Friday, September 19, 2014

Thanks for the Publicity/Help



Ed. Note: The publicity we've received about our September 21st fundraising event has been quite positive and very helpful. Our thanks have to go out to some good folks in the local press, as well our friends on Facebook and otherwise, who've done what they could to help spread the word.

Yesterday a piece penned by Stephanie Manley for Richmond Magazine was posted online. 
Parrish and Rea, who are both deeply involved in the arts community in Richmond, have focused much of their careers on film. (Rea was manager of the Biograph Theatre and Parrish co-founded the James River Film Society).

In addition to constructing their own theater, Parrish and Rea decided that attaching it to a café would create a more successful business. The partners also frequently returned their discussion to their love of film preservation, which led them to add to their business plan a center devoted to transferring small-format amateur films to digital.
To read “Building the Bijou” at Richmond Magazine click here.

Today Sky Andersen’s piece for RVA Magazine was posted online.
On September 21st, the Bijou Film Center, a small up and coming unique theatre group co-founded by F. T. “Terry” Rea and James Parrish, is presenting The Beatles film A Hard Day’s Night, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary in July. A Hard Day’s Night is a 1964 comedy starring The Beatles, and was included in Time Magazine's All-Time 100 Movies.
To read “Bijou Film Center hopes to bring thriving film community back to RVA” at RVA Magazine click here.

Later today an interview conducted by Don Harrison for 97.3 FM WRIR can be heard on Open Source at 4 p.m. Click here to listen online.

And, in case you missed last week's articles about the screening of "A Hard Day's Night" at the Byrd Theatre on Sunday, September 21 at 6 p.m., here are links:

To read "Bijoumania" written by Brent Baldwin for STYLE Weekly click here.

To read "Cinema plan taps into downtown’s potential" written by Bill Lohmann for the Richmond Times Dispatch click here.

And, our thanks goes out to Jerry Williams for breaking the story about the Bijou's first event, way back on August 18, by way of his Sifter website devoted to show business.

Don't forget, the Taters are playing live (no cover charge) at the after-screening-party at the New York Deli. To help get the news of that aspect of Sunday's festivities around The Taters' Craig Evans crafted this online poster after the 50-year-old poster for "A Hard Day's Night." 

Finally, we're delighted with what Bygones Vintage Clothing did with its Beatlemania window (thanks Maynee), as shown below in the photo by Jere Kittle.


By the way, you can still buy advance tickets at Bygones and at Steady Sounds until the day of the show. Or you can click on the Buy Bijou Tickets button at the top of this page to buy tickets online. 

The Beatles were big, BIG, I tell ya!

Richmond Times-Dispatch photo (cropped) 
Publisher's Note: Friend and musician Alfred Walker sent us this remembrance after we posted this image of "A Hard Day's Night" on the marquee at The National, August 1964. 

Alfred Walker, age 12
That spring at Glen Lea Elementary - the spring after JFK and Ed Sullivan and the biggest sales pitch I'd ever made (a seven-fold advance on my 25 cent allowance to purchase "Meet the Beatles" at Blair's Drug Store) – no less than four different classes put on Beatles skits for the annual talent revue. The presentations were interchangeable in featuring an offstage teacher dropping a needle on or near a Beatles song - most often "I Saw Her Standing There" - while a quartet of 5th or 6th graders waited to begin their pantomime with brooms for guitars and a few classroom trashcans positioned as drums.

My best friend Billy was in one of the configs. As we were in different classes, he shared with me some of the ongoing angst and backstage drama that went into the making of Mrs. Dodsworth's Beatles. Three of the boys wanted to be Paul. One had been edged out early, and it came down to Billy and Dean, one of the most popular kids at the school. Billy felt his own self looked more like Paul, but he knew Dean carried the cache to win the gig. Keep in mind: we were all 11 and 12 years old, and most every boy had maintained an astronaut crew cut until those Sunday nights in February. So the bangs were just starting to come in, and most of the Glen Lea Beatles were desperately mashing down the front of their coifs, still too short and stiff to point anywhere but up. For that matter, my favorite act in the talent show was four girl Beatles from Miss Simmons' class; they had good energy - and hair! Still, there were hot arguments around who most resembled Paul, the Beatle to whom us boys seemed the most unashamedly attracted.

That summer, Billy and I met the news of an impending Beatles movie with great anticipation - and some caution. There was so much hype and rumor around the band - and no Google for fact checking; you might not believe in a Beatles movie until you could actually read the show times in the Times-Dispatch. Finally in August, we could!

Richmond, Va.- The Capitol Theater- Broad St.
1964- Waiting in line for tickets to "A Hard Day's Night"
Photo from Visual & Vintage Virginia.
I wish I could ask my dear mom about her thinking in taking us to see A Hard Day's Night - not only driving us to the Capitol Theater, but sitting through the movie herself! She was 36 when she had me, which made her an older mom in those days - a classically trained singer, life-long churchgoer, not much for pop culture. But there she was between me and my little sister, who still considers that the other unsolved mystery of that day: why at age 7 she was allowed to attend!

With my mom (and not my dad) handling the transportation, we arrived for the matinee on time. That meant we saw the newsreels, cartoons, and previews before the main feature instead of after. It also allowed our anticipation to build.

Iconic still from "A Hard Day's Night"
I recall lots of clips from the movie as if from the first time viewing - that's probably a trick of the mind. But I have clear ear, eye, and body memories of that first chord striking, the Beatles running down a narrow street and right at us, and Billy and me turning toward each other and - though we were no longer little boys - clasping our hands to our chests and giggling with glee. We were several days into the film's Richmond run and perhaps not among the first tier of rabid fans. There was some good-natured girl-screaming in the opening chase scene, then everyone settled in and enjoyed the movie. As my sister points out: with A Hard Day’s Night, we were catching a big lead on the whole music video thing.

After an intimate hour and a half with the Beatles, I thought Billy looked even less like Paul. But I was headed for 7th grade at a new school with new classmates – a hard year’s fall, you might say. Sharing the Beatles movie with my best friend was a cool way to close out the summer.

Alfred Walker (on sax), age 14

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Lohmann on the Plan for The Bijou

Terry Rea and James Parrish in front of Anchor Studios.
 

In his RT-D piece about the Bijou Film Center concept and the first fundraiser Bill Lohmann writes:
James T. Parrish Jr. and F.T. “Terry” Rea, film fans and co-founders of this venture, have taken the first step toward opening a small, storefront cinema and café in the city’s Arts and Cultural District along Broad Street east of Belvidere.

The independent, nonprofit project is called the Bijou Film Center, and as a kickoff event, the Beatles’ classic, “A Hard Day’s Night,” which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, will be shown at the Byrd Theatre on Sunday, Sept. 21, at 6 p.m.
 

Click here to read, " Cinema Plan Taps Into Downtown's Potential."

Starting in October, the Bijou Film Center's first workspace will be a basement studio at Anchor Studios in the Arts District.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Bijoumania!

Terry Rea, former manager of the Biograph, and James Parrish, 
co-founder of the James River Film Society, are launching their new 
Bijou Film Center project with a showing of the 50th anniversary restored 
version of the Beatles film, “A Hard Day’s Night” at the Byrd Theater.

For STYLE Weekly's Fall Arts Preview issue, Brent Baldwin writes:
Parrish attended the last three Art House Convergence gatherings held by the Sundance Institute and notes that 80 percent of the country’s art house cinemas are nonprofits — places such as the Castro and the Roxie in San Francisco, the Austin Film Society in Texas, and the Charles in Baltimore. He’s convinced that Richmond is ready to support a community-based, mission-driven art house cinema.

“We need a place where we can see great little films, a place where we can eat, drink, and talk about these films,” he says. “ A place that helps filmmakers and anyone with a home movie they don’t know what to do with.”
Click here to read the entire article, which explains the Bijou Film Center concept and devotes some ink to the Bijou's first fundraiser.

Click here to visit the Facebook event page for the one-time-only screening of "A Hard Day's Night" on September 21.

-- Photo by Scott Elmquist for STYLE Weekly.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

About Advance Tickets to 'A Hard Day's Night'


On September 21 "A Hard Day's Night" (1964)
will be screened at the Byrd Theatre. 

  • Pre-screening Happy Hour, 4 p.m. - 6 p.m., at the Portrait House, across the street from the Byrd. 
  • The show starts at 6 p.m.
  • Admission is $7 at the box office.
  • Before the day of the show advance tickets are available at Bygones Vintage Clothing and Steady Sounds for $5. 
  • The proceeds of the screening will benefit the Bijou Film Center and the Byrd Theatre Foundation’s “Journey to the Seats.” The film will play one time only. 
  • The after-party at the New York Deli starts at 8:15 p.m., where The Taters will play live; no cover charge. 
  • To visit the event's Facebook page click here

Friday, September 5, 2014

Sept. 4 Press Release

Date: Sept. 4, 2014
To: All media for immediate release
Re: Bijou Film Center presentation at The Byrd Theatre

On Sunday, September 21, 2014, the Bijou Film Center will present a classic film followed by some splendid live music to launch its fundraising effort and begin putting the story of its mission before Richmond's movie-loving public.


4 p.m.: Thirsty admirers of the eye-catching Beatlemania window in Bygones will cross the street to take advantage of a special Happy Hour getting underway at Portrait House, 2907 West Cary Street.  It will offer Fab Four fans a selection of themed drink specials at attractive prices.

6:05 p.m.: From the stage in front of the screen at The Byrd Theatre, James Parrish and Terry Rea will introduce the feature attraction, “A Hard Day’s Night” (1964), which is celebrating its 50th anniversary. The sound and picture have been newly restored. And, perhaps a wee surprise will be served up. 

6:30 p.m.: “A Hard Day’s Night,” starring the Beatles in their first movie, will be screened. Shot in glorious black and white the motion picture runs 87 minutes.

8:15 p.m.: At the New York Deli, The Taters will start their first of two sets of live music. Drink specials will be available. And, yeah! yeah! yeah! The Taters will do some Beatles-related material.

Admission to the screening will be $7 at the box office. Up until the day of the show, advance tickets will be available for $5 at Bygones Vintage Clothing and Steady Sounds and online at Eventbrite for $5 plus processing fee ($1.27). 

There will be no cover charge at the Portrait House or at the New York Deli -- free admission!  

The proceeds from the screening will be split evenly by the non-profit Byrd Theatre Foundation’s “Journey to the Seats” and the Bijou Film Center (a non-profit work-in-progress).

Contacts:
  • James T. Parrish, Jr.: Email: jtparrish@bijoufilmcenter.org. Phone: (804) 564-3224.
  • F.T. "Terry" Rea: ftrea@bijoufilmcenter.org. Phone: (804) 938-7997. 
  • Click here to visit the Facebook event page. 

Beatlemania

On Sunday, February 9, 1964, most of the young Beatles fans who tuned in to watch that historic live performance on the Ed Sullivan Show had only been aware of the Fab Four for a month, or so. Only the most avid pop music aficionados knew much about them before their first big hit in the USA, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” (B-side: “I Saw Her Standing There”), was released on December 26, 1963. How it came to be released that day is a story for another time.

“I Want to Hold Your Hand” took off like a rocket. It hit No. 1 on the American pop chart just eight days before that first television appearance launched Beatlemania in the USA.

On the other hand, the frenzy had been underway for some time across the pond. The feature film that gathered the Beatlemania phenomenon, to present it on the big screen -- “A Hard Day’s Night” -- was conceived and sketched out before the Beatles left England to conquer America, via the CBS Television network. With Richard Lester as the film's director, the rock ‘n’ roll quartet from Liverpool was working on shooting the movie a couple of weeks later.

Prior to that, here's a smattering of history: In August of 1960 the pre-Ringo Beatles arrived in Hamburg to polish their act; in October of 1961 Polydor released "My Bonnie" in West Germany. In November of 1961 the Beatles began playing regularly in Liverpool’s Cavern Club, among other venues. On their first tour of the UK, in early-1963, the Beatles were on an eleven-act bill, headed up the 16-year old Helen Shapiro. They played a lot of live gigs during 1963, sold plenty of records and became the most important musicians in Great Britain before the year was out.

Now folks might ask, who was Helen Shapiro? On November 4, 1963, at the Royal Variety Show, before actual royalty -- to introduce their cover of “Twist and Shout” -- John Lennon announced, “For our last number, I’d like to ask your help. Will the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands? And for the rest of you, if you’ll just rattle your jewelry.”

As for America, the Beatles' timing was perfect. Their peppy, jangling harmonies and harmless, spontaneous sarcasm broke through the fog of depression that had engulfed the USA, following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, just a month before the Beatles double-sided hit 45 was released here.

In the gloom of that winter, 50 years ago, this country surely needed something fresh to lift its spirits. Before or since, there’s never been a popular culture explosion to equal the Beatlemania phenomenon of 1964.

The previous fan frenzies over pop singers in America, such as those that associated with Frank Sinatra in the 1940s and Elvis Presley in the 1950s, had surrounded individuals who sang songs written by tune-smiths in front of sidemen. Beatlemania was something new, it was about a rock 'n' roll band singing in harmony, like gospel singers or doo-wop groups. By featuring the collaborative aspects of the band's sound and image, together with the integral contribution of its two main songwriters, it showed everybody a picture of where pop music was going.

The Movie

“A Hard Day’s Night” (1964): 87 minutes. B&W. Directed by Richard Lester. Produced by Walter Shenson. Cinematography by Gilbert Taylor. Screenplay by Alun Owen. Edited by John Jympson. Cast: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Wilfrid Brambell (Grandfather), Victor Spinetti (the TV director), Norman Rossington (Norm), Kenneth Haigh (Simon Marshall).

During 1963 the Beatles had sent four singles and two albums to the top of the British pop music chart. By the time “A Hard Day’s Night” premiered at the London Pavilion on July 6, 1964, the Beatles were celebrities of the first magnitude in the USA, as well. 

“Beatlemania” had been the original working title of the romp that was released as “A Hard Day’s Night” in Great Britain and the USA (in its first-run dates it had various titles in other countries). Accounts vary about what prompted him to say it, but there seems to be general agreement that it was Ringo Starr’s use of the phrase, “a hard day’s night,” as a wisecrack/malapropism -- that led to it becoming the title of the film.

Instead of just another quick-and-dirty rock ‘n’ roll exploitation flick, the director, Richard Lester, 32, assembled what became a milestone of popular culture history. After 50 years, the movie’s deft anti-authority tilt, with its humor -- both sly and slapstick -- together with its cinéma vérité look and exuberant pace, still holds up nicely.

To shoot this film, Lester guessed that improvisation in front of multiple cameras would work better than a bunch of tedious rehearsals. Lester later noted: “Before we started, we knew that it would be unlikely that they could (a) learn, (b) remember, or (c) deliver with any accuracy a long speech. So the structure of the script had to be a series of one-liners. This enabled me, in many of the scenes, to turn a camera on them and say a line to them, and they would say it back to me.”

Cinematically, Lester captured what was in the air in 1964. He mixed techniques he had used in television with those being used in cutting-edge documentaries. He threw in looks he freely borrowed from the French New Wave.

“I have seen directors who write down a list of scenes for the day and then sit back in a chair while everything is filmed according to plan,” Lester explained. “I can’t do that. I know that good films can be made this way, but it’s not for me. I have to react on the spot. There was very little structure that was planned, except that we knew that we had to punctuate the film with a certain number of songs.”

In crediting Lester with establishing a “new grammar,” movie critic Roger Ebert wrote in 1996: [Lester] 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.’”

In 1965 “A Hard Day’s Night” received two Academy Award nominations: Alun Owen for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay, Written Directly for the Screen; George Martin for Best Music, Scoring of Music, Adaptation or Treatment.

After “A Hard Day’s Night” music videos were inevitable.

The Bijou Film Center

The idea to establish and operate a small cinema in Richmond began to percolate in James Parrish’s mind as he worked at booking films and planning events for the James River Film Society, especially its annual festival. Parrish was one of that group’s founders.

While putting together a 2012 fundraiser for the JRFS, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the opening of the Biograph Theatre (a local repertory cinema, 1972-87), James began to share his movie house dream with Terry Rea, his collaborator for the 40th anniversary project.

Afterward, they continued to talk about the “little cinema” movement and what it would take to create such a venue in Richmond. They decided a small café attached to the cinema would give it a better chance to survive. During their talks Parrish and Rea also spoke frequently of the importance of preserving old films, which eventually led them to explore the idea of starting a business devoted to transferring small format amateur films to digital.

By this time, they began wanting to do something more than create an artsy cinema. And, they decided their dream for a non-profit film center, to do with preserving, producing and exhibiting gourmet movies would have its best chance to thrive if it could be based in the Arts District.

The first of the Bijou at the Byrd fundraisers (we hope there will be more) will set in motion the effort to establish the film transfer enterprise. Advances in the process, going from Super 8 to digital, can liberate those long unseen images -- moving pictures now trapped on plastic three-minute reels -- with better results than in previous years.

The proceeds of this kickoff endeavor will also go into the larger effort to establish a 100-seat movie theater (in a location yet to be determined.) In November a second event, featuring home movies, will be staged to further expose the film center concept to the public, and to help raise money to buy the equipment the film transfer business requires. A Bijou Film Center website will also go up in the fall, to begin to serve as a hub of information about film production and exhibition in the area.

*

James T. Parrish, Jr. is a fundraiser, artist and leader in the Richmond arts community. He was founder of the Richmond Flicker (1998-2008), co-founder of the James River Film Society. He currently serves as the Director of Foundation Relations for Virginia Commonwealth University.

F.T. "Terry" Rea was the original manager of Richmond’s Biograph Theatre (1972-83). He was the founder/editor/publisher of SLANT (1985-94), a Fan District-based periodical, devoted to popular culture and politics. He is now a freelance artist/writer.

Sponsors

On top of the unsung help several people have provided/volunteered, to help make this fundraising effort successful, eight sponsors have contributed to the project in significant ways: They are: Anchor Studios, Bygones Vintage Clothing, Janus Films, New York Deli, Portrait House, Steady Sounds, Uptown Color, 97.3 FM WRIR Richmond Independent Radio.

https://www.facebook.com/bijoubacklight?fref=nf

Monday, September 1, 2014

About 'A Hard Day's Night'

The Fab Four in "A Hard Day's Night."

Ed Note: “A Hard Day’s Night” (1964): 87 minutes. B&W. Directed by Richard Lester. Produced by Walter Shenson. Cinematography by Gilbert Taylor. Screenplay by Alun Owen. Edited by John Jympson. Cast: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Wilfrid Brambell (Grandfather), Victor Spinetti (the TV director), Norman Rossington (Norm), Kenneth Haigh (Simon Marshall).

During 1963 the Beatles had sent four singles and two albums to the top of the British pop music chart. By the time “A Hard Day’s Night” premiered at the London Pavilion on July 6, 1964, the Beatles were celebrities of the first magnitude in the USA, as well. 

“Beatlemania” had been the original working title of the romp that was released as “A Hard Day’s Night” in Great Britain and the USA (in its first-run dates it had various titles in other countries). Accounts vary about what prompted him to say it, but there seems to be general agreement that it was Ringo Starr’s use of the phrase, “a hard day’s night,” as a wisecrack/malapropism -- that led to it becoming the title of the film.

Instead of just another quick-and-dirty rock ‘n’ roll exploitation flick, the director, Richard Lester, 32, assembled what became a milestone of popular culture history. After 50 years, the movie’s deft anti-authority tilt, with its humor -- both sly and slapstick -- together with its cinéma vérité look and exuberant pace, still holds up nicely.

To shoot this film, Lester guessed that improvisation in front of multiple cameras would work better than a bunch of rehearsal. Lester later noted: “Before we started, we knew that it would be unlikely that they could (a) learn, (b) remember, or (c) deliver with any accuracy a long speech. So the structure of the script had to be a series of one-liners. This enabled me, in many of the scenes, to turn a camera on them and say a line to them, and they would say it back to me.”

Cinematically, Lester captured what was in the air in 1964. He mixed techniques he had used in television with those being used in cutting-edge documentaries. He threw in looks he freely borrowed from the French New Wave.

“I have seen directors who write down a list of scenes for the day and then sit back in a chair while everything is filmed according to plan,” Lester explained. “I can’t do that. I know that good films can be made this way, but it’s not for me. I have to react on the spot. There was very little structure that was planned, except that we knew that we had to punctuate the film with a certain number of songs.”

In crediting Lester with establishing a “new grammar,” movie critic Roger Ebert wrote in 1996: [Lester] 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.’”

In 1965 “A Hard Day’s Night” received two Academy Award nominations: Alun Owen for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay, Written Directly for the Screen; George Martin for Best Music, Scoring of Music, Adaptation or Treatment.

After “A Hard Day’s Night” music videos were inevitable.

Now for the good news: the newly-restored version of “A Hard Day’s Night” is coming soon to a big screen in Richmond. More news on Wednesday.

 
Richard Lester, they went that-a-way...


Saturday, August 30, 2014

Beatlemania!


On Sunday, February 9, 1964, most of the young Beatles fans who tuned in to watch that historic live performance on the Ed Sullivan Show had only been aware of the Fab Four for a month, or so. Only the most avid pop music aficionados knew much about them before their first big hit in the USA, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” (B-side: “I Saw Her Standing There”), was released on December 26, 1963. How it came to be released that day is a story for another time.

“I Want to Hold Your Hand” took off like a rocket. It hit No. 1 on the American pop chart just eight days before that first television appearance launched Beatlemania in the USA.

On the other hand, the frenzy had been underway for some time across the pond. The feature film that gathered the Beatlemania phenomenon, to present it on the big screen -- “A Hard Day’s Night” (1964) -- was conceived and planned out well before the Beatles left England to conquer America, via the CBS Television network. With Richard Lester as their director the rock ‘n’ roll quartet from Liverpool was working on shooting the movie a couple of weeks later.

Prior to that, here's a smattering of history: In August of 1960 the pre-Ringo Beatles arrived in Hamburg to polish their act; in October of 1961 Polydor released "My Bonnie" in West Germany. In November of 1961 the Beatles began playing regularly in Liverpool’s Cavern Club, among other venues. On their first tour of the UK, in early-1963, the Beatles were on an eleven-act bill, headed up the 16-year old Helen Shapiro. They played a lot of live gigs during 1963, sold plenty of records and became the most important musicians in Great Britain before the year was out.

Now folks might ask, who was Helen Shapiro? On November 4, 1963, at the Royal Variety Show, before real royalty, before closing with their cover of “Twist and Shout,” the founder of the Beatles, John Lennon, announced, “For our last number, I’d like to ask your help. Will the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands? And for the rest of you, if you’ll just rattle your jewelry.”

As for America, the Beatles' timing was perfect. Their peppy, jangling harmonies and harmless sarcasm broke through the fog of depression that had engulfed the USA, following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, just a month before the Beatles double-sided hit 45 was released here.

In the gloom of that winter, 50 years ago, this country surely needed something fresh to lift its spirits. Before or since, there’s never been a popular culture explosion to equal the Beatlemania phenomenon of 1964.

The previous fan frenzies over singers in America, such as those that associated with Frank Sinatra in the 1940s and Elvis Presley in the 1950s, had surrounded individuals who sang songs written by tune-smiths in front of sidemen. Beatlemania was something new, it was about a rock 'n' roll band singing in harmony, like gospel singers or doo-wop groups. By featuring the collaborative aspects of the band's sound and image, together with the integral contribution of its two main songwriters, it showed everybody a picture of where pop music was going. 


Friday, August 22, 2014

Feature: Richard Lester, the Mocker

by F.T. Rea

Since receiving MTV’s first Lifetime Achievement Award in 1984 Richard Lester, 82, has been seen by some pop culture aficionados as the inventor of music videos. No doubt, his own background as a musician -- he was a piano prodigy -- helped him to have a special feel for how to use music in movies.

However, considering the Soundies and other short films featuring musical performances produced throughout the 1940s, it might be a stretch to say Lester invented anything. But with “A Hard Day’s Night” (1964) he did prove the wisdom of the advice offered in the Jimmie Lunceford 1939 hit song, "'Tain’t What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do it)." Thus, MTV probably gave that award to the right director.  

After getting his start in the freewheeling days of live local television in Philadelphia in the early-1950s, Lester fled to Europe, at first making his living as musician/performer. After a year of that he began working in British television as a director, and in making TV commercials.

Before he left Philadelphia, Lester had admired the early work of Ernie Kovacs, who hosted a show at the same television station that had employed Lester. Studying Kovacs’ absurd, experimental sense of humor helped prepare Lester for working on a couple of television shows with Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and other former Goon Show regulars.

The Goon Show was a half-hour BBC radio comedy program (1951-60) that opened the door for other surrealist British comedy such as that exhibited by Marty Feldman, the Bonzo Dog Band, the Monty Python troupe, etc. It was Lester’s work as a director with Sellers, Milligan and other comedians that led him to directing his first film, “The Running Jumping & Standing Still  Film” (1960), an Oscar-nominated short that was shot with Sellers’ 16mm camera.



“A Hard Day’s Night” (1964) put Lester on the map. It was his third feature-length film as a director; the first was a showcase for American and British pop and jazz artists with a thin plot -- “It’s Trad, Dad” (1962). It presented a lineup of second tier acts. Among them were: Helen Shapiro, Craig Douglas, Acker Bilk, Gene Vincent, Chubby Checker, Del Shannon, The Paris Sisters, The Dukes of Dixieland, Gary "U.S." Bonds, John Leyton, Chris Barber's Jazz Band. In the USA the same movie was released as “Ring-a-Ding Rhythm.”

Lester’s second time at bat as a director yielded a sequel to a popular comedy, “The Mouse That Roared” (1959). The second “Mouse” movie again had a tiny country, Grand Fenwick, mocking power, this time by claiming the moon’s surface as its territory. “The Mouse on the Moon” (1963) satirized the space race; it starred Margaret Rutherford and Terry-Thomas.

Before or since, nothing has equaled the meteoric rise to fame the Fab Four experienced in 1964. Their momentous appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show were in February of 1964. Less than a month later the Beatles started working on the film project to gather the ongoing frenzy of Beatlemania. For the movie, the Beatles, especially John Lennon, wanted Lester to direct it.

 

Most fads don’t last long, so there was no time to waste in producing the film. “A Hard Day’s Night” went into general release in July. It was shot in black and white and runs 87 minutes. The story has the four musicians traveling from Liverpool to London for a TV appearance. As trouble ensues the opportunities for playful gags blossom like wildflowers.

With its exhilarating pace, the look of “A Hard Day’s Night” borrowed from cinema verité films. The influence French New Wave movies had had on Lester was also obvious. For all to see, Lester demonstrated a startling mastery over the latest trends. In the Village Voice critic Andrew Sarris described the picture as “the ‘Citizen Kane’ of jukebox musicals.”

Of the plot, in an interview for Vanity Fair, Lester said: 
The boys had just recently played Stockholm. I asked John, “How did you like it?”

“It was lovely,” he said. “It was a car, and a room, and a stage, and a cheese sandwich.”

That became the script!
The spontaneity in the action was facilitated by Lester’s technique of having more than one camera on the Beatles as much as possible, recording whatever happened in a near-documentary style. That the Beatles had been spoon-fed the sarcastic sense of humor of Lester’s previous work with Sellers, et al, put them all on the same page.

Today, for what it’s worth, the film’s soundtrack is ranked as Number 4 on Rolling Stone's all-time list of the greatest soundtracks. Lester went on to make several good movies after his low-budget hit opened the door for more opportunities as a director.

Suddenly, people with money trusted him. In addition to his second film with the Beatles, “Help!” (1965), among his better films that followed "A Hard Day's Night" were:

“The Knack... and How to Get It” (1965), “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” (1966), “Petulia” (1968), “The Three Musketeers” (1973), “Juggernaut” (1974), “The Four Musketeers: Milady's Revenge” (1974), “Robin and Marian” (1976), “The Ritz” (1976) and “Superman II” (1980). Several of his flops were omitted from the list above.

During the shooting of “The Return of the Musketeers” (1989), Roy Kinnear, an actor/friend of Lester’s, died after falling off a horse during the filming of a scene. The accident was said to have devastated Lester.

A year later, at 58, Lester directed “Get Back” (1991), a concert film starring his old collaborator, Paul McCartney. That stands today as Richard Lester’s last directing credit. He simply walked away; the former prodigy's considerable influence on directors is still being felt.

Perhaps one line in "A Hard Day's Night" best sums up the landmark film's 1964 spirit, when a reporter asks Ringo, “Are you a Mod or a Rocker?

Ringo's reply: “I’m a Mocker.”

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Short Subject: Jake Wells' Bijou on Broad St.


Ed. Note: There are records of an exhibition of “moving pictures” having been presented at The Academy (the Mozart Academy of Music) at 103-05 N. Eighth Street in 1897. Built in 1886, that venue was generally considered to be Richmond’s most important and stylish theater, until it burned down in 1927.

It is said that in 1906 the Idlewood Amusement Park, which was across the street from the New Reservoir Park (later renamed Byrd Park) held regular screenings of “photo dramas,” open to the public for the price of a ticket.

Writing for the Richmond News Leader in 1952, George W. Rogers credited one showman, Jake Wells (pictured above), as having been the “…father of Richmond movie houses.” Early in professional baseball's history Wells had been a Major League player (1882-84). After that stint at the top he continued his career at the minor league level. With his best days as a performer behind him, in 1895 Wells became a player/manager with Richmond’s baseball team, the Bluebirds. He went on to became a dashing figure in the local nightlife scene and was one of the most popular men in Richmond.

After the 1899 season the Bluebirds left the Atlantic League (Class A) to join the Virginia League (Class D) and Wells lost his job. He liked Richmond, so at 36 years old he looked around town for what next to do. Imagining he had a bright future in show biz, Wells took the leap to convert a luggage store at 7th and Broad Streets into the Bijou Theatre. Offering selected touring and local acts that fit into the mold of what Wells called, "family entertainment," the Bijou was an instant success.


A second version of the Bijou was built for Wells in 1905 on the site of the legendary Swan Tavern at 816 East Broad. Occasionally, a short film was thrown onto a screen … eventually the films developed a following. Films continued to play a larger role as time went on.

With his brother Otto, Jake expanded into the Norfolk market, opening the Granby. In the early-1920’s the mighty Wells chain included 42 theaters in the Southeast.

From “Jake Wells Enterprises and the Development of Urban Entertainments in the South 1890-1925” by Eric Dewberry:
A former professional baseball player, Wells invested in a wide variety of public amusements, with the core of his early business centered on establishing and organizing a string of vaudeville, popularly priced, and legitimate theaters throughout the largest cities in the region, a network he later transitioned to showing exclusively motion pictures. A thorough analysis of period newspapers, trade journals, and some business records covering Wells’ career provides much-needed evidence for film and cultural historians wishing to understand the genesis and evolution of public amusements in the region, and its negotiation of traditional social and cultural institutions.

In the 1890s, Wells played and managed several professional baseball teams in the South. The sport educated players and spectators alike to both the values and creed of New South progress, and to rising tensions confronting the intersection of modern and traditional forms of culture. Using his experiences and contacts gained in baseball, Wells helped foster a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation required for the progress of media industries in the region, establishing social networks of knowledge and improving distribution flows of entertainment.   

Click here to read more from Dewberry's dissertation. 

Eventually, Wells turned his back on what had made him a powerful man. He cashed in his movie theater interests to concentrate on becoming a real estate development tycoon. In 1927, at the age of 63, Wells got caught in the undertow of a nasty spell of melancholia. He drove out to the countryside with a female companion, shot himself in the head — twice! — and died.

Richmond's second Bijou closed and reopened as the Strand Theatre in 1933. Its screen went dark for good in 1938. Then the building housed a bowling alley. The Library of Virginia now stands on that ground today.

For more on Wells, the first baseman turned impresario, click here, and here. And, for baseball fans, here’s a page with his Major League baseball stats.

-- The postcard showing the Lubin and the Bijou is from 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Five Film Favorites: Films that play in the snow (and my complaints about snow days)

by Todd Starkweather


As we march into the sweltering summer months in central Virginia, I harken back to the month of March and previous colder months when the threat of a bit of snowfall would cripple school districts. Such occurrences have become bothersome to anyone who works in an educational institution and/or has children. To be clear, there is little about the snow or precipitation that is bothersome. Most capable adults and pre-teens should be able to handle some uncomfortable, wet weather. No, what is bothersome is the insistence of school districts closing up shop at the first hint of weather that might require or jacket, sweater, or cap. Actually, having to dress in long pants rather than shorts is probably too much for some.

Truly, though, the most infuriating thing about snow in central Virginia is the litany of complaints from parents and students. If you ever want to feel depressed about humanity and the cluelessness of your fellow RVA residents, read through a Facebook thread when school doesn’t close. Remember, it doesn’t take much to close down a school district. A stiff breeze and a patch of frost will take care of that. Yet any change in the environment that might slightly increase the risk of any accident throws individuals into delirious fits of panic.

The notion that 100% safety for every child must be guaranteed is nauseating. If you actually fear for your or your child’s safety, you will never exit your home and walk outside. Do know what lives outside? Bobcats. Bobcats are essentially large feral cats on steroids, and their teeth and claws can rip flesh from bone. Really, you are safer driving in sleet than going outside and risking a bobcat attack. People freak out over a little cold precipitation, but not over the possibility that bobcats will rip flesh from their bones. If you are willing to walk outside your door and face the possibility of being devoured by a bobcat, then you and your children can go to school in some inclement weather. Remember, once they are on the boss or in school, they are encased in bobcat-free enclosures.

So, yes, central Virginians are wimps when it comes to dealing with the snow. (And rather naïve about the dangers posed by bobcats.) But there are some who can put on a brave face and deal with weather much nastier than that experienced around Richmond. And those people are all in my five favorite films that play in the snow. These people didn’t stay inside because a thin layer of sleet fell to the ground. No, for the sake of cinema, they ventured outside. And if you cannot venture outside when the temperature dips below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, then I recommend that you watch these films when you are cocooned in your hovel next winter.
This is a groundbreaking film for many reasons. And I was fortunate enough to see it with live organ music while a grad student in Chicago. The fact that individuals filmed the life of an Inuit man and his family in the 1920s is remarkable from a simple technological standpoint. The directors needed cameras and equipment that operated in those conditions, and he had to live there, in the cold, while filming.

And he did not live in the 31 degree Fahrenheit cold that frightened Chesterfield County parents and students. He lived in the -75 degree cold of Jack London’s “To Build a Fire.” Nanook hunted walrus in that cold. Women gave birth in that cold. What Chesterfield County Public Schools (CCPS) refers to as cold, Nanook and his clan refer to as summer.
Death Hunt is an underrated action film starring Lee Marvin, Billy Dee Williams, and Charles Bronson. Marvin and Williams are cast as Canadian Mounties in the Yukon. (Re-read that previous sentence again, and let it sink in. Really, give it a minute or two.) They must chase down Bronson, an out of town loner who has angered too many people even though he has done nothing wrong. Marvin vows to find Bronson before the vicious mob locates him and the bounty money attached to him.

And if you had told Lee Marvin that searching for Charles Bronson in snow or sleet might be too dangerous, he would probably have punched you in the liver. Heck, he might have punched you in the liver even if you didn’t question his manliness. Lee Marvin looked mean.
I have seen this film once, back when video rental stores were in vogue. I found it on the shelf, thought it was interesting, and took it home. Pathfinder demonstrates its quality by remaining etched in my memory after twenty years. The film follows a young Laplander who must avenge the murder of his family by a marauding clan. In essence, the film is a smart, taught action film. Nothing fancy or overwrought, just solid direction and editing.

Of course, if this young man had listened to the advice dispensed by many Chesterfield County parents and students, he would have stayed home, allowed the villains to escape, and then lived a life wracked with guilt over the failure to avenge his family’s murder. The CCPS inclement weather policy currently has no means of addressing the concerns of 11th century Laplanders who must avenge their family’s murders. Contact your school board rep if you want the school board take up this issue.
  • Fargo (1996) – directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
I know that a lot of people feel that this film is overrated and that the comic tone of the film deadens the serious material with which it deals. The more I have viewed it, the less comic it becomes. Let the film’s gravity work on you, and the comedy and satire dissipate. And beyond the plot and characters, I love watching this film, particularly because of the snow. If the Coens can do anything, they can make landscapes look gorgeous. From the snowscapes from rural Minnesotan roads to deserted Minneapolis parking lots, the Coens make snow cinematically beautiful. The opening sequence of the film, with the truck rumbling along a snowy highway toward Fargo accompanied by the ominous and screeching music is one of my all-time favorite openings. 

By the way, notice how a complete asshole like William H. Macy’s Gunderson was able to navigate a roadway with some snow. If he can do it, so can bus drivers in Chesterfield County. Hopefully, though, Chesterfield County bus drivers are not scheming to have criminals abduct their spouses. But even if they are, they should still be able to drive in the snow. Being a horrible husband and father doesn’t disable one’s ability to drive.
Similar to Fargo, Away from Her does a wonderful job putting snow beautifully in the scene. Polley (of whom I am an enormous admirer), balances the composition of the snow and landscapes with the plot of a woman slowly deteriorating from dementia. The snow and the winter function as an allegory of the relationship between name and name. They are at the end, and when the snow does thaw, they will not be the same. The snow is a touching reminder of how much they have lost, and how much more they will lose once it melts.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Short Subject: 'Pull My Daisy'




Ed. Note: “Pull My Daisy” (1959) B&W. 27 minutes. Directed by Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie. Cast: Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Larry Rivers, Delphine Seyrig and David Amram (who also wrote the score). Note: Written and narrated by Jack Kerouac, this is the essential beatnik movie. The casual style suggests the film, which is sort of a meandering skit, was largely improvised. But it was actually planned out with care to look that way. What passes for a plot has mischievous poets goofing on a bishop -- like, is baseball holy? -- who comes to see their friend and his wife at their apartment.  

 

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Solid: Bob Hoskins, RIP

 by Peter Schilling Jr.

Bob Hoskins as Eddie Valiant in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
When you separate the name from the man -- Bob Hoskins -- it sounds like nothing more than the guy next door, some nobody shilling insurance or a real estate agent pushing you to get that split-level in the ‘burbs when you want the city instead. Thankfully, you can’t separate Bob Hoskins from the squat fellow who, in a fit of great humor, once claimed he would be happy playing the lead in a Danny DeVito biopic, such was their resemblance. Hoskins was one of my absolute favorite actors, a man who took a couple of the worst movies I’ve ever seen and made them endurable, and gave some intellectually challenging films their beating heart. He died Tuesday night of pneumonia, having suffered from Parkinson’s for many years.

An Englishman, Hoskins was raised by a man who drove a lorry, and a mum who taught children. Atheists. Communists. People who probably got a lot of grief for those beliefs, in part because people with those beliefs usually can’t keep them to themselves. And thank whatever you believe for that. They make the world a better place, in my opinion.

Supposedly, they taught young Bob to be proud of himself, but not arrogant. Bob Hoskins, then, was the result of a solid upbringing and then became one of the most solid men working on the silver screen. There’s a nice handful of great performances in his quiver, and then, like the very greatest character actors, he brought dignity and a great work ethic to the worst pictures. He was, to paraphrase critic David Thomson (describing the also amazing Elisha Cook Jr.), the glue that kept a picture together. 

Legend has it that he was recruited to star in play whilst drinking beer in a pub. Does it matter whether this is journalistic fact or entertainingly apocryphal? It’s perfect. In fact, it is so perfect that I would love to imagine the director Neil Jordan, losing his mind over who to cast in the lead of his still great Mona Lisa, wandering into a pub and staring agape at Bob, replete in his 70s outfit (which looked ridiculous in the 80s when that movie came out -- today he appears fashionable) who would, of course, be gulping down a pint. Probably he’d argue with Neil and then walk on the set and be just perfect.

Because Hoskins was perfect in Mona Lisa. The story of a man released from prison and given back his job driving by crime boss Michael Caine, who was never more slimy than here. Hoskins is George, a guy with a lot of energy but not a lot upstairs. Assigned to ferry around a high-class prostitute, Simone (played by Cathy Tyson), he resists falling for her, but of course, he can’t help himself -- she’s beautiful, and likes to listen to his probing questions. Nothing can come of this, and it is Hoskins who carries the whole film on his shoulders -- we can see a man who believes, deep down, that the underworld is the only place for a man like him, but he has no illusions, he knows it’ll be a grind, knows it won’t pay very much, but he commits to it, fully.

Hoskins seemed, at times, like a man freed from some sort of prison, and his acting style certainly suggests a man used to pacing inside small spaces. Look at him in that movie, in the original BBC production of Pennies from Heaven, in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? He seems ready to climb up the walls, his fists clenching and unclenching, eyes darting about as if hoping the bars on his cage will fall open at some point.

As I write this and think back on the man, I’m reminded that he was also a genius when it came to working with other actors. Mona Lisa is a brilliant study of the friendship between George and Simone, them walking or driving, him curious, her taking in his curiosity. I still can never forget the moment he takes the gun from her, after she’s killed her pimp and Caine, and the violence on his part and the utter heartbreak when he realizes that he is nothing more to her than all the other slimeballs she’s encountered is palpable. He won a ton of awards for that one, including an Oscar nomination.

But there’s others: Roger Rabbit features brilliant work between Hoskins and a robot -- look at it again, and it predates and informs how well this type of thing is so often used in Lord of the Rings and the newest Planet of the Apes (and Roger was no Andy Serkis.) Though he’s interesting in The Long Good Friday, the movie which put him on the map here in the states, I tend to think he’s beating his chest a bit too much -- he was best with other people with whom he could react.

This is never better than in the very weird, very troubling, made for television (BBC, but still) Pennies from Heaven. I like the Steve Martin film, enjoy how they expanded it to make the amazing dance scenes, but the television movie -- sweet Jesus. Devastating, and I mean bleak. You may have heard of this one, from writer Dennis Potter, who also did The Singing Detective -- horribly sad tales of people who are addicted to their dreams and totally incapable of success, moderate or otherwise. They’re losers.

Hoskins’ Arthur Parker is a traveling sheet music salesman. He loves music -- it is as much a part of him as his tongue and his lungs, it is how he expresses himself, what gives him sustenance. His wife wants nothing more than to be a settled housewife. Arthur is yet another of Hoskins’ utterly conflicted men, horrible men in their own way, that we have to come to respect thanks to the actor inhabiting the role. Arthur sleeps around, falls in love with a woman who is not his wife, tries to start a record store that we know is doomed, and then, through a nasty twist of fate, is accused of a murder he didn’t commit.

All the while the characters stop the story in order to lip-synch British music hall tunes from the Depression.



Pennies from Heaven is brilliant, and Potter fans will no doubt bristle when I say that without Hoskins, this would be much less of a movie (yeah, I know it’s TV), nothing more than pure bitterness. Again, the man took a role and he worked, and made it come alive with feeling, with passion.

Outside of a few starring roles, Bob Hoskins was found in any number of movies, from the execrable Maid in Manhattan with Jennifer Lopez -- again, I’ve (thankfully) forgotten that mean little movie to remember the kind older maître d’, a man urging J-Lo to better things. He was in Super Mario Brothers (the less said about that the better.) Great as a put-upon government plumber in Brazil. Wonderful as Cotton Club owner Owney Madden in the film of the same name, and doing his best Mutt and Jeff routine with the Munsters Fred Gwynne as Owney’s henchman and best friend.

Supposedly, Hoskins was slated to play Al Capone in De Palma’s Untouchables if De Niro was unavailable. I ache at the thought of what we missed -- De Niro was already slipping into bullying the camera by that point, loud and unacting, simply coasting on his legend. I don’t doubt for a minute that Hoskins would have brought the little criminal’s interior frustrations to the fore, even in that small role. Just as he did in Hollywoodland, as studio boss Eddie Mannix -- again, notice him being utterly wicked in most of his screen time until Diane Lane comes into view, and we see the motivations behind the toad, his love for her lighting up the screen, and we're privy to the emotional scars of her betrayal, suddenly as clear as the wrinkles on his forehead.

We’ll not see another like Bob Hoskins, maybe because the route to acting doesn’t include that intellectual blue collar background that used exist in this world. The man could act, and he could get you to feel his characters, to understand them, and reflect on your own pain, humiliation. You left his movies feeling thankful for the small gifts of joy life bestows upon you—even when that same life has been unbearably cruel.

Bob Hoskins was born October 26, 1942 in Bury St. Edmunds, West Suffolk, England. He was 71 years old.