I was there watching on that evening 50 years ago in 1964 when The Beatles first performed on the Ed Sullivan Show. Like so many other baby boomers, my world was transformed by the excitement, the power, and the appeal of rock-and-roll. The first Beatles film, A Hard Day’s Night was also shot in 1964…and thanks to a collaboration between The Criterion Collection and Apple Corps, the film is getting a full restoration and upconversion to 4K (Ultra HD) and 5.1 surround sound.
The groundbreaking film was directed by Richard Lester and released by United Artists. The black and white film shows the boys from Liverpool running between concerts, interviews, and various forms of transportation (cars, limos, trains and planes) and provides a glimpse of the mania that followed their every move. A A Hard Day’s Night has become a classic in the genre of rock movies and is one of the few DVD-Video discs that I regularly watch.
There’s a terrific article over at studio daily that discusses in great depth the transfer and restoration of the film’s frames…the first time it’s been done digitally. Apparently, there was a high-quality chemical restoration done in 1994 but with Criterion involved with the project, each frame was scanned and laboriously cleaned (I really wish we could do this in the audio domain…we can to a degree but it’s not the same).
With a fresh new picture, the soundtrack was also slated for an upgrade. As they had done with Cirque du Soleil Love project, the producers sought out Giles Martin, son of The Beatles producer Sir George. The Love soundtrack on DVD-Audio and CD won a Grammy for the Martins so it was natural to work with Giles once again. He and his associate Sam Okell were tasked with creating a new stereo mix AND a 5.1 surround presentation. He was very fortunate to have the original session tapes that his father recorded with the band back in the early 60s but these multichannel masters don’t contain the individual tracks broken out like more modern masters. And then there was the problem of locating clean copies of the dialogue tracks.
The original soundtrack was monophonic. But EMI and Abbey Road studios had upgraded to 4-track recording by 1964 with the band on a track, the lead vocal on another track and a final track containing the lead vocal or doubled vocal. Extracting these into components that Giles could mix into surround proved daunting. According to the article,
One trick the two did utilize on the music was that of parallel compression — sending the rhythm track through a compressor, and bringing that compressed return back up in the mix alongside the original uncompressed track. “You can pan the original track out slightly and then bring the compressed track up dead center,” Okell explains. “It makes the drums sound really punchy or the bass sound really nice and thick, producing a more solid center image.”
The new version of A Hard Day’s Night is available on Blu-ray and DVD. I’m definitely going to purchase the new Criterion version and revisit my youth just as I did when I listened to the Love soundtrack several years ago.