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Why The Beatles Matter to the Future of Repertory Film

by Ryan Lattanzio
July 15, 2014 8:07 PM
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'A Hard Day's Night'
'A Hard Day's Night'

It was 1964 and the world didn't know what had hit it. The Beatles came exploding out of the screen in Richard Lester's "A Hard Day's Night," the deliriously, thrillingly alive, black-and-white masterpiece from director Richard Lester that opened the cultural floodgates for the Fab Four, and for a new era of music-in-film hybrids.

The Beatles

Currently kicking around repertory theaters, reaching over 100 theaters in total, is a new 4K restoration of the film from The Criterion Collection and distributor Janus Films.

This is their first full-on 4K restoration, and that's the closest we can get to the resolution of real, live, flesh-and-blood celluloid. The film, restored from the original negative rather than an intermediary generation, is also available via Criterion Blu-Ray. But what does it mean for the future of classic films on the big screen? (Check out Criterion's summer screenings schedule of the film here.)

"We've always been dedicated to gathering films of all different kinds, and this is certainly one of the greatest films ever made," said Peter Becker, President of Criterion Collection, who has held onto the rights for nearly a year, and wanted the release to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the film's 1964 premiere at the London Palladium. 

Where does Becker see the film fitting in the overall Criterion canon, and what does it augur for the future of Janus re-releases and restorations? We spoke on the phone.

Toni Servillo in "The Great Beauty."
Toni Servillo in "The Great Beauty."

"[With] last year's Janus story, 'The Great Beauty,' over the course of that release we found ourselves in many more theaters than usual," Becker said. Paolo Sorrentino's "The Great Beauty," 2014's Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film, ended up with nearly $3 million at the domestic box office -- one of the highest foreign film grosses of the decade so far.

"The traditional form for repertory releasing is you make two prints or four prints and you play them out over the course of a few months and reach as many markets as you can," Becker said. "That model has worked pretty well for a lot of things. In the case of 'A Hard Day's Night,' we had a different goal and it has opened up new possibilities for releasing strategy." 

"The Beatles are an iconic and international brand name and the first proper rock band so we had an opportunity to mobilize attention on a national scale. We're very excited about it. So far so good; the attention that the release has been given is any measure of how well it's going to do for all of our exhibitors who had the courage to line up with us and show this film," Becker added.

"People who were screaming about this film in the 1960s are now in their '60s and '70s and have grandchildren who also love and grew up on The Beatles. For us, this opened up the whole new possibility of being able to open a repertory picture on a broad scale and change the model of it."

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More: Criterion, Janus, Features


  • Christine | July 16, 2014 6:47 PMReply

    The Beatles are the single most photographed and recorded (film, video, audio) group of all time. The tip of the iceberg was touched with the three double-disc sets of Anthology CDs, the Anthology Book, and the Anthology Documentary. Mark Lewishon's book In-Tune Vol. 1 (the short version or the two-book extensive version) details childhood up to 1962. It's thousands of pages. Between the recording innovations, the performance innovations (needing arenas) etc. there are multi facets and multi levels of influence that are not exclusive to film. And yes, Richard Lester work was genius, we know that. The true influence is the number of people, then and now, who saw the Beatles or heard them and said " if they can do that, I can do that ",... and that influence resonates today.

  • Brian | July 17, 2014 10:37 AM

    "If they can do that, I can do that"--what's the implication there? That what the Beatles did was so simple and easy that everyone figured they could duplicate it? That's not very complimentary, is it? And it certainly diminishes the Beatles' true achievements.

  • Robert Maier | July 15, 2014 9:41 PMReply

    Excellent story. So True, Need more great rep films like this to help save small theaters.

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