The Beatles – The First U.S. Visit
Any fan of Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night won’t want to miss the documentary The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit by Albert and David Maysles. The Maysles brothers were given extraordinary access to the Beatles during their first trip to the U.S., in February 1964, for several concerts and their seminal first appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. Like Hard Day’s Night, which came out later that year, this film (also known as What’s Happening! The Beatles in the U.S.A.) shows lots of spontaneous cheekiness with the press and fans; the Beatles’ wide-eyed bemusement at the hysteria they caused; as much cutting up as a tiny hotel room allows; and even specific scenes–goofing off on a commuter train, mod dancing in a nightclub–that would later appear in Lester’s film. The only thing missing is Paul’s grandfather.
The performance segments alone are a must for fans. The three Ed Sullivan appearances show a great cross section of their hits at the time, including “All My Loving,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” a beautifully delivered “This Boy” by John Lennon, and a wobbly “I Saw Her Standing There” so out of tune George Harrison nearly cracks up as he listens to Lennon and Paul McCartney struggle for harmony. The blurry, badly mic’d footage of the concert at the Washington Coliseum shows the Beatles acting as their own roadies, setting up their instruments; the platform Ringo Starr drums on lurches ominously with each downbeat. It was a more innocent, exuberant time, to be sure, and this sweet documentary lets the Beatles phenomenon speak for itself. –Anne Hurley