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The Beatles in 'A Hard Day's Night' a Janus Films release (c) Bruce and Martha Karsh
The Beatles in 'A Hard Day's Night' a Janus Films release (c) Bruce and Martha Karsh

Restoring A Hard Day’s Night for a Theater Near You

The Beatles in 'A Hard Day's Night' a Janus Films release (c) Bruce and Martha Karsh
The Beatles in 'A Hard Day's Night' a Janus Films release (c) Bruce and Martha Karsh

When they were gathering the original source materials for their new restoration of A Hard Day’s Night, the experts at the Criterion Collection—the famed home video label that gathers some of cinema's best films and releases them in editions of the highest possibly quality—had a big problem. “The first and last reels of the negative were missing,” Criterion President Peter Becker tells us when we meet at the company's New York City offices. “I don’t know why exactly or when they disappeared, but they have been missing for a period of time, and we were unable to turn those up.”

But they didn’t panic: The film reels the company did have were completely intact, without any glaring defects that would make it impossible to keep the film from looking—and, of course, sounding—as good as it did when it premiered at London’s Palladium Theater on July 6, 1964. To replace the missing reels, they used duplicate negatives from other source prints, and with all the materials in place, the restoration began.

The year-and-a-half-long restoration process culminates in both a recently-released dual format Blu-ray and DVD edition and a nationwide theatrical release this weekend by Janus Films (Criterion's theatrical distribution wing) to commemorate the film’s 50th anniversary. Audiences will now get to enjoy the movie—a somewhat exaggerated, semi-autobiographical musical-comedy that features some of the Fab Four’s biggest hits—at home or on the big screen. Here's how Criterion restored the classic film.

A Restoration Revolution

This isn't the first time Criterion has released A Hard Day's Night: In 1987, the company released the movie as a laserdisc (and also, curiously, as a CD-ROM under a now-defunct offshoot called The Voyager Company). But Becker and others at Criterion thought they could do better, and when the rights to the film—formerly held by Miramax—expired a year and a half ago, they jumped at the possibility of bringing the film out of obsolete formats and giving it the so-called updated Criterion treatment, and quickly acquired the rights.

At Criterion, each restoration begins with a single in-house producer who individually oversees the step-by-step process of all the departments—including the in-house restoration team or the design team—who are working on the project simultaneously. “I think the reason we work the way that we do is that, over the course of working on [films], you get to know [a producer’s] certain areas of expertise,” says Becker. This helps the company decide who will oversee new projects, either in a hands-on capacity or simply serving as an expert who can provide guidance. “So, for example, we’ll have a producer who is the steward for Fellini’s legacy”—the Italian director behind such classics as and Amarcord—“[and] they may not necessarily be the producer of all the Fellini editions that we do, but effectively, they become the steward of those editions.”

The perfect steward for A Hard Day’s Night was longtime Criterion producer Kim Hendrickson, who had previously worked on similar music-related releases, including the Maysles Brothers and Charlotte Zwerin’s Rolling Stones documentary Gimme Shelter and D.A. Pennebaker’s Monterey Pop. She also happens to be a huge fan of Richard Lester, the director of A Hard Day’s Night. “You can sort of feel, internally, what sorts of projects will gravitate towards which producers,” Becker says, “and this one clearly landed there right at the outset.”

In approaching any film restoration, the company abides by a set of principles that favors the integrity of the physical film itself over imposing their mark on it. “Our particular philosophy has been to use a light hand to try to retain the look and feel of film, and I think that’s what has happened here,” Becker says, “which is to say to honor the [film] grain, and to be sensitive to what makes a film image alive.”

In the case of A Hard Day's Night, the company's plan was to digitally scan the original source materials into 4K—giving the film a high definition resolution of four thousand pixels—at their in-house lab. But instead of using their countless digital restoration tools to over-stabilize, over-saturate, or clean the 24-frames-per-second images completely to make the movie totally digitally pristine, the Criterion team used the less-is-more mantra when necessary.

To show that technique in action, Becker takes me deep into the offices—through hallways peppered with posters of the company's releases—into the restoration editing bays, a series of darkened rooms impressively stacked with every possible restoration tool imaginable. The team is working on restoring a documentary in which one frame of a scene had misplaced film sprocket holes through the middle of the image. This effectively put a huge hole in the middle of a person’s face in that frame. Members of the restoration team were exploring using adjacent frame restoration techniques to fix it, examining single frames before and after the marred frame to see if they could cut and paste a portion from a clean frame over the damaged area. (The same strategy might also be used for more common defects, like dirt or scratches on the image from frame to frame.) The idea isn't to completely change the image, but to reestablish it. That the film they're working has a run time of about 50 minutes makes me marvel at how patient they need to be when working on films double or triple that length.

“Our principle is always: Do no harm. We would much rather see original damage than see evidence of our fixes,” Becker says. “If we can make a fix without leaving a trace, then by all means, [we'll] go ahead and make the fix. But if you’re going to leave a trace of your fix, I would much rather see the original damage.” This allows the restored version of A Hard Day's Night to resemble the tangible quality of the film as if people were seeing it on the big screen in 1964, but still gives the team enough space to fix common physical defects like film warping or torn frames from the celluloid that was passed on to the scanned image.  

It Really Rocks

Restoration doesn't stop at cleaning up the film. Criterion also has to consider sound—and it's especially crucial for a music-related flick like A Hard Day's Night. They commissioned an all-new 5.1 stereo mix of the soundtrack that will appear on both the dual format release and in the theatrical release, remixed and remastered by music producer Giles Martin—son of longtime Beatles producer George Martin.

The original music materials for A Hard Day’s Night were well-preserved, sitting virtually untouched in the vaults of the famed Abbey Road Studios. But Martin—who calls from Abbey Road Studios, where the main audio remastering was done—says he found restoring the film’s sound effects to be the most difficult. “We had to go and find them at a few places in LA, some at Twickenham Studios [in London], and it was all separate reels,” he says. This forced his team to marry the virtually unspoiled audio quality of the music with the patched together examples of original effects material.

Among the many specific changes he made, Martin found and reinstated the original sound effect of subtle train background noise during the performance of “I Should Have Known Better” which, for some reason, had been cut out of the audio source he was working with. He also added a faint feedback sound effect when George Harrison mistakenly knocks over his amp during the performance of “If I Fell.”

Much like Criterion’s delicate approach to restoring the picture image, Martin had to strike a balance to complement the whole. “Once we’ve amassed all the separate sources, then we start thinking about how we’re going to approach it,” he says. “We try and clean it, but not varnish it. The whole idea is to make the film punch out of the speakers, and sound good out of the speakers, and sound immediate.” But the sound itself was never meant to be intrusive. Instead, the team took a cue from director Richard Lester’s original approach: that the music should always emerge organically from the film—even if musical instruments magically appear out of nowhere, as they do for the “I Should Have Known Better” performance—instead of being lazily laid over the top of it.

According to Martin, the song they most improved on was “Can’t Buy Me Love." To Martin, the previous versions of the song—and even parts of the original mix—sounded relatively flat. He intensified the audio quality of the song to suit the 5.1 surround mix. Now, Martin says, “It just bursts with energy. It really rocks.”

The new 5.1 audio-track creates a better spatial sense of the music and the environment of the film instead of playing with surround sound tricks. Yet another other audio track for the dual format release, directly coordinated and mixed by Criterion’s audio supervisor Ryan Hullings, will be included, because it’s how the original would have sounded—and is still Lester’s preferred audio track.

Some Esteemed Collaborators

In putting the complete package together, Hendrickson and the Criterion team wanted to create extensive supplemental material that reflected the spontaneous and celebrated nature of The Beatles’ first foray into movies. So the company called on countless Beatles-related outlets, including Mark Lewisohn—the world’s leading Beatles historian who was interviewed for the extras—as well as Apple Corps, director Richard Lester, and even the remaining Beatles themselves.

The potentially daunting task of representing The Beatles’ legacy, as well as the notoriously image-sensitive Apple Corps, didn’t phase the people at Criterion. “I think [they] were generally thrilled by the stuff we were finding, by the quality of the material that was getting produced around [the movie], and by the quality of the restoration that was being made,” Becker says. “It was a whole team who came together to really make something. We wanted them happy, they knew we wanted them happy, and from the very beginning we invited their input. They have been just amazingly supportive.” 

Becker points to the process of creating the final poster art for the new release as an example of that support. Chosen from over 65 different variations of a theme from three different artists, the poster was created by designer Rodrigo Corral, and is noticeably different from any previous A Hard Day’s Night designs, including the famous credit-sequence photos that make up the original LP cover. Becker and Criterion didn’t want to retread over something that was so iconic. “We really felt it was important for this release to have a look,” he says. “We didn’t want to just be bringing back a ‘Hey, look at this old album’ mentality. Yes, there is a nostalgia factor, and yes, it’s a great piece of design—but it didn’t feel to us that’s where we wanted to land. I think the idea was always that we wanted to make something that was ours, and it’s very hard to design for something that already has its own iconic presence.”

The final, minimalist design, which perfectly captures the manic spontaneity of the film, was the only design the team presented to Apple Corps, and they gave it their stamp of approval.

Celebrating a Moment

Surely something as important as The Beatles’ first movie couldn’t just be contained in a DVD and a Blu-ray. “What do you do for the 50th anniversary for something that is so culturally significant on a global basis?” Becker says. “I think the answer, as always, goes back to the way that we think that movies are meant to be seen, which is in a theater with as many strangers as possible, all coming together for a really fantastic theatrical experience.”

Janus Films, the theatrical distribution branch of Criterion, has always released restored and art-house films into theaters, but mostly on a small scale. It wasn’t until their theatrical run of last year’s The Great Beauty—which later won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film—that they began to think much bigger and more spontaneously. 

Usually, Criterion sends out a limited number of 35mm prints or DCP (digital cinema package) bookings to a few theaters to play out over a long period of time. But the success of The Great Beauty meant that the film quickly expanded to nearly 100 theaters nationwide—new territory for Janus and Criterion. This realization that they could reach a large number of theaters, coupled with the immense popularity of The Beatles, made them push to release A Hard Day's Night theatrically on the combination anniversary/holiday weekend. The company had originally aimed to get the restoration into 50 theaters, but it will now be playing in over 115 in North America—and that number continues to expand.

To Becker, the film has always been the ultimate trans-generational feel-good experience, which he says has something to do with The Beatles themselves. “There’s something about the feeling of infinite possibility [in the film] that lends to this kind of feeling,” he says. He hopes to see families and people of all ages coming together to celebrate the film—and the moment it represented. “The music is familiar and the ebullience of the moviemaking is infectious," he says, "and it is one of those cases where there are people who are currently in their 60s, 70s, and even 80s, who were in their teens, 20s, and 30s when The Beatles took the world by storm.” In a sea of forgettable summer movies, A Hard Day’s Night offers a timeless ode to freedom and fun—a cinematic surge of energy, creativity, and great music—that's missing from blockbuster films today. Criterion’s restoration looks and sounds gorgeous, and the July 4th weekend is the perfect time to experience it for the first time—or the one hundredth.

“They absolutely remember what that was like, and they absolutely love returning to those moments,” Becker says, “How often are those moments still relevant for the 6, 7, and 8 year olds, or the 15 to 20 years olds of today?”

All photos courtesy of Bruce and Martha Karsh.

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11 Single Facts About Bridget Jones’s Diary
Miramax
Miramax

While it's not officially a holiday movie, so much of the action in Bridget Jones's Diary happens around the most wonderful time of the year that the rom-com has become essential wintertime viewing for many movie fans. Based on Helen Fielding’s novel of the same name, it tells the story of a very single, and hopelessly romantic, working professional named Bridget (Renée Zellweger) who is determined to improve her love life. Enter two strapping gentlemen (Colin Firth and Hugh Grant) to vie for her heart. Get to know more about the timeless dramedy that’s been delighting audiences since 2001. Just as it is.

1. THE SOURCE NOVEL CAME ABOUT FROM AN ANONYMOUS COLUMN ABOUT SINGLE LIFE.

In the foreword of Bridget Jones’s Diary, author Helen Fielding wrote about how she came to conjure up the story: “The Independent asked me to write a column, as myself, about single life in London. Much as I needed the money, the idea of writing about myself in that way seemed hopelessly embarrassing and revealing. I offered to write an anonymous column instead, using an exaggerated, comic, fictional character. I assumed no one would read it, and it would be dropped after six weeks for being too silly.”

2. SEVERAL CHARACTERS ARE BASED ON PEOPLE IN HELEN FIELDING’S LIFE.


Miramax

These include Jude (Tracey MacLeod) and Shazzer (Sharon Maguire, also the film’s director). In a column for the Evening Standard, MacLeod described how she didn’t even realize she inspired part of her best friend’s story until Fielding’s book launch party. “At the launch party for the first Bridget book, I was cornered by a smug married friend, ‘So ... what's it like being Jude?’ she asked,” MacLeod writes. “I was outraged. Of course I wasn't Jude, with her self-help books and horrible boyfriend. My boyfriend wasn't anything like Vile Richard ... But as more people began to believe that Jude and Shazzer were thinly-veiled portraits of myself and Sharon, I secretly got to like the idea.”

3. TONI COLLETTE DECLINED THE LEAD, AND KATE WINSLET WAS CONSIDERED FOR IT.

Before Zellweger stole the show, Aussie Toni Collette and Brit Kate Winslet were up for the part. According to AMC, “Toni Collette declined the role because she was on Broadway starring in The Wild Party at the time, and Kate Winslet was considered but the producers decided she was too young.”

4. HUGH GRANT ONLY SIGNED ON WHEN RICHARD CURTIS WAS ANNOUNCED AS THE WRITER. 


Miramax

“The only reason [I was a hard sell] was because I didn't feel they had the script quite right for a long time,” Firth told Cinema.com. “And I kept saying, ‘It's not working. Just get Richard Curtis to come in and help rewrite it.’ Eventually they did, and as soon as Richard came on board, I signed on the dotted line. So that's all it was.”

5. RENÉE ZELLWEGER GAINED 17 POUNDS FOR THE PART.

Zellweger’s weight gain for the role had the media abuzz for a while. According to The Guardian, “In order to play the eponymous heroine in the film adaptation of Fielding's bestseller, the actress gained 17 pounds, consulting a dietitian and endocrinologist who devised a regime of three full meals a day, multiple snacks, and no exercise.”

6. ZELLWEGER WORKED AT PICADOR FOR THREE WEEKS.

Zellweger went full Method for her iconic role, and became a temporary employee of the Picador publishing house. “We came up with a plan: she would be Bridget Cavendish, Bridget for obvious reasons and Cavendish as she was to be passed off as the sister of Jonathan Cavendish, a friend of one of our company chairmen,” Picador publicist Camilla Elworthy told The Guardian. “That last bit at least is true, and no one was to know that Jonathan Cavendish was one of the film's producers.”

7. ZELLWEGER KEPT A PHOTO OF JIM CARREY ON HER DESK.


Miramax

While working at Picador, Zellweger kept a picture of Jim Carrey on her desk—which made her alter ego Bridget Cavendish seem like some sort of obsessed fan. “Under the name Bridget Cavendish, she answered phones, served coffee, and made photocopies—without being recognized by any of her co-workers, who offered career advice and wondered privately why she kept a photo of Jim Carrey (her then-boyfriend) on her desk,” noted Hollywood.com.

8. ZELLWEGER INVITED HER BOSS AT PICADOR TO BE AN EXTRA ON SET.

In Camilla Elworthy’s write-up for The Guardian, she noted how she became a part of the production. “Renée sent me a thank you letter and gift after she'd gone and I have seen her a few times since then," Elworthy wrote. "She invited me on to the film set one day. She informed me that I had to stick around and be an extra and made sure that I was put somewhere that I would be seen ... As a result, half my head can be seen for half a nano-second in the launch party scene.”

9. THE EPIC FIGHT SCENE BETWEEN GRANT AND COLIN FIRTH WASN’T CHOREOGRAPHED.

You can thank the two actors for the hilarity of the iconic scene. In a Vulture article about the greatest fight scenes in movie history, writer Denise Martin recalled the improvised spar, writing, “No stunt coordinators. No elaborate choreography. Just a perfectly realized wimp brawl between two upper-middle-class Englishmen coming to awkward fisticuffs in front of a Greek restaurant.”

10. FIELDING ASKED FRIEND SALMAN RUSHDIE TO CAMEO IN THE FILM.

Recalling how he came to be part of the film, famed novelist Salman Rushdie told Texas Monthly, “Helen Fielding, the author of the book, is an old pal of mine, and she asked if I’d come along and make a fool of myself, and I said, ‘Why not?’”

11. GRANT DIDN’T HEAR ZELLWEGER SPEAK IN HER AMERICAN ACCENT UNTIL THE FILM’S WRAP PARTY.

Zellweger was so engrossed with Bridget Jones that one of her leading love interests didn’t meet the real actress until the end of the shoot. “Not once did she stop speaking with that accent, until the wrap party,” Grant told Cinema.com, “when suddenly this weird ... Texan appeared. I wanted to call security, I didn't know who the f*ck she was!”

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15 Surprising Facts About Scarface
Universal Home Video
Universal Home Video

Say hello to our little list. Here are a few facts to break out at your next screening of Scarface, Brian De Palma’s gangsters-and-cocaine classic, which arrived in theaters on this day in 1983.

1. IT WASN'T THE FIRST SCARFACE.

Brian De Palma's Scarface is a loose remake of the 1932 movie of the same name, which is also about the rise and fall of an American immigrant gangster. The producer of the 1983 version, Martin Bregman, saw the original on late night TV and thought the idea could be modernized—though it still pays respect to the original film. De Palma's flick is dedicated to the original film’s director, Howard Hawks, and screenwriter, Ben Hecht.

2. IT COULD HAVE BEEN A SIDNEY LUMET FILM.

At one point in the film's production, Sidney Lumet—the socially conscious director of such classics as Dog Day Afternoon and 12 Angry Men—was brought on as its director. "Sidney Lumet came up with the idea of what's happening today in Miami, and it inspired Bregman," Pacino told Empire Magazine. "He and Oliver Stone got together and produced a script that had a lot of energy and was very well written. Oliver Stone was writing about stuff that was touching on things that were going on in the world, he was in touch with that energy and that rage and that underbelly."

3. OLIVER STONE WASN'T INTERESTED IN WRITING THE SCRIPT, UNTIL LUMET GOT INVOLVED.


Universal Home Video

Producer Bregman offered relative newcomer Oliver Stone a chance to overhaul the screenplay, but Stone—who was still reeling from the box office disappointment of his film, The Hand—wasn't interested. "I didn’t like the original movie that much," Stone told Creative Screenwriting. "It didn’t really hit me at all and I had no desire to make another Italian gangster picture because so many had been done so well, there would be no point to it. The origin of it, according to Marty Bregman, [was that] Al had seen the '30s version on television, he loved it and expressed to Marty as his long time mentor/partner that he’d like to do a role like that. So Marty presented it to me and I had no interest in doing a period piece."

But when Bregman contacted Stone again about the project later, his opinion changed. "Sidney Lumet had stepped into the deal," Stone said. "Sidney had a great idea to take the 1930s American prohibition gangster movie and make it into a modern immigrant gangster movie dealing with the same problems that we had then, that we’re prohibiting drugs instead of alcohol. There’s a prohibition against drugs that’s created the same criminal class as (prohibition of alcohol) created the Mafia. It was a remarkable idea."

4. UNFORTUNATELY, ACCORDING TO STONE, LUMET HATED HIS SCRIPT.

While the chance to work with Lumet was part of what lured Stone to the project, it was his script that ultimately led to the director's departure from the film. According to Stone: "Sidney Lumet hated my script. I don’t know if he’d say that in public himself, I sound like a petulant screenwriter saying that, I’d rather not say that word. Let me say that Sidney did not understand my script, whereas Bregman wanted to continue in that direction with Al."

5. STONE HAD FIRSTHAND EXPERIENCE WITH THE SUBJECT MATTER.

In order to create the most accurate picture possible, Stone spent time in Florida and the Caribbean interviewing people on both sides of the law for research. "It got hairy," Stone admitted of the research process. "It gave me all this color. I wanted to do a sun-drenched, tropical Third World gangster, cigar, sexy Miami movie."

Unfortunately, while penning the screenplay, Stone was also dealing with his own cocaine habit, which gave him an insight into what the drug can do to users. Stone actually tried to kick his habit by leaving the country to complete the script so he could be far away from his access to the drug.

"I moved to Paris and got out of the cocaine world too because that was another problem for me," he said. "I was doing coke at the time, and I really regretted it. I got into a habit of it and I was an addictive personality. I did it, not to an extreme or to a place where I was as destructive as some people, but certainly to where I was going stale mentally. I moved out of L.A. with my wife at the time and moved back to France to try and get into another world and see the world differently. And I wrote the script totally f***ing cold sober."

6. BRIAN DE PALMA DIDN'T WANT TO AUDITION MICHELLE PFEIFFER.


Universal Home Video

De Palma was hesitant to audition the relatively untested Pfeiffer because at the time she was best known for the box office bomb Grease 2. Glenn Close, Geena Davis, Carrie Fisher, Kelly McGillis, Sharon Stone and Sigourney Weaver were all considered for the role of Elvira, but Bregman pushed for Pfeiffer to audition and she got the part.

7. YES, THERE IS A LOT OF SWEARING.

According to the Family Media Guide, which monitors profanity, sexual content, and violence in movies, Scarface features 207 uses of the “F” word, which works out to about 1.21 F-bombs per minute. In 2014, Martin Scorsese more than doubled that with a record-setting 506 F-bombs thrown in The Wolf of Wall Street.

8. TONY MONTANA WAS NAMED FOR A FOOTBALL STAR.

Stone, who was a San Francisco 49ers fan, named the character of Tony Montana after Joe Montana, his favorite football player.

9. TONY IS ONLY REFERRED TO AS "SCARFACE" ONCE, AND IT'S IN SPANISH.

Hector, the Colombian gangster who threatens Tony with the chainsaw, refers to Tony as “cara cicatriz,” meaning “scar face” in Spanish.

That chainsaw scene, by the way, was based on a real incident. To research the movie, Stone embedded himself with Miami law enforcement and based the infamous chainsaw sequence on a gangland story he heard from the Miami-Dade County police.

10. VERY LITTLE OF THE FILM WAS ACTUALLY SHOT IN MIAMI.

The film was originally going to be shot entirely on location in Miami, but protests by the local Cuban-American community forced the movie to leave Miami two weeks into production. Besides footage from those two weeks, the rest of the movie was shot in Los Angeles, New York, and Santa Barbara.

11. ALL THAT "COCAINE" LED TO PROBLEMS WITH PACINO'S NASAL PASSAGES.

Though there has long been a myth that Pacino snorted real cocaine on camera for Scarface, the "cocaine" used in the movie was supposedly powdered milk (even if De Palma has never officially stated what the crew used as a drug stand-in). But just because it wasn't real doesn't mean that it didn't create problems for Pacino's nasal passages. "For years after, I have had things up in there," Pacino said in 2015. "I don't know what happened to my nose, but it's changed."

12. PACINO'S NOSE WASN'T HIS ONLY BODY PART TO SUFFER DAMAGE.

Still of Al Pacino as Tony Montana in 'Scarface' (1983)
Universal Home Video

In the film's very bloody conclusion, Montana famously asks the assailants who've invaded his home to "say hello to my little friend," which happens to be a very large gun. That gun took a beating from all the blanks it had to fire, so much so that Pacino ended up burning his hand on its barrel. "My hand stuck to that sucker," he said. Ultimately, the actor—and his bandaged hands—had to sit out some of the action in the last few weeks of production.

13. STEVEN SPIELBERG DIRECTED A SINGLE SHOT.

De Palma and Spielberg had been friends since the two began making studio movies in the mid-1970s, and they made a habit of visiting each other’s sets. Spielberg was on hand for one of the days of shooting the Colombians’ initial attack on Tony Montana’s house at the end of the movie, so De Palma let Spielberg direct the low-angle shot where the attackers first enter the house.

14. SOME COOL TECHNOLOGY WENT INTO THE GUN MUZZLE FLASHES.

In order to heighten the severity of the gunfire, De Palma and the special effects coordinators created a mechanism to synchronize the gunfire with the open shutter on the movie camera to show the huge muzzle flash coming from the guns in the final shootout.

15. SADDAM HUSSEIN WAS A FAN OF THE FILM.

The trust fund the former Iraqi dictator set up to launder money was called “Montana Management,” a nod to the company Tony uses to launder money in the movie.

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