Saturday, September 08, 2007

The Beatles Music In The Movies (Not their own movies, mind you)

"My dear girl, there are some things that just aren't done, such as drinking Dom Perignon '53 above the temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit. That's just as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs!" - James Bond (Sean Connery) in GOLDFINGER (Dir. Guy Hamilton, 1964)

As it has been well reported all over the internets the soon-to-be released ACROSS THE UNIVERSE (Dir. Julie Taymor, 2007) is fully comprised of Beatles music - all cover versions sung by the actors who all have names (Jude, Lucy, Lovely Rita, Jo Jo, Sadie, etc. - wait where's Michelle?) based on Beatles songs in scenes thematically suggested by Beatles material - yep, the Fab Four through and through. I know Beatle fans who are opposed to the project - and yeah it looks like it could be cringe-inducingly cheesy but I'll reserve judgement for now. In the meantime let's take a look at the Beatles music as it has appeared in soundtracks in the almost 40 years since they disbanded.

The catalogue is mostly owned by Michael Jackson who after famously outbidding Paul McCartney for ownership of ATV Music Publishing in 1985 has angered hoards of Beatle purists time and time again. First with his licensing of "Revolution" for the Nike spots of the late 80's and most recently for the currently running "All You Need Is Love" Luvs diaper ads. 

The use of an original Beatles recording in a movie can be incredibly expensive - that's why so many cover versions have appeared throughout the years. Even the Simpsons had to resort to using a sound-alike cover band for a HARD DAY'S NIGHT parody scene. Actual Beatles music has appeared sporadically over these last several decades but that have been some notable uses in the movies starting with:
SHAMPOO (Dir. Hal Ashby, 1975) Set in 1968 with a soundtrack full of 60's gold (Beach Boys, Jefferson Airplane, The Monkees, Simon & Garfunkel) 2 major Beatles tracks appear - “Sgt.Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band” and “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”. I guess the rights weren't as expensive pre-Jackson era. Either that or Warren Beatty and Hal Ashby had more clout than previously believed. Check out this Shampoo Montage somebody made on YouTube to get some of the flavor of said film.

I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND (Dir. Robert Zemekis, 1978) There's more than a little of that coming-of-age in a single day AMERICAN GRAFFITI thing going on here. With the premise that the single day in question is February 9th, 1964 - the Beatles' Ed Sullivan American TV debut. An ensemble cast of teenage fans (including Nancy Allen, Wendie Jo Sperber, Bobby Di Cicco and Marc McClure) all scheme to get into CBS-TV Studio 50 to see the historic broadcast. The soundtrack of the film contains 17 Beatles songs (including "She Loves You" twice) and since, of course, none of the actual Beatles were involved - stand-ins were used as Wikipedia best puts it:

"Stand-in Beatle-look alike doubles, dressed in identical attire and holding the same type of musical instruments in a similar manner, were seen mimicking the group's performance of the song from that show while being shown on the stage floor, albeit from a distance so as not to see their identities, while the actual footage of The Beatles on The Sullivan Show of 02/09/1964 was revealed from the camera operator's point-of-view. These two elements were combined together, along with reactions from the studio audience to recreate a brilliant moment in time."

A brilliant moment in time indeed. Sorry, just became James Lipton there. Incidently the IMDb doesn't give credit to the stand-ins but this cool UHM post revealed that the "George" was filled in by monster mask-maker (he designed the Captain Kirk mask used in the HALLOWEEN movies), actor, and horror-movie director Bill Malone - seen above between director Zemekis on the right and an unknown "Lennon" on the left.

THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP (Dir. George Roy Hill, 1982) In the opening credit sequence as "When I'm 64" plays a baby is bounced upwards into the clear blue sky in slow motion. McCartney's soothing nursery rhyme vocal is perfectly suited here to the baby's (Infant Garp credited to Brandon Roth - not to be confused with Brandon Routh - the new Superman) happy expressions. This may be the best and most original scene in the canon of Beatles-synched cinema. But, wait what about:

FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF (Dir. John Hughes, 1986) After somehow commandeering a parade float in downtown Chicago to lip synch to Wayne Newton's "Danke Schoen" Ferris (Matthew Broderick) gets down to the Beatles cover of Phil Medley and Bert Russell's immortal "Twist And Shout". The entire crowd dances as a marching band provides horns that weren't on the original recording. Despite the fact the song re-entered the charts at #21 that summer (also because of its use in the Rodney Dangerfield college comedy BACK TO SCHOOL) McCartney criticized the addition of horns to the track. Pretty picky Sir Paul - I mean it was a parade!

WITHNAIL & I (Dir. Bruce Robinson, 1987) Now is a good time to bring up George Harrison's Handmade Films. Formed in the late 70's to back Python related projects, Handmade made a handfull of interesting films in the 80's and 90's. One of the best was WITHNAIL & I - a hilarious cult classic mostly taking place around a country cottage with Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann at their tawdry best. At one point a portion of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" is heard - it's safe to assume that since George was one of the producers it seems like this was probably given some kind of significant discount.

(Dir. Michael Moore, 2002) Can see why Moore would pay the extra buck to get the original song - no other would do the same job. As I wrote in a post about Moore's movies as a baby-boomer era hit song "The Beatles' 'Happiness Is A Warm Gun' made an obvious point". Lennon's vicious vocal snarls in such a manner that benefits a montage of kids with guns, a blind man with an assault rifle, and a smattering of public execution-style killings.

Some Other Honorable Mentions in the Beatles Music in the Movies Sweepstakes:

COMING HOME (Dir. Hal Ashby, 1978) - "Hey Jude" and "Strawberry Fields Forever".

MASK (Dir. Peter Bogdanavich, 1985) Although the soundtrack in this under rated biopic about Roy L. "Rocky" Denis (played by Eric Stoltz) who suffered from a cranial enlargening disease was dominated by Americana like Springsteen, Bob Seger, Gary U.S. Bonds, and even 4 Little Richard songs - there were 2 seminal Beatles standards present - "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and "Girl".

FIVE CORNERS (Dir. Tony Bill, 1987) "In My Life" plays during the end credits - again, Harrison's Handmade hook-up helped out. He was executive producer to be more exact.

PRICK UP YOUR EARS (Dir. Stephen Frears, 1987) - "A Day in the Life."

CAN'T BUY ME LOVE (Dir. Steve Rash, 1987) Can't remember what song was featured in this one but man I bet it was effective!

A BRONX TALE (Dir. Robert Deniro, 1993) An impressive - obviously Scorsese influenced (as if that's a bad thing) soundtrack to Deniro's directorial debut includes the Kinks, Wilson Pickett, Miles Davis, various Rat Packers, etc. But the inclusion of the original "Come Together" gives it full cinematic cred.

So - that's all for now. One day I'll get around to the Beatles covers in the movies - especially since ACROSS THE UNIVERSE adds to the universe of soundtracks full of Beatles covers like the infamous flop - SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND (I've given many shout outs to Nathan Rabin of the AV Club's Year Of Flops series but particularly his entry on Sgt. Pepper's should not be ignored) and I AM SAM - a horrible movie but a good Beatles cover oriented soundtrack all the same.

More later...


Reel Fanatic said...

Man, do I love Withnail & I, and that's all I really have to this solidly entertaining post

CF said...

While it isn't a Movie, I find the
best use of a Beatles song occurs
in the last episode of the British
TV series (?) _The Prisoner_, "Fall
Out": Our Heroes (#6, #2, #42, and
The Butler) take up submachineguns
and blast away dozens of nameless
(in more ways than one) Village
operators, to the strains of "All
You Need Is Love". If Beatles fans
near me understood *why* I cannot
stop snickering when I hear that
song, they'd have me crucified. >:)

CaptainOT said...

You didn't miss a Beat in this review on Beatle music in the movies! Well done!


Anonymous said...

and there was "License to Drive" with the opening credits playing a cover of 'Baby you can drive my Car'

Anonymous said...

There are plenty of reasons not to like Michael Jackson, but blaming him for allowing use of Beatles recordings in advertising is just plain wrong. All he owns are the publishing rights to the songs.

The Beatles recordings are owned by EMI and The Beatles. When you hear "Revolution" in a Nike ad, it's because the Beatles themselves allowed it. Jackson has no say in the matter, although I'm sure he gets a cut.

Anonymous said...

A few more that bear mentioning:

The climax of the legendary British TV series "The Prisoner" featured "All You Need Is Love".

The 1980 PBS production of "The Lathe of Heaven" featured one of the best uses of Beatles music ever, as "With a Little Help from my Friend" helps protagonist George Orr reunite with his girlfriend/wife. Sadly, the rights could not be re-acquired for the DVD release and a Joe Cocker sound-alike was used instead.

Finally, no list of bad Beatle-cover-movies would be complete without mentioning "All This and World War Two", which featured WWII newsreel footage accompanied by a bizarre assortment of Beatles covers.

Anonymous said...

what about the instrumental version of yesterday in once upon a time in america?

Anonymous said...

What about 'The Royal Tenenbaums' "Hey Jude"

Nathaniel said...

Love Actually also does a pretty good job of incorporating some Beatles music into the film.

Anonymous said...

You forgot "Hey Jude" in The Royal Tenenbaums. Granted, it was an orchestra version since George Harrison died before the rights could be purchased, but in a way it reflected the quirky, soft-hearted tone of the film.

Anonymous said...

great comments, but what about I Am Sam?...tons of Beatles in there

Groundhog One said...

I wonder how Yellow Submarine fits into this. probably like Across the Universe, but way more psychedelic-fantasy style.

Kirby: said...

Once again, great piece Daniel.

I too am a bit skeptical about "Across the Universe" (especially after the studio took over editing - never a good sign), but I just saw a commercial for it tonight that looks like it will at least look great - some impressive visuals.

Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

american graffiti = george lucas

Anonymous said...

I like latest music from all the movies and recently I purchased a collection from so many Time Life store at!!!

CaptainOT said...

Found another one and it's a beaut!

"Superman III" (1984) has Clark Kent attending his high school reunion in Smallville with Lana Lang.

The distinctive sounds of the Beatles' "Roll Over Beethoven" are heard in the gymnasium!

What makes this more scary is that "Superman III" was directed by Richard Lester - gee, I wonder if there's a connection???


Anonymous said...

billy crystal's "mr. saturday night" uses an actual ed sullivan clip of the beatles on their debut performance.

as the last chords of "i wanna hold your hand" die off, crystal's character is the schmuck who has to follow the beatles!

Anonymous said...

i'm trying to remember the name of a movie i beleive was either from the 1970s or 1980s that had the song where so sorry uncle albert. it was about a guy who died and all his kids get killed trying to find his fortune. thank you!!

Anonymous said...

Can someone please tell me why you rarely hear Beatles originals in films and on compilation soundtracks. I was told that Capital charges high amounts of money to lisence them. Is this true? There was a Beatles original in the Only Fools And Horses episode "Mother Nature's Son", thieir cover of "Money" but the DVD release switches it for an inferior instrumental tune. Can anyone please tell me why this is? E-mail is: Thanks

Anonymous said...

also, in the most recent,"cat in the hat", movie, they play a redone version of, "getting better" when they clean up the big horrible mess.

Anonymous said...

Rather late, but how about "Because" playing in the background during the final shots of "Ameican Beauty"?

Anonymous said...

Across the Universe was sung by Fiona Apple in the movie Pleasentville.

Gevalher said...

And you must add "House Calls" a movie with Walter Mathau, featuring at the middle of the film the song "Something"...

Anonymous said...

1994's Lassie remake features the original Beatles recording of In My Life. But the character playing it puts on a 45 of the song, which of course never existed as it was an album track from Rubber Soul.

B. said...

Great post. I found this because I've noticed that original Beatles songs are popping up in a lot of movies lately. "Baby You're a Rich Man" in the Social Network, "Fool on the Hill" in Dinner for Schmucks, and "Do You Want to Know a Secret?" on a recent episode of Mad Men. This after going my whole life and not remembering ever hearing an original recording of a Beatles song in a movie. Does anyone know if Michael Jackson's death has anything to do with the resurgence, or is it just a coincidence?

Anonymous said...

Michael Jackson never outbid Paul McCartney for the Beatles songs, actually. The true story is that Paul McCartney was offered them before they even went to auction for $20 million. He turned it down thinking it was too expensive and didn't want to have to pay for the songs "because I wrote them for free". That is the true quote from the horses mouth. Then they went to auction and Michael Jackson got them for $47 million. Paul never bid for them, he just didn't want Michael to own them.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone remember a movie probably done in the 60's where the people sang "Life goes on" by the Beatles?