The Beatles-The First U.S. Visit (1964)

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Released 9-Feb-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Music Menu Animation & Audio
Scene Selection Anim & Audio
Featurette-Making Of-(51:12)
Audio Commentary-Director Albert Maysles
Booklet-colour, 16 pages.
Rating Rated E
Year Of Production 1964
Running Time 81:20
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (66:23) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Albert Maysles
David Maysles
Studio
Distributor
Apple
EMI Music
Starring Paul McCartney
George Harrison
Ringo Starr
John Lennon
Brian Epstein
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI ? Music The Beatles


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Linear PCM 48/16 2.0 mono (1536Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (256Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
German
Spanish
French
Italian
Dutch
Portuguese
Portuguese
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    "We knew that America would make us or break us as stars. In fact, she made us." - Brian Epstein

    By 1964, Beatlemania was at its peak in the U.K., but The Beatles had released three singles in the United States on relatively small labels Swan and Vee-Jay, with very little success. It seemed the odds were against them until Ed Sullivan witnessed Beatlemania first hand at Heathrow airport and booked the band immediately for an appearance on his nationally syndicated American television show. The problem remained that even though they had secured a lucrative television appearance, The Beatles were relatively unknown to American audiences, without so much as a top ten hit to their name. After many opportunities to release their records, Capitol finally bowed to the band's enormous popularity in Europe and released I Want To Hold Your Hand, guaranteeing the band an American number one single upon their arrival. With a sigh of relief, additional appearances were scheduled for the band's U.S. visit, among them shows at the Washington Coliseum and also Carnegie Hall in New York, which was intended to be recorded for a live LP but the recording was forced to be cancelled due to an objection from the Federation of Musicians. In addition, an offer of eight thousand pounds to play New York's Madison Square Garden was reportedly turned down by manager Brian Epstein.

    The build-up to the Beatles' arrival in the United States was unprecedented, with highly coveted front page articles in Newsweek, Time and Life magazines exploring the spread of Beatlemania across Europe. Capitol Records reportedly paid actress Janet Leigh to have her hair done by stylist Gene Shacove in a Beatle-style cut for a Hollywood event. The ensuing media frenzy was staggering. This documentary by brothers Albert and David Maysles traces the Beatles' entire two week stay in the U.S. in an intimate and engaging style that puts the viewer alongside the band as they experience the mayhem and culture of America for the first time. There are no direct one-on-one interviews conducted by the Maysles Brothers during the film. Instead, they act as a fly-on-the-wall to the group's thrilling ride across America, picking up intimate moments along the way. The band's relationship with the American media is amazing to watch - the journalists had become accustomed to squeaky clean stars who did no wrong and fielded the questions from the press like they had better things to do. The Beatles on the other hand joked along with the media, as can be seen during the conference upon the Beatles' arrival in New York - if the press would pose a direct or ridiculous question they would answer just as succinctly, with admirable wit and charm. The band can be seen during the film socialising with the press and even travelling in their train carriage on the cold trip to Washington, joking and passing the time as friends. It's no wonder they were so well received.

    When the Beatles finally did perform on the Ed Sullivan Show, more than 70 million viewers tuned in to watch them, amounting to three quarters of all television sets across the United States. Production of music on live television was notoriously bad back then but the Beatles were determined to give it their best, so a lengthy soundcheck was performed to ensure the broadcast would go out crystal clear. Unfortunately, the story goes that a cleaner entered the control room at the Ed Sullivan Theatre and erased vital chalk marks made by technicians earlier that day, sending the live broadcast into chaos. Despite it all, The Beatles' performance is now legendary and polished up nicely on this DVD.

    If you own the Beatles Anthology DVD box set there are quite a few recognisable scenes and pieces of dialogue to be found, taken from this film and the outtakes present in the accompanying Making Of. The Anthology only really scratches the surface of this two week period and offers a few incomplete performances, but there is much more to be found on this DVD, a detailed diary of the entire stay in America.

    The Maysles Brothers went on to make Gimmie Shelter for the Rolling Stones later in that decade and became world renowned film makers for documenting their harrowing experiences that day. The First U.S. Visit is from an entirely different time and arguably a different country, when the United States was still mourning the loss of Kennedy and happened to be in dire need of positive entertainment, and they found it in The Beatles.

    "When we went out on the first trip to America, it was the novelty of 'conquering' America. We went back later that year and toured, and then the next year we did another tour and by that time it was just too much. We couldn't move." - George Harrison

Complete Live Performances

 1. All My Loving - Ed Sullivan Show in New York, February 9th 1964
 2. Till There Was You - Ed Sullivan Show in New York, February 9th 1964
 3. She Loves You - Ed Sullivan Show in New York, February 9th 1964
 4. I Want To Hold Your Hand - Ed Sullivan Show in New York, February 9th 1964
 5. I Saw Her Standing There - Washington Coliseum, February 11th 1964
 6. I Wanna Be Your Man - Washington Coliseum, February 11th 1964
 7. She Loves You - Washington Coliseum, February 11th 1964
 8. From Me To You - Ed Sullivan Show in Miami, February 16th 1964
 9. This Boy - Ed Sullivan Show in Miami, February 16th 1964
 10. All My Loving - Ed Sullivan Show in Miami, February 16th 1964
 11. Twist & Shout - Ed Sullivan Show in New York, February 23rd 1964
 12. Please Please Me - Ed Sullivan Show in New York, February 23rd 1964
 13. I Want To Hold Your Hand - Ed Sullivan Show in New York, February 23rd 1964

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Transfer Quality

Video

    This transfer stands as an impressive example of film restoration. The majority of this feature was shot on film with black & white processing, and is presented in its intended aspect ratio of 1.33:1, full frame. Some portions of television footage, such as the Ed Sullivan Show performances, are sourced from videotape and introduce their own entirely different issues, most commonly a distinct loss of detail. The live performances were added to the film at a later date, and are not part of the Maysles Brothers' original cut.

    For a forty year old film, this transfer sure looks great. The restored celluloid is beautifully sharp and clear throughout, with only a slight hint of film grain creeping in now and then. Most of the scenes in this documentary take place inside train carriages and hotel rooms, so there are no great expanses of vast scenery or vital background detail to be concerned about. There are a number of relatively dark scenes that exhibit good shadow detail, but as a general rule the film is well lit and easy to watch with well defined shading between dark and light objects. Low level noise can be difficult to spot in a black & white transfer, but you can rest assured that this artefact isn't an issue here.

    Aliasing is well controlled, to the point where it only appears briefly without becoming distracting. Compression issues are nowhere to be found, however there are a small number of damaged portions of film to be seen, ranging from minor scratches and hairs to only a handful of virtually destroyed frames. I feel a bit guilty pointing out the transfer's faults in this case, considering such an admirable restoration job has been done. The untreated footage used during the documentary shows just how bad this film had deteriorated over the many years in storage. In fact, a short featurette on the actual restoration process might have been interesting viewing.

    An English subtitle stream is included and transcribes the spoken word well, however it doesn't include song lyrics.

    This disc is RSDL formatted, with the layer transition placed during the second half of the feature at 66:23. The pause is well placed and non-disruptive to the flow of the film.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The feature has two audio options; an English 2.0 mono PCM soundtrack sampled at 48KHz/16bit and a feature commentary by the film-maker Albert Maysles. I listened to both soundtracks in their entirety.

    Most of the dialogue throughout the film is easy to understand, although there are a couple of occasions that would've benefited from better microphone placement, such as Ringo's barely audible vocal performance on I Wanna Be Your Man. With this style of candid documentary it would be unrealistic to expect perfectly consistent vocal delivery, so I wasn't at all surprised. Audio sync appeared to be accurate at all times.

    The music of the film includes more than just tunes by the fab four - the entire period is represented by recognisable hits and Motown classics from the early 60s. It is this great mix of music that helps make this documentary such an endearing and authentic piece of history.

    The mono PCM soundtrack has beautiful clarity and depth, only spoiled by a few moments of distortion present within the original audio track. A good example of this can be found at 26:50 on Paul's microphone.

    There is of course no surround or subwoofer activity associated with this mono soundtrack.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    There are a couple of interesting and worthwhile extras included, which is great considering the age of this film. None of the content on this disc is 16x9 enhanced.

Menu

    The menu pages are very nicely animated with multiple frames from the film itself, accompanied by audio of The Beatles performing live.

Feature Commentary - Albert Maysles (Director)

    This is a good, informative commentary with many interesting anecdotes from Albert's experiences during filming. Many of the subjects discussed here are also touched on during the Making Of, so some of the information becomes a little repetitive. Portions that I found most interesting covered the extent of Albert's involvement in the filmmaking process, and the reasons behind this film never gaining a theatrical release. Long silent pauses are frequent, in fact on a number of occasions I forgot I was watching the commentary. There are no subtitles provided.

Featurette - The Making Of The First U.S. Visit (51:12)

    Combining recently filmed colour interview footage with outtakes and extended sequences, we progress through The Beatles' time in the U.S. chronologically with film-maker Albert Maysles, discussing how the project came to be and what it was that made their documentary style so unique at the time. The Maysles Brothers also pioneered some interesting new technology during filming that allowed them more artistic freedom and this innovation contributed to the intimacy of the film. Although the video material presented here hasn't been restored to the clarity present in the feature, this Making Of is presented with the same audio quality as the film, Linear PCM 2.0 mono sampled at 48KHz/16bit.

Booklet

    A great sixteen page colour booklet is included, featuring quotes from John, Paul, George and Ringo and some colour photos that were taken during the Beatles' stay in the United States. It's particularly interesting to see colour pictures of scenes that correspond to the black and white film.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The First U.S. Visit was released on DVD in America by MPI in 1998 but is now out of print. Their transfer of the film was considerably worse than the new Apple release and contained the following extras:

    If you are particularly fond of the Beatles' Ed Sullivan Show performances, the entire uninterrupted broadcasts (including ads!) are available on DVD from SOFA Ent. in Region 1, with five additional performances not included in the Maysles Brothers' film.

    The Apple/EMI release of 2004 is clearly the winning contender in both extras and transfer, and appears to be identical across all regions.

Summary

    The First U.S. Visit is exciting and worthwhile viewing for any Beatles fan, and from an historical point of view provides an intriguing snapshot of popular American culture. The Maysles Brothers' documentary is an intimate, one-of-a-kind portrait of four young, innocent lads who were later to ascend to uncharted heights of stardom and critical acclaim.

    The video transfer has been wonderfully restored from dated film stock.

    The audio transfer is a nicely weighted PCM mono track with very few issues of concern.

    There are a couple of interesting and worthwhile extras included on the disc.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Rob Giles (readen de bio, bork, bork, bork.)
Monday, March 22, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-525, using Component output
DisplayPanasonic TX76PW10A 76cm Widescreen 100Hz. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVR-2802 Dolby EX/DTS ES Discrete
SpeakersOrpheus Aurora lll Mains (bi-wired), Rears, Centre Rear. Orpheus Centaurus .5 Front Centre. Mirage 10 inch sub.

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