not putting on a French accent, but doing an uncanny James Dean impersonation (you can only tell it’s Stockwell because of the eyebrows); and Ingmar Bergman regular Lindblom, bringing her own Swedish gravitas and sensuality to proceedings.

With a cast like that, naturalism clearly wasn’t the first thing on anyone’s mind. But in a way the sense that everything is slightly off is part of the film’s appeal, helping to draw your attention more firmly to the weird sexual symbolism and strange subtexts that come pushing through the grotesquely heavy decor. Agnes falls for Joseph, building up to the moment when she finally shows him her secret cave. Meanwhile, under the guise of sharing his thoughts on jurisprudence, set down in a lengthy tome he’s been writing, Frederick, too, takes a keen interest in the handsome visitor. “My book, perhaps you can look at it this evening, tell me what you think.” An innocent enough request, you might think, but it’s the way he insists. You can tell It’s a short step from that to Frederick showing him his etchings. Unfortunately for them, Joseph is more interested in Karen’s buxom charms.

rapture 1Rapture was apparently intended as a vehicle for French child actress Patricia Gozzi (fifteen years old when she played the role) in the hope that it would introduce her to English-speaking audiences. That perhaps explains why – despite authentic production values and the presence of a French crew behind the camera – the film owes more to the overblown idiom of late ’50s/early ’60s Hollywood than it does to the breezy excitement of the French New Wave. You can practically feel Gozzi fighting against this on some instinctive level. She brings a wailing, wild-eyed artlessness to her role. The thing you remember most about the film afterwards is her voice, so raw and plaintive, and the sight of her, grubby yet radiant, framed in medium close-up against the stark, forbidding, monolithic compositions of Marcel Grignon’s black and white CinemaScope cinematography.

The HD transfer is very striking. There’s some rather busy grain, admittedly, but also lots of etching-like detail and thick inky blacks that look like they could rub off on your fingers. The audio commentary by film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redmon – who were asked by the director himself to look into whether there were any usable prints that could form the basis for a home video release – is very helpful in filling in the background to the film and its key participants and in teasing out various themes and motifs.

DVD Review: Behind the Camera

Starring: Yun Yeo-jeong, Kim Ok-vin
Director: EJ Yong
Rating: 6/10

behind-the-camera 1In Seoul, EJ Yong, a director known for his fondness for innovation, is asked by an electronics company to make a short promo celebrating the power of mobile technology. He agrees, and then he has another idea – why not go one step further and direct the movie via Skype rather than in person? What better celebration of mobile technology could there be than that? So the actors, shivering in a bitter Korean winter, are assembled for an intensive two-day shoot, only to be presented with the director’s face on a TV screen and to learn that he’s miles away, in sunny Los Angeles. The movie we see is a documentary about what happens next.

Or is it? Whether E (as he’s known to his friends) is actually in Hollywood, as he claims, and not hidden away in an office somewhere nearby is a matter of fierce debate among the cast and crew, and the audience is likely to have a nagging question of their own – namely, how much of this is a genuine documentary and how much of it is a scripted (or perhaps semi-improvised) drama in disguise?

In a way it doesn’t matter. Whatever the truth, most people will simply take Behind the Camera as a clever new entry in the trusty old genre of films about the making of a film. Rather like Truffaut’s contribution to that genre, Day for Night, it’s so in love with the romance of filmmaking it doesn’t question whether what it is doing is worthwhile. Nor, probably, will members of the audience who share E’s enthusiasm, even if the scenes of actors, crew and rival directors amiably gossiping backstage are presumably much more fun and pointed for Korean filmgoers who know who these people are.

Then again, you don’t have to be an expert in Korean cinema to warm to a character like Yun Yeo-jeong, the veteran actress who dominates every scene she’s in with her pithy putdowns, her revealing anecdotes and her innate sense of timing. Queen bee on and off set, she inspires a reverence that E can only aspire to. Not that the other performers aren’t very engaging and nice to be around as well (they politely call the director “sir”, something that probably hasn’t happened in Hollywood since the days of Cecil B. DeMille).

Is it something of an ego trip for E, placing himself at the centre of his own film? behind-the-cameraPerhaps. Yet Behind the Camera occasionally feels like a dig at the auteurist theory, in that it raises the question of whether a film really needs a director at all, apart from to occasionally sooth an actor’s nerves. As the sceptical crew get on with the thankless task of attempting to get the film (which, frankly, is no masterpiece) shot in time, E becomes a rather sad figure trapped on a screen in a corner of the soundstage, increasingly ignored. But it’s hard to draw any definite conclusions because, apart from when another director tries to take over, there’s very little drama. The high energy, the confusion, the sense of being behind the scenes are all exhilarating. But a bit like actually being on a film set, you become exhausted from waiting around for something to happen.

As a technical exercise, Behind the Camera is seamless in that it’s impossible to tell where fact ends and fiction begins, but it also feels sealed inside its own bubble of in-jokes and teasing coyness. (Although there’s one clear inconsistency, surely. If Behind the Camera really is a proper “making of” documentary, then it must have had a separate director, but that credit goes to E himself.) The extras, although interesting, aren’t much help in getting to the bottom of the riddle. There’s an 11-minute interview with E, which is a bit painful because it’s done through a translator, so by the time the answer comes you’ve forgotten what the question was. You also get a 27-minute Film Festival Q&A. Here the moderator does his best to pin down the facts, and E insists, not entirely convincingly, that the whole thing is true and shows people just being themselves.

DVD Review: Enemies Closer

Starring: Tom Everett Scott, Orlando Jones, Jean-Claude Van Damme
Director: Peter Hyams
Rating: 5/10

DSC_8536Spare a thought for Peter Hyams. Back in the ’90s he was a successful director – not an A-lister, but not a douche either – making crowd-pleasing medium-budget pictures such as Timecop ($27 million) and The Relic ($40 million). But things haven’t been the same for him since that Schwarzenegger turkey End of Days ($83 million). Now he’s teamed up with his old buddy Jean-Claude Van Damme on a modest outward bound actioner, budgeted at a mere $5 million. $5 million? Once you take out Van Damme’s fee and the salary of his personal chef, that doesn’t leave a whole lot to play with.

Sporting a mad professor hairdo, Van Damme plays the leader of a bunch of French-_MG_1283Canadian mercenaries who cross over the border into the US in the search of a plane full of heroine that has taken a nosedive into the Great Lakes just off the shore of a remote island. Standing in their way is the island’s mild-mannered park ranger, Henry (Tom Everett Scott). He’s an ex-Navy SEAL, but these days he’s more used to picking up the litter than putting out the human trash. Plus he’s not having a good day, because another man, Clay (Orlando Jones) is also on the island trying to kill him, for personal reasons to do with Henry’s sad backstory.

DSC_7243Can Henry band together with Clay to fight the common enemy? You really wish he wouldn’t, because Clay is so horribly self-righteous and trigger-happy. But then, Henry is a bit wet and doesn’t win a single fight by himself throughout the entire movie, so perhaps it’s just as well. Just as well, also, then, that we have Van Damme on the scene to command our attention, slitting throats, breaking bones and murdering the English language. You really can’t take your eyes off him, even if it’s for all the wrong reasons.

And to be fair, if you can squint and wish away the Henry-Clay subplot, the film does DSC_0346have its moments. To his credit, Hyams makes the small budget work for him by delivering some well-choreographed, pleasantly lo-fi fisticuffs. There’s one that takes place high a tree that’s good enough to perhaps make tree-fights a thing in the future. And the location photography is so nice you might feel inspired to visit the Great Lakes, although that would be a mistake because the movie was actually shot in Bulgaria. Not the best action film you’ll ever see about a guy haunted by his past taking on a gang of criminals in the woods, but for $5 million, not bad.

Blu-ray Review: L’Assassino

Starring: Marcello Mastroianni, Micheline Presle, Cristina Gaioni
Director: Elio Petri
Rating: 7/10

assassino 2Although it concerns a violent death, L’Assassino (1961) isn’t a proto-giallo. It’s part police procedural, part character study; it has something in common with socially conscious entertainments such as Otto Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder. It starts with Martelli, a vain, preening antiques dealer, being marched from his flat to the police station to answer some questions. The well-connected older woman who was his lover and benefactress has been killed in a brutal stabbing, and he’s the prime suspect.

As he’s interrogated, we learn all about his relationship with the woman through flashbacks. Adalgisa De Matteis (Micheline Presle) is into younger men, and when she grows tired of him, she unconsciously pushes him towards Nicoletta (Cristina Gaioni), the daughter of a wealthy industrialist, knowing he’ll be eager to marry into money. The police investigation exposes the whole tawdry tale, and by extension it casts an unflattering light on a certain strand of Italian society made up of the idle rich and self-serving upstarts like Martelli, whose own behaviour seems particularly shabby.

It was a strand of society that was clearly on the minds of the Italian public at the time. Just the year before L’Assassino was released, audiences were wowed by Fellini’s La Dolce Vita and Antonioni’s L’Avventura, both of which depict figures frittering away their gilded lives in a mood of after-hours decadence. Marcello Mastroianni, who plays Martelli, famously starred in La Dolce Vita, and it’s as if director Elio Petri has grabbed his character from that film, shoved him into a crime mystery and said, “See what it’s like to really have something to worry about!”

The film is very watchable in parts. The flashback scenes are sufficiently frank, with assassino 4enough psychological astuteness, to still be very engaging. There’s a bleakly insightful sequence where Martelli, Adalgisa and Nicoletta go to the Nemi ships museum, and the older woman tortures herself by watching the other two flirt. For that matter, the whole relationship between Martelli and Adalgisa is intriguing: apparently settling into friendship (he’s way too old for her now, she’s dallying with a waiter scarcely out of his teens) but still pricked by the memory of lust.

The trouble is, we’re continually being yanked away from this fascinating bed-hopping back to a police investigation that looks like a miscarriage of justice waiting to happen. Martelli seems to have tumbled into a subterranean fascist state. He’s bullied, humiliated. He’s put overnight in a cell without a bed, which he has to share with a pair of hysterical low-lifes who’ve been brought in for crushing a man’s skull.

assassino 1How are we supposed to react to this? Are we supposed to enjoy seeing Martelli brought down a peg or two, or are we supposed to view this as a condemnation of a high-handed and brutal law enforcement system? A bit of both perhaps. But the two don’t make for a very easy fit, especially as these days we tend to take a far more dim view of corrupt policemen than we do of philandering social climbers. There’s a suggestion, in a couple of scenes, that the police’s calculated cruelty to him helps Martelli to understand his unthinking selfishness towards others. But then that notion is snatched away too in a cynical and downbeat ending, leaving you wondering what it was all about.

L’Assassino isn’t, then, an easy film for modern audiences to wrap their heads around, but there’s no doubt that it’s beautifully crafted. Its chief glory is the superb location cinematography by Carlo Di Palma (who would go on to do Blow-Up and be Woody Allen’s regular DP throughout the ’80s and’ 90s). In this HD transfer – a 2K resolution scan from the original camera negative – it looks breathtakingly sharp. In many shots a cold, wintry Rome looms in the background, dwarfing the characters and ready to swallow them up. There’s a bravura moment early on where Martelli is burning off grey hairs with a candle and you see reflected in his dressing-room mirror a vista of picturesque streets, reflecting his feeling that he’s a guy on top of the world. And there’s a brilliantly photographed sequence where Martelli and the police visit the fanciful beach resort that the dead woman was building and wander around its chilly, half-finished terraces, a testament to her restless desires. All of these scenes have a glittering freshness.

The film comes with a 9-minute introduction by Pasquale Iannone. He talks about the assassino 3director’s career and background (he was a communist in his early days) and reveals that the movie ran into problems with the censors for its depiction of the police (so perhaps it was intended as a condemnation after all). In addition, there’s a flavoursome 51-minute documentary about screenwriter Tonino Guerra, who co-scripted L’Assassino. Guerra worked with a who’s who of Italian cinema from the late ’50s through to the ’80s. Tarkovsky and Antonioni were witnesses at his second marriage; he wrote Amarcord with Fellini in eight days. Interviewed in a villa and garden filled with his own striking artwork, two dogs and twenty cats, Guerra offers quirky, poetic insights into the famous folk he collaborated with. Some interesting clips from his films are also included – The Tenth Victim (1965), starring Ursula Andress in an exploding bra, looks especially worth chasing up. Altogether, a nice find for lovers of Italian cinema.

Blu-ray Review: A Hard Day’s Night – 50th Anniversary Restoration

Starring: The Beatles, Norman Rossington, John Junkin
Director: Richard Lester
Rating: 10/10

As Roger Ebert has pointed out, there’s a case to be made that the Sixties really began with A Hard Day’s Night (1964). Not only did this smart, funny docudrama cement the Beatles’ personas in the public eye, it also struck a note of liberation that set the tone for the rest of the decade.

a-hard-days-night 4Seamlessly blending fiction with real footage (those are real crowds they’re running away from at the beginning, and real reporters they’re teasing later on), the film presents a day in the life (actually more like two days and two nights) of the Fab Four as they head down from Liverpool to London for a press junket and live TV performance. It captures them at the height of Beatlemania, prisoners of their own success – hounded by screaming fans, hemmed in by the chattering classes who want a piece of the action. Scene after scene takes place in close confinement. Paul’s grandfather, who’s along for the ride, sums up their life on the road thus: “So far I’ve been in a train and a room and a car and a room and a room and a room”. Until, in a famous scene, the boys go hurtling down a fire escape to freedom and the camera takes flight high into the air, mimicking their exultation (one of the film’s many happy accidents; the director of photography Gilbert Taylor hitched a ride on a helicopter that just happened to be there while they were shooting).

It’s a scene that still stirs the blood, and you can imagine how a young audience at the time would have seen in the Beatles’ need to break free a mirror of their own sense of frustration, their own longing for a life less joyless and regimented.

But a good number of them would also have been equally enthused by the movie’s technical a-hard-days-night 6novelty. Aesthetically, A Hard Day’s Night has one foot in the French New Wave and one foot in English sitcom. The production filmed wherever possible on location, in a vérité style, using lightweight Arriflex cameras (in the behind-the-scenes footage included in the extras you can see just how small and portable these were). The director Richard Lester shoots from angles that make you feel as if you’re peeking at the Beatles over someone’s shoulder. Everything seems spontaneous, informal.

At the same time, you have Wilfrid Brambell of Steptoe and Son playing Paul’s rascally fictional grandfather. There’s a subplot to do with his various schemes (he forges the boys’ signatures on publicity photos), his love of gambling and loose women and his attempts to brew discord among the band members (you wonder what international audiences made of the running gag about him being “very clean”, a reference to Harry H. Corbett’s famous catchphrase: “You dirty old man!”).

a-hard-days-night 1In keeping with the fact that John, Paul, George and Ringo had no experience as actors, Alun Owen’s script is all easy-to-remember one-liners and short, pithy exchanges, which Lester spliced together into intricate rat-tat-tat sequences. But it’s also firmly rooted in the Beatles’ personalities, incorporating fictionalized versions of their own experiences – an example being their encounter with a starchy, bowler-hatted businessman in First Class (“I fought the war for you lot!” he complains, and Ringo shoots back, “I bet you’re sorry you won!”). It’s a testament to Owen’s skill that many viewers simply assume that much of the film was improvised, whereas there are in fact only a handful of ad libs (all by John). (Owen was a prolific TV playwright throughout the ’60s and ’70s; if it’s anywhere near as good as this, it would be fascinating to see some of his work issued on DVD.)

And then, in the midst of all this whirl, there are the Beatles themselves. Your eye a-hard-days-night 2particularly goes to Paul. From the moment when you first catch sight of him at the train station in a false beard and tash, his star appeal is almost startling; he can crack you up with a look, or bring a lump to your throat by singing “And I Love Her” – he seems part angel, part Artful Dodger. And yet he’s not greedy for your attention. One of the nicest things about the film is how generous it is. Some of the funniest lines go to the marvellous duo of Norman Rossington and John Junkin as the manager and gofer who have to put up with the boys’ cheek.

a-hard-days-night 3The HD transfer on this Blu-ray is beautiful, with great depth of field and sleek, glossy blacks. And, just like Paul’s grandfather, it’s very clean. The early scene in the First Class carriage, for example, now looks amazing; you can almost feel the texture of the upholstery and it’s the next best thing to sitting there with the famous quartet while they trade put-downs. The disc comes with an audio commentary with Gilbert Taylor, Lionel Blair, John Junkin and a whole plethora of the cast and crew, plus about three hours of other extras. There’s an 18-minute interview with the Beatles, recorded at the time, audio-only but accompanied by some nice behind the scenes footage. They talk about how the film was shot almost in sequence, and the trouble they had getting up early and learning their lines. You Can’t Do That is a very decent hour-long documentary made for the 30th anniversary of the film and narrated by Phil Collins (who was one of the screaming extras in the concert scene). It explains how United Artists financed the movie in order to get a Beatles soundtrack album, only to wind up getting much more, and it features excellent interview footage with Lester, Owen and Roger Ebert, the heavyweight critic who has been most vocal in praise of A Hard Day’s Night (“While I was watching that movie, my hair started to grow,” he remarks).

Things They Said Today is a 36-minute featurette that goes into more detail about a-hard-days-night 5United Artists’ three-picture deal with the Fab Four; it serves up some funny anecdotes and vivid behind-the-scenes footage. One of the things you learn is that they had only three weeks to edit the film for a tight cinema release. Another is that the movie introduced the word “grotty” into the English dictionary. Picturewise is 27-minute overview of Richard Lester’s career, explaining how his technique of shooting quickly using multiple cameras was forged in live TV. In addition, there’s a 17-minute piece on the handling of the musical numbers, and a 27-minute look back at the Beatles’ rise to fame and fortune.