A Hard Day's Night DVD

By Tony Copple

A Hard Day's Night DVD released Sept 24, 2002.   Ad

You've all seen this film, probably many times. For years the BBC showed it as a Christmas special, placing it in the "much-loved" category. Shot in B&W with a mono soundtrack, it was the shear exuberance of John, Paul George and Ringo that came through, making the movie a groundbreaking wrench from Hollywood tradition. It was courageous of director Richard Lester and writer Alun Owen to allow these characteristics to shine through. The dialogue and its delivery improves as the film progresses and the boys seem to warm to their task. Looking back we can see that it was innovative and influential on future filmaking, opening doors and breaking taboos.

The songs are all classics now, and in the UK release of the album by the same name, they were in stereo. The stereo image still tended to place the voices on one side and the primary instrumentation on the other, but not to the degree as had been the case on "Please Please Me" and "With the Beatles," also released in stereo in UK. This legacy has been the bane of remix engineers ever since. If George Martin had always recorded the individial voices with separate microphones, the remix would have been greatly facilitated. Whether to shift the images of the voices to centre stage, or leave them on the left, that was the question, and one that was never consistently resolved, until now...   Moving them to centre narrows the whole stereo image and reduces the directional definition of the voices to a kind of general overall positioning. By AHDN George M was discovering what stereo was for, with further improvements evident on the versions on "Love Songs." The stereo mix on the mid '70's Canadian reissued vinyl "Meet the Beatles" (mid 70's) is better - though undecided as to whether the voices should be left or centre - and should have been used for the CDs.

I can still remember listening to my copy of the AHDN album the day it was released, pleased at the stereo sound quality and the increased sophistication of the harmonies in their singing. Imagine my surprise therefore when the CD version of this album was released in mono only. I never did buy it, prefering my original vinyl.

Fast forward to the release of the new DVD. This is in surround sound 5.1, but my system is dual channel stereo only, so these remarks apply only to that.

I was apprehensive as I inserted the disk in the player. I had received a comment from Dave Sampson of "The Sixties" (CKCU-FM 93.1, 10:00 pm every Tuesday) - "good picture but they've messed up the sound with fake stereo effects." The thrust of Dave's remark is reinforced on the reviews on Amazon and Abeyrd's DVD review page. All these criticisms seem to me to be directed at the 5.1 aspects.

As I listened to the title number with its glorious opening chord, I realized that this is a new stereo mix, borrowing from the efforts of the past to centralize the voices, but improving the positioning of instruments. Compared with the original stereo mixes it is a narrower stereo image, but wide postioning is seldom used by today's producers to avoid the 'hole in the middle' effect. Since the film dialogue and sound effects were all recorded in mono, it would have seemed odd for the musical numbers suddenly to switch to wide stereo, particularly for 2-channelers like me. On headphones you can hear a stereo to mono fade at the end of the musical numbers that is quite well done. In fact, I now believe that for the 2-channel listener at least they've done as good a job as possible within the legacy of the single-miked singing. On the songs "If I Fell" and "And I Love Her," we hear excellent non-fake stereo suggesting that on "If I Fell" at least the original voices were separately miked. The quality on these songs is better than I have previously heard. The four songs on the concert at the end are beautifully done, and with stereo remixes of the audience hysteria, the climax of the film is really something to see and hear - the best reproduction of a live Beatles show that you'll find anywhere.

The Yellow Submarine DVD shows how superb their songs can sound with today's technology, but Yellow Sub was shot in stereo, and its songs recorded several years later, by which time George had been cured of his original bad stereo habits.

Please see Stereophony for more thoughts on this subject.

DVD is a great medium, and one of the best things about it is wonderful stereophony and greater dynamic range on most discs (for me, more important than the visuals). And then there's the additional material. This 2-disk set contains fairly interesting interviews with the likes of Richard Lester and George Martin, and a segment called "Things we said today" with both of them and others discussing many interesting aspects of this film and its making. There are interviews with several actors, and the cutest is with David Jaxon, who played the boy who befriends Ringo beside the canal. For the fan searching out Beatle history (like the Ottawa Beatles Site) these interviews are of considerable interest, adding usefully to the huge amount of literature on the phenomenon that was The Beatles.

Ottawa Beatles Site
Transferring film to video

Oct 11, 2002