The Rosendale Theatre recognizes Independence Day weekend this year in a somewhat counterintuitive way: by celebrating the British Invasion – not the one by land or by sea, silly, but the one by a jet plane carrying Beatles. Over the course of four days, the Theatre will present four classics of rock ’n’ roll filmmaking, with A Hard Day’s Night being shown three times. Also on the menu are two films with local resonance – Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, and the Band’s and Scorsese’s The Last Waltz – and Jonathan Demme’s classic Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense.
Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night humanized the Beatles and, perhaps inadvertently, exposed the grim and posh prison that their daily lives had actually become. In fact, were it not for the lads’ excess of charm, wit and ease before the camera, the life that the film describes would have seemed hopelessly bleak. Lester also directed the great stoner mistake Help! with its Germans and its balloons and the weird, indecipherable plot that it shares with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.But A Hard Day’s Night is the one: a promo-ganda film by Epsteinian design, but one that ended up expressing the creepy insularity and enforced agoraphobia of a kind of fame that only Elvis and the Beatles had known at that time. The Beatles later admitted that Elvis had it worse, because they at least had each other.
July 4 is the 50th anniversary of the release of A Hard Day’s Night. The film shown in Rosendale represents the final master as approved by Richard Lester, in its original theatrical aspect ratio. A new sound mix was completed by Giles Martin (son of the great Sir George) at Apple Studios. A Hard Day’s Night will be shown on Friday, July 4 at 7:15 p.m., Saturday, July 5 at 10 p.m. and Monday, July 7 at 7:15 p.m.
Showing on Saturday, July 5 at 7:15 p.m., the 2012 documentary Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me is kind of creepy for opposite reasons. The telling of one of rock’s great failure-and-rebirth stories plays like a biopic of the invisible (and mute) man. There is no extant footage of Big Star playing; just a fairly meager supply of still shots, a single scratchy radio interview with a somewhat disagreeable Alex Chilton, some family, friends and studio survivors willing to talk and – most of all, in spades – a parade of effusive rock critics speaking principally of their own greatness. It’s a terrific, pathos-filled film about a unique cultural story.
Big Star made three albums that describe a linear plummet in professionalism and commerciality, and, some argue, an ascending genius. The first, #1 Record, can be said to have created power pop a solid 15 years before we were ready for it. While Chilton (previously of the Box Tops) was the band’s celebrity, the other songwriter/guitarist Chris Bell masterminded #1 Record and accounts for its singularity in the Big Star catalogue, for Bell left the band shortly thereafter. The unspoken and almost unbearable tragedy running throughout Nothing Can Hurt Me is that Chris Bell, a talented and troubled young man in dire need of the affirmation, was the one member of the band who did not live to witness Big Star’s delayed success and his own extravagant vindication. Chilton is legendary for his demurring attitude toward fame and attention. Just a little superfluous overflow might have been enough to save Chris Bell, who died in a car crash in 1978.
The second record, Radio City, is a more casual and shambolic affair, but one that contains perhaps Chilton’s strongest set of songs top to bottom and his most swaggering, articulate Stratocaster playing ever. It is in some ways the exemplar for the indie guitar pop genre that bloomed in the ‘90s and tapers into the present. On their third record – the one with two titles, half-finished songs, sweet melodies lost amidst grotesquely deformed, palpably druggy mixes and some genuinely disturbed lyrics – Big Star goes off the rails entirely, to the ongoing orgasmic delight of rock critics everywhere.
Introducing the film and following with a question-and-answer session will be the film’s director Drew DeNicola, and the author of the just-published biography of Alex Chilton, Phoenicia’s Holly George-Warren. George-Warren will also be signing her book A Man Called Destruction: The Life and Music of Alex Chilton (Viking, 2014).
As for The Last Waltz, which shows on Sunday, July 6 at 4 p.m., I’ve never seen it. Hey, somebody has to ignore Moby Dick, The Godfather and the Bible. Let it be me. I hear that it is a pretty good film, but from the clips that I have seen/heard, the Band of ’76 simply couldn’t touch the brilliant Band of ’71; so I intend to keep on keeping my distance.
Now, Stop Making Sense is one I was all in on, having seen the Talking Heads on that big-suit, lamp-dance Speaking in Tongues tour and having watched the film repeatedly. Considering it alongside another New York classic, Spalding Gray’s classic Swimming to Cambodia, Jonathan Demme emerges as perhaps the greatest documenter of live performance that we have. And his secret is that neither film feels at all like documentation; they feel like movies, stories somehow – every bit as much an immersive, alternative world as Terry Gilliam’s Brazilwas in the same era.
A discounted package of four tickets to any four films will be available for advance purchase online through Brown Paper Tickets at https://musicinvasion.brownpapertickets.com. Four films will cost $24. Rosendale Theatre Collective member tickets are still the best buy at only $5.
Rosendale Theatre’s Music Invasion: A Hard Day’s Night, Friday, July 4, 7:15 p.m., Saturday, July 5, 10 p.m., Monday, July 7, 7:15 p.m., Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, Saturday, July 5, 7:15 p.m., The Last Waltz, Sunday, July 6, 4 p.m., Stop Making Sense, Sunday, July 6, 7:15 p.m., Rosendale Theatre, 408 Main Street, Rosendale.