By Paula Bernstein | Indiewire July 3, 2014 at 2:38PM
50 years ago, with the Beatles at the peak of their fame after conquering the United States, United Artists signed Richard Lester on to direct "the Beatles movie," which would become "A Hard Day's Night." Shot in pseudo-documentary style and inspired by the style of the French New Wave, Lester captured the band's spontaneity and turned the Fab Four into movie stars. The film, which surely inspired music videos a generation later, featured some of the Beatles' biggest hits, including "Can't Buy Me Love," "If I Fell" as well as the title track. Shot, edited and mixed in a mere four months, "A Hard Day's Night" premiered on July 6, 1964, at the London Pavilion Theater.
Now, a half century later, using the latest in digital restoration technology, The Criterion Collection has restored "A Hard Day's Night" from the original 35mm camera negative, which, amazingly, though incomplete, is in excellent condition.
Janus Films will release a digitally restored version of the film in about 100 cities -- including New York's Film Forum and San Francisco's Castro Theatre -- on July 4, commemorating the 50th anniversary of its premiere. The Criterion Collection released a DVD/Blu-Ray edition last week.
The film will be presented in new 5.1 surround mix produced by Giles Martin, the son of Beatles producer George Martin, using the best original audio sources. The restoration was approved by director Lester, and is in its original theatrical aspect ration of 1.75:1.
"I’m so proud of the way it came out. The film itself is so luminous to begin with and I just really feel the energy and life of it just comes out in such an amazing way in this new restoration," Peter Becker, partner in Janus Films and Co-President of The Criterion Collection, recently told Indiewire.
Last year, Janus released Academy Award-winning "The Great Beauty" digitally to theaters and releases classic films theatrically very rarely. "You’re asking exhibitors all around the country to take their chances on a film that may not be a new film, may not be a color film, may not be a wide-screen film or may not star anybody you know," said Becker.
Of course, that wasn't an issue with "A Hard Day's Night." "It's not the traditional repertory film. It is a film that stars the most famous musicians maybe of all time. This is the biggest band and ti's a momentous occasion," said Becker.
Here are some of the highlights of our conversation with Becker:
The release is only possible because of Digital Cinema Package (DCP)
"Rather than go with the traditional release plan, we wanted to do something that was new and different, and it was only really made possible in a way by the arrival of DCP, because there’s no way we could have made 120 prints of 'A Hard Day’s Night' and put it out in 120 theaters all at once because we'd run out of theaters quickly after that and then we'd be sitting on 120 prints, which would be a terrible business because black and white prints are very expensive to make right now, and on top of all of that, it wouldn’t have looked as good. The reality is that the prints that played in theatres in 1964 were several generations down the line from the image you’re going to see this weekend.
"Here, we have a 4K scan of what’s on the original negative, looking absolutely glorious, restored in a way that we had no means to restore an image in photochemical times without generational loss, with extremely precise tools and high resolution, so that we only have to fix the affected part of the frame or the affected part of the soundtrack without messing with broadband distortions that can get introduced by automatic tools. This was not the usual thing and DCP made it possible for us to open on a much wider scale in a much more compressed time frame and really make it the national event that it deserves to be."
You can only restore what's already there.
"The biggest jobs in any restoration is going through all the material that exists and selecting the best ones. You can only restore what’s already there. You still need quality material to start. You can’t make something great out of something that doesn’t have a lot of information in it and they have defects and flaws but you have to find the best example of the picture and sound.
"The first thing one needs to do is find the best available film materials and in the case of 'A Hard Day’s Night,' we’re fortunate because the original negatives survived, but for eight of the original ten reels. There are two missing reels of the original negative and fortunately for those two reels, there also exists good secondary elements, fine grain masters and duplicated negatives. One of the challenges of the restoration then becomes matching those elements and another of them is the extremely laborious, practically artisanal monastic labor of going in by hand and fixing scratches, dirt, tears, stains, glues, splices, all the kinds of things that turn up on old film and it has to be done by hand because those there are automatic tools that can do some of the work for you, they can help to map some of the defects that exist or that can be used with a vary light hand to address chronic problems that are common throughout the whole element.
"If you just use automatic tools you’re making a decision to alter the entire frame, rather than to surgically go in and just address the thing that you see to be a problem. For example, an automatic noise reducer doesn’t really know the difference between flecks of light dirt on a print and the twinkle in somebodies eye or the reflection in a raindrop, and so it does it’s best to guess, but inevitably what it’s going to do is make a softer, smoother image."
The goal was to be true to the spirit of the original film.
"The most important thing for this restoration because the film is so lively and alive was to have the image also have that same energy and life, and I know that was what Giles Martin was really concerned with the 5.1 too, which was really to bring out that fresh energy of this band that is moving at such high speed and making such incredible intuitive decisions as artists, resulting in amazing songs, amazing films and a level of worldwide popularity no one has ever seen before because you could just feel the energy and the speed with which all this was happening. And the film was made incredibly fast. That’s there too. That’s a part of the feel of this film, how completely free the filmmaking style is. The way that (Richard) Lester and (screenwriter Alun) Owen structured the script, so that they could have the Beatles just kind of very naturally say a line or two and then go, move along without having to memorize endless pages of dialogue and the way that often Lester uses multiple cameras, which means that instead of having everybody do exactly what they did on the take before you’ve got three cameras worth of coverage from one take, so they can go in and be much freer and much more improvisatory because they don’t have to match shot to shot all the time.
"Then the structure of the film, the editing of the film, allows for things to not match. In fact, some of the magic comes from the way things are made not to match, like when they’re in the train car all playing cards and they have instruments in their hands and then they’re playing cards again and it’s just the magic of the film, where they can be inside and outside the train at the same time. So all these things that allowed for discontinuity and freedom also help capture the energy of the Beatles and the energy of this time and that also had to be present literally in the texture of the film and in the texture of the audio. It had to be very present, very alive, very fresh.
"And for the music, Lester was very clear. He was really felt it was critical because the film does have one foot in the world of documentary that the music emerged from the world of the film, not be layered over the top of it like some big soundtrack that just kicked in at certain points of the movie or commented on the movie or seemed separate from the movie. It has to emerge from the world of the movie. The 5.1 work that Giles Martin’s team has done is very respectful of that idea that is baked into the film, in the DNA of the film. And music does emerge from the world of the movie and is very faithful to that ideal. It’s just been activated for modern theatrical sound systems, but is very faithful to the original. I think they did a fantastic job."
All of the movement in the film made the restoration more challenging.
"One restorer has told me that what she found most challenging is that because there’s so much emotion in the film, so much movement in the film, the information on each frame changes dramatically. If you think of the 'Can’t Buy Me Love' sequence, everything’s always moving. The camera is moving. The people are moving in the frame. It’s all handheld, sometimes it’s in a helicopter, but sometimes it’s literally Richard Lester running around in John Lennon’s shoes because, if you notice in that sequence, most of that sequence we only three Beatles in the frame because John Lennon had another engagement, so Lester allows the camera to become John Lennon’s camera eye - such a great moment, such a brilliant solution. Like when Paul runs up and grabs the camera in the middle of that sequence we’re in John’s POV because he’s the only one in not the frame - part of how we get into that intimacy with the Beatles. That’s how brilliant Lester was and how innovative and how spontaneous he was really that, 'Oh, look I lost one of my guys. Maybe I should shoot a different scene.' – 'No, we’re just going to make one of the most iconic sequences in the whole film and nobody’s ever going to know John’s not there for most of it.' It’s fantastic."
This is the real deal.
"This is the real deal. There is a thing here that was the piece of film that passed through the camera that the Beatles walked in front of and that’s the piece of film that we are scanning and honoring, but with it come all of the same conditions of age and if this was a thing from the Renaissance, there would be a shrine to this little piece of film. It’s the actual thing. It is the ‘Shroud of Turin’ of whatever it is. It’s what the image is recorded on. It’s the original thing and there’s a sacred quality to that when you’re working with one of the great films and this is a piece of film itself but it also is subject to the same ravages of time that anything else is. In fact, film is very perishable as we well know. You can leave Michelangelo’s David out in the Piazza Della Signoria for 200 years and take it inside later and clean it off and it’s still in pretty good shape, but you can’t leave a can of film out in the sun for an afternoon."
Watch the film's official remastered trailer below: