Johnson County —
It was shot in black and white because the bigwigs at United Artists didn’t think it worth wasting money to film, the Beatles’ first film, 1964’s “A Hard Day’s Night,” in color. It received the green light in 1963, well before anyone in America knew or cared who they were. It should have been a mess, akin to the teen junk of the Elvis and ’50s rock-‘n’-roll films that preceded it.
The record company and film studio execs hardly cared about the quality at the time, the idea being make it cheap, make it quick and cash in before Beatlemania faded and kids moved on to something else.
The Beatles proved different in that and so many other ways.
They insisted on quality. The film — rich in Goon Show, French New Wave and cinema verite influence — became a critical and financial hit. The Village Voice dubbed it the “Citizen Kane” of jukebox musicals while critic Roger Ebert labeled it “one of the great life-affirming landmarks of the movies.”
Which, by substituting music for movies aptly sums up the Beatles’ appeal for many.
Both of their time, yet still vibrant, in the words of author Mark Lewisohn, “this music still lifts the spirit and is passed joyfully from generation to generation.”
The reasons behind the Beatles’ “profound and sustained connection” to the public remains debatable and myriad. Perhaps Lewisohn, in his excellent new biography of the band, “Tune In,” is on to something.
“They resisted branding, commercial sponsorship, corporate affiliation and hype,” Lewisohn writes. “The Beatles were free of artifice and weren’t the product of market research or focus groups or TV talent shows. They were original and developed organically when everyone else was looking the other way.”
Or maybe it’s simply the combined quality and staying power of all those great songs.