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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The visual language of authenticity : mediation and musical performance in the films of the Beatles Schneider, Paula


In the context of scholarship surrounding the areas of mediation, performance, and authenticity, evidence of the media object is frequently blamed for distancing audiences from their musical idols. This thesis, which uses the films of the Beatles and as its main subjects, considers the contradiction born from the fact that while the Beatles were constantly exposed to forces of mediation - when they were not being photographed by journalists, they were in front of a television or film camera – this has not affected audiences’ willingness to interpret the band’s plethora of on-screen performances as authentic. If technology impedes authenticity, I ask why the highly stylized performance sequences in A Hard Day’s Night, for example, are still able to contribute to the Beatles’ authentic image. I contend that the representational strategies employed in the films of the Beatles creates a visual language that is an essential part of the process of authentication, and that this process transcends the boundaries usually created by the politics and aesthetic strategies associated with particular filmic modes. I have chosen five of the Beatles’ feature-length films as subject matter for this thesis, which span a variety of filmic modes ranging from the documentary to the fictional, studio-financed narrative film. After a review of pertinent criticism in Chapter One, Chapter Two explores the Beatles’ film of 1964, including The Beatles! The First U.S. Visit (Albert and David Maysles, 1964), The Making of The Beatles! The First U.S. Visit (Smeaton, 2003), and A Hard Day’s Night (Lester, 1964). Chapter Three investigates the films of the following year, using Help! (Lester, 1965) and The Beatles at Shea Stadium (Bob Precht for ABC, 1965). Using the work of Philip Auslander, Michael Brendan Baker, Thomas Cohen, Simon Frith, Theodore Gracyk, and Jonathan Romney, I explore the ways in which the films of the Beatles deliver contemporary audiences positive insight into technology’s capacity to provide viewers with a sense of immediacy, unpredictability, and “liveness”.

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