Music Video - History and Development - 1960–1967: Visual Innovation - The Beatles

The Beatles

In 1964, The Beatles starred in their first feature film A Hard Day's Night, directed by Richard Lester. Shot in black-and-white and presented as a mock documentary, it was a loosely structured musical fantasia interspersing comedic and dialogue sequences with musical ones. The musical sequences furnished basic templates on which countless subsequent music videos were modeled. It was the direct model for the successful US TV series The Monkees (1966–1968) which similarly consisted of film segments that were created to accompany various Monkees songs.

Film critic Roger Ebert credits Lester with constructing "a new grammar":

" ... he influenced many other films. Today when we watch TV and see quick cutting, hand-held cameras, interviews conducted on the run with moving targets, quickly intercut snatches of dialogue, music under documentary action and all the other trademarks of the modern style, we are looking at the children of A Hard Day's Night".

The Beatles' second feature Help! (1965) was a much more lavish affair, filmed in colour in London and on international locations. It fitted the all-important musical sequences into a contrived fantasy adventure in which the group is pursued through a series of locales (including Switzerland and The Bahamas) by a band of Indian thuggee assassins bent on recovering a sacred ring which has come into Ringo's possession. The title track sequence, filmed in black-and-white, is arguably one of the prime archetypes of the modern performance-style music video, employing rhythmic cross-cutting, contrasting long shots and close-ups, and unusual shots and camera angles, such as the shot near the end of the song, in which George Harrison's left hand and the neck of his guitar are seen in sharp focus in the foreground while the completely out-of-focus figure of John Lennon sings in the background.

In 1965, The Beatles began making promotional clips (then known as "filmed inserts") for distribution and broadcast in other countries—primarily the USA—so they could promote their record releases without having to make in-person appearances. On November 23, 1965: At Twickenham Film Studios, The Beatles videotaped 10 black & white promo films, all produced by a British production company Intertel. They were "We Can Work It Out" (3 Versions), "Day Tripper" (3 Versions), "Help!" (1 Version), "Ticket To Ride" (1 Version), and "I Feel Fine" (2 Versions, neither of which were ever aired). One version each of the first two songs were aired on "Hullabaloo" in the US on Jan 3 1966. Many clips were aired on "Top of the Pops" in the UK, and two were aired on "Thank Your Lucky Stars." Recent reports indicate the entire reel is circulating among collectors. "Help" and "Ticket To Ride" were re-released to accompany the CD release of the "1962–1966" or "Red" album in 1993. Composite edits of "We Can Work It Out", "Day Tripper", and "Ticket To Ride" are seen in "The Beatles Anthology," DVD set.

At the same time, The Byrds began using the same strategy to promote their singles in the United Kingdom, starting with the 1965 single "Set You Free This Time". By the time The Beatles stopped touring in late 1966, their promotional films, like their recordings, had become highly sophisticated. In May 1966 they filmed two sets of colour promotional clips for their current single "Rain"/"Paperback Writer" all directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who went on to direct The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus and The Beatles final film Let It Be. The studio clips were straightforward performance films shot at Abbey Road Studios on 19 May, especially for broadcast on The Ed Sullivan Show and prefaced by a spoken introduction from Ringo.

The location clips are considerably more elaborate and use vibrant colour footage shot on location in the grounds of Chiswick House, London. Both clips are notable for their use of hand-held camera work, rhythmic editing, slow motion shots and reversed film. The "Paperback Writer" clip is more conventional, with Lennon, McCartney and Harrison lip-synching and miming playing their instruments (although Ringo is notably not 'playing'). The "Rain" clip marked a major advance in stylistic terms; it uses some colour shots common to both clips but is also intercut with monochrome reductions of the Abbey Road studio footage, making it one of the first examples of this device in music video. Most notably, apart from a few brief shots (a close-up of Lennon lip-synching and a shot of the group under a tree miming playing their instruments) the "Rain" clip virtually abandons any pretense of performance and has no obvious narrative structure.

The colour promotional clips for "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane", made in early 1967 and directed by Peter Goldman took the promotional film format to a new level. They used techniques borrowed from underground and avant garde film, including reversed film and slow motion, dramatic lighting, unusual camera angles and color filtering added in post-production. Reflecting the fact that these studio masterpieces were impossible for the group to perform live, their psychedelic mini-films illustrated the songs in an artful, impressionistic manner rather than trying to simulate an idealised performance or depict a narrative or plot.

At the end of 1967 the group released their third film, the one hour, made-for-television project Magical Mystery Tour; it was written and directed by the group and first broadcast on the BBC on Boxing Day 1967. Although poorly received at the time for lacking a narrative structure, it showed the group to be accomplished music video makers in their own right. It included elaborate edited sequences for the new songs featured in the film and the clips for "I Am The Walrus" and "Your Mother Should Know" have been screened many times on music TV shows in later years.

Read more about this topic:  Music Video, History and Development, 1960–1967: Visual Innovation

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