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Albert Maysles
Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, George Harrison

It was one of the greatest moments in theihistory of show business: On the 7th of February, 1964, a plane carrying four young British musicians arrived in New York, destined to conquer the United States. Within 48 hours, the Beatles were performing on the Ed Sullivan Show, capturing 73,000,000 viewers, thus making television history.

This is THE BEATLES: THE FIRST US VISIT, a day-by-day audio/visual account of the group's arrival on U.S. shores. This full-length film takes us on a historic, musical ride back in time. This is the real Hard Day's Night, culled from hours of footage - some of which has never been seen before - and the Ed Sullivan appearances. Audiences of all ages have an opportunity to relive a time of glorious, innocent mayhem. People will be able to see and hear what happened, as it happened. Such a time will never come again.

This DVD contains more than 13 performances which have been visually restored to near perfection. The tracks have been digitally remastered to produce a superb stereo sound.

Rated NR

Fullscreen 1.33:1
English PCM Stereo
Brazilian Portuguese

Runtime: 81 min.
Price: $24.98
Release Date: 2/3/2004

• Audio Commentary with Director Albert Maysles
• “The Making of The First US Visit
• Booklet


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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The Beatles: The First US Visit (1991)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 3, 2004)

Today’s Thing I Don’t Get: all the hubbub about the 40th anniversary of the Beatles’ initial appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. All the hype and publicity doesn’t confuse me because I don’t think the event merits attention. Indeed, I agree with all those who depict their February 9, 1964 performance as a major moment in modern culture. I also don’t fail to comprehend the furor because I don’t like the Beatles. I’ve been a fan since I was young and still think they’re one of my favorite bands.

But what’s the big deal about the 40th anniversary? I was too young to notice if anything happened to mark 10 years in 1974, but I definitely don’t recall any significant attention paid to the 20th or 30th anniversaries. If this was 50 years I’d get it, but what’s so special about 40?

At least the marketing opportunities resulted in some decent Beatle product such as this new DVD rendition of The First US Visit. The documentary starts with the band’s arrival at the New York airport on February 7. It then follows their famous press conference on the spot and watches them drive to their Manhattan hotel. We watch the band hang out in their hotel, which allows us to see them take in their impact on the media as well as constant requirements to do publicity.

Eventually they head to the Sullivan set, where we see them perform four songs: “All My Loving”, “Til There Was You”, “She Loves You”, and “I Want to Hold Your Hand”. (The documentary omits their fifth number, “I Saw Her Standing There”.) Then the Beatles party at the Peppermint Lounge before they take the train to Washington the next day. In addition to those shots, we see some girls who try to sneak up to their hotel room as well as some behind the scenes work with manager Brian Epstein.

After some clowning on the train, we check out the band’s February 11th performance at the Washington Coliseum. The documentary presents three songs from the show: “I Saw Her Standing There”, “I Wanna Be Your Man”, and “She Loves You”. From there we watch the Beatles on the train back to New York as they interact with passengers and the press.

The program then heads to Miami, where the band hangs out in the hotel again. Soon we join them on the February 16 broadcast of Sullivan, where they play “From Me to You”, “This Boy”, and “All My Loving”. (The documentary leaves out “She Loves You”, “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, and “I Saw Her Standing There”.) After this, the boys pack at the hotel, which leads to more clowning, and George plays an impromptu tune on the acoustic guitar.

Next we get some clips from the February 23 Sullivan broadcast. Here the Beatles perform “Twist and Shout”, “Please Please Me”, and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” again. (We fail to hear nothing; only three songs appeared during this third stint.) That ends the program, though the closing credits show some outtakes accompanied by a studio take on “It Won’t Be Long”.

No one will mistake Visit for a flawless documentary, but it provides a generally first-class ticket to check out Beatlemania at its early peak. The degree of access accorded the filmmakers seems fairly remarkable, especially given the standards of the time. Nowadays, everyone documents everything, but back in 1964, most folks regarded the Beatles as little more than the newest fad, a craze that would quickly fade and become forgotten. Absolutely no one – least of all the Fabs themselves – could have predicted the enormous significance of this period and how valuable this material would become.

Frankly, it seems almost miraculous that this project exists, and it’s a real treat to check out the Beatles from the inside. The show seems best during its first half. We get a great sense for the excitement around the Beatles, and the insider look at their experiences provides a wonderful “fly on the way” feeling. The show also enjoys a nice sense of narrative tension as it builds toward the band’s appearance on the February 9th Sullivan show.

Visit loses some steam once they finish on Sullivan. It’s fun to see them head to DC and Miami, and the shots on the train rides are quite interesting. It’s great to watch the Fabs as they interact and clown with other passengers; this is time capsule material, as there’s little chance a modern band in their position would behave that way.

Nonetheless, I think the footage shot after the first Sullivan appearance would make more sense in a collection of additional material, not in the main documentary. The first show was such a climactic event that it seems like a let-down to move on from there. Those songs offer a logical conclusion to this kind of program, and that means the remaining footage feels a little like an afterthought.

Still, these are nit-picks, for Visit presents so much great material. We really get a great feeling for what the Beatles went through, especially when they let down their guards a little. I don’t think they ever faked things for the camera, but they clearly tried to put on a show and felt pressure to be “on” all the time. Occasionally the cameras caught them at times when they just couldn’t do so; the exhaustion becomes evident on occasion, and those moments are fascinating to see.

We also get a good feel for the constant pressure put on the Beatles. Even when they relax in their hotel, they must serve many promotional duties, and those almost never seem to end. The press really treated them badly, as they didn’t usually bother to learn names and just ordered them around for their own ends. Some of the Beatles’ annoyance at this comes through in comic ways; at one point, they mock the press’ tendencies, which shows aptly how they felt.

The film features absolutely no narration, which is an inspired choice. A discussion of the material seems superfluous and unnecessary. The footage speaks for itself and tells the tale without embellishment. The absence of narration also creates an immediacy the piece might otherwise lack; additional notes might force a distance that would harm the power of this “you are there” footage.

An invaluable examination of a historic period, The Beatles: The First US Visit gives us a great look at the band from the inside. We really get a feel for what it must have been like for the lads from Liverpool, and it covers their whirlwind tour in a brisk manner. It’s a fine documentary.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio C+/ Bonus B

The Beatles: The First US Visit appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. We couldn’t expect a stellar presentation from a documentary shot on the fly in 1964, but Visit really looked quite good.

Despite the rough and varied conditions under which they filmed the flick, sharpness generally seemed solid. Occasional focus issues arose, but not many, and certainly fewer than I expected. In general, the program presented nicely distinctive and concise images. I noticed no concerns with jagged edges or shimmering, but I discerned some light signs of edge enhancement. Black levels appeared nicely deep and tight, and most low-light shots came across as appropriately clear and easily visible. Unsurprisingly, the shadows occasionally appeared somewhat dense just due to the shooting conditions, but those examples occurred infrequently.

Given the age of the material and the filming conditions, print flaws created the most noticeable problems. Natural grain showed up much of the time, especially during the low-light conditions of the hotel. In addition, occasional examples of specks, marks, stripes, thin lines, and blotches popped up throughout the movie. However, these seemed pretty minor overall, and they didn’t cause any real concerns.

At times, variations occurred due to the nature of the material. The shots from the Washington concert probably looked the worst. These showed uncertain definition and more lines and marks than usual. Flash bulbs from the audience also caused havoc and made the results uglier than we might expect. No one will view The First US Visit as a demo piece, but the image seemed very pleasing for this sort of program.

Similar thoughts greeted the PCM mono soundtrack of The First US Visit. Some might miss the inclusion of a remix, but I didn’t. Mono was how they recorded the audio in the first place, and happily, no attempts were made to rejigger the results; we got the original sound, which made sense. Everything remained focused in the center, as it should.

Audio quality showed its age but seemed acceptable across the board. Speech presented some light edginess and occasionally sounded a little shrill. Nonetheless, dialogue consistently appeared reasonably accurate and distinctive, and I never found it too tough to understand what was said. Effects played a small role, as they restricted themselves to general ambience. The elements were thin but fairly clean and caused no problems.

Music varied due to the different sources. The Sullivan songs were a little rough but generally presented good clarity and dynamics. The bits from the Washington show sounded pretty weak. Those boasted boomy low-end and a fair amount of distortion. Occasional examples of overdubbed Beatles songs occurred, but most of them were from sources like radios. The tracks were fairly distinctive and clean, though never great. Bass response presented some decent thump but that was it. At times the audio came across as a little hissy, but that failed to cause any real distractions. Ultimately, the sound of Visit was perfectly satisfactory given the program’s age and source.

While only a few extras appear on The First US Visit, the ones we get seem quite substantial. We open with The Making of The First US Visit. This 51-minute documentary-behind-the-documentary features comments from filmmaker Albert Maysles and a great deal of extra footage. Those elements offer the highlight of the program. Maysles offers good notes about the experiences making Visit as well as background for various parts, and he helps elucidate about what we see. The clips themselves are very fun to see. We find some “man of the street” interviews and a lot more shots of the Fabs as they go through their rounds. “Making” is almost as interesting as the main program, and it adds a lot to this package.

(In a nice touch, “Making” includes all nine forms of subtitles found for the main program as well.)

Next we get an audio commentary with filmmaker Albert Maysles. He provides a running, screen-specific chat. Unfortunately, it’s a pretty dull one. Maysles goes over a few topics related to the flick, such as how he got the job, technical considerations, and his reactions to the Beatles and their music. Not only do most of Maysles’ remarks also pop up in the “Making of “ documentary, but also lots of dead air appears here. Most of the program goes by without any information from Maysles. The occasional useful tidbit appears – such as the reason Visit didn’t get a release in 1964 – but overall, I think the commentary seems eminently skippable.

Finally, Visit presents a 16-page booklet. This piece includes a new introductory note from Albert Maysles plus a mix of photos from the Beatles February 1964 trip to America. It also presents some quotes from the bandmembers as they reflect on the experience. It’s a decent little supplement.

After 40 years, the Beatles remain as popular as ever, and fans have become even more fascinated by their history. Into that breach steps The First US Visit, a terrific look at their initial blitzkrieg on American audiences. The documentary provides a fine piece of work that lets us see their experiences from their own point of view, and it works very well overall. The DVD presents picture and sound that seem more than adequate for material of this age and origin, and the supplements add some nice material, largely via all the unused footage in the “Making of” documentary. I can’t imagine why any Beatles fan wouldn’t want to own this excellent program, as it’s an invaluable source of information and insight.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5833 Stars Number of Votes: 12
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