Around ten years after our last Cinemusic excursion, exploring the origins of synchronised sound, a young man named Les Paul would practically invent the sound of rock & roll with his electric guitar innovations. In a timely convergence the genre itself would begin to emerge around the same time, its birth pangs heard in the later 1940s/early '50s. Only then would it even acquire a name, with several contenders for the title of first such record issued on the then-new 45pm record player. Debate rages to this day over who wins the crown but popular opinion has it that a likely candidate is Rocket 88 by Jackie Brenston & his Delta Cats.
Just to confuse matters this was actually a pseudonym for Ike Turner, famous for not being particularly nice to wife Tina, & his band the Kings Of Rhythm! Not unreasonably we might argue that image is just as important as sound in these matters. Which brings us nicely into the world of film, Bill Haley & the Comets arguably the first to take advantage of the medium by performing in 1954's Round Up Of Rhythm.
Within two years they'd be back for Don't Knock The Rock, the title taken from their back catalogue. However, they don't hold the monopoly when it comes to rock & roll on film! Appearing alongside them was one Richard Wayne Penniman, aka Little Richard.
If you thought the "whoo!" was familiar, that's because a certain young Paul McCartney was a fan & replicates it throughout the earliest days of the Beatles, including on their cover of his Long Tall Sally - the original appearing in Don't Knock The Rock. Soon the student would enjoy his own heyday, both in music & on celluloid, but before we consider that, important though it is to the baby boomer generation, we must take a look at another all important figure in the development of the still relatively young genre.
While he never wrote a note of his own music or even scribbled a lyric, Elvis Presley had a near seven year run of cinema releases alongside his records, beginning with Love Me Tender serving to strengthen his claim to the throne as King. Most of these didn't require great leaps of dramatic imagination on the part of the viewer, all bar Flaming Star & Wild In The Country asking nothing more of him than to turn up, be himself & croon a few tunes.
Even Frank Sinatra was starting to seem edgier, his role as a heroin addict in The Man With The Golden Arm no doubt alienating those who had grown used to him as a faithful interpreter of the old standards in the process of falling foul of the Hays Code - enforced between 1938 & '68 at the behest of Will Hays. Hays was president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Of America (MPPDA), now known as the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). His list of twee Dont's & Be Carefuls ensured that films made by members of his association could consider the following big no-nos....
- Pointed profanity – by either title or lip – this includes the words "God," "Lord," "Jesus," "Christ" (unless they be used reverently in connection with proper religious ceremonies), "hell," "damn," "Gawd," and every other profane and vulgar expression however it may be spelled
- Any licentious or suggestive nudity – in fact or in silhouette; and any lecherous or licentious notice thereof by other characters in the picture
- The illegal traffic in drugs
- Any inference of sex perversion
- White slavery
- Sex relationships between the white and black races
- Sex hygiene and venereal diseases
- Scenes of actual childbirth – in fact or in silhouette
- Children's sex organs
- Ridicule of the clergy
- Willful offense to any nation, race or creed
At the height of Beatlemania the Fab Four released their first film, A Hard Day's Night, a heavily fictionalised account of a few days in their hectic schedule. Director Richard Lester would first claim to have insisted on the title, though it was later attributed to the band, as Paul McCartney insisted in the Beatles Anthology documentary series.
"The title was Ringo's. We'd almost finished making the film, and this fun bit arrived that we'd not known about before, which was naming the film. So we were sitting around at Twickenham studios having a little brain-storming session... and we said, 'Well, there was something Ringo said the other day.'The man known to everyone else as Richard Starkey was also at the centre of The Beatles cinematic follow-up.
Ringo would do these little malapropisms, he would say things slightly wrong, like people do, but his were always wonderful, very lyrical... they were sort of magic even though he was just getting it wrong. And he said after a concert, 'Phew, it's been a hard day's night.'"
1965's Help found Ringo in possession of the sacrificial ring of a mysterious Eastern cult, his nickname having been acquired owing to his fondness for such jewellery in the first place. A fondness for something all together different would be attributed to a lot of what went down on film...
"A hell of a lot of pot was being smoked while we were making the film. It was great. That helped make it a lot of fun... In one of the scenes, Victor Spinetti and Roy Kinnear are playing curling: sliding along those big stones. One of the stones has a bomb in it and we find out that it's going to blow up, and have to run away. Well, Paul and I ran about seven miles, we ran and ran, just so we could stop and have a joint before we came back.Somewhere Will Hays was turning in his grave!
We could have run all the way to Switzerland. If you look at pictures of us you can see a lot of red-eyed shots; they were red from the dope we were smoking. And these were those clean-cut boys! Dick Lester knew that very little would get done after lunch.
In the afternoon we very seldom got past the first line of the script. We had such hysterics that no one could do anything. Dick Lester would say, 'No, boys, could we do it again?' It was just that we had a lot of fun – a lot of fun in those days."