MAG­I­CAL HIS­TORY TOUR

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

ON the morn­ing of Sun­day, June 14, 1964, 30,000 scream­ing, chant­ing, strug­gling teenagers, mainly young women, mass in the rain out­side Mel­bourne’s South­ern Cross Ho­tel to glimpse the Bea­tles. Clearly dis­tressed, tele­vi­sion re­porter Tony Charl­ton is full of rec­ti­tude, hold­ing his mi­cro­phone aloft like a beacon of san­ity. “The stu­pid­ity of let­ting their chil­dren come to some­thing like this and run the risk they are all run­ning,” he shouts about Mel­bourne’s moth­ers, his voice quiv­er­ing with right­eous­ness over the or­gias­tic wail­ing.

It’s just one of the star­tling scenes from When the Bea­tles Drove Us Wild, a mes­meris­ing doc­u­men­tary from Ade­laide-based ABC pro­ducer Lin­coln Tyner that cov­ers that un­set­tling time for some — though it was mag­i­cal for any­one un­der 18 — when the newly fa­mous Fab Four made their one and only visit to Aus­tralia and turned the south­ern hemi­sphere on its head. The canny Aus­tralian pro­moter, Kenn Brodziak, had ne­go­ti­ated the tour in July 1963, be­fore the hys­te­ria had be­gun in Eng­land. By the time they ar­rived here, the Bea­tles were the big­gest mu­si­cal act on the planet and Brodziak had his hands on the most suc­cess­ful un­der­tak­ing in Aus­tralian show busi­ness his­tory.

These days many of us get our his­tory from tele­vi­sion, the ideal medium for pre­sent­ing what Bri­tish his­to­rian Si­mon Schama calls “the busi­ness of rep­re­sent­ing some­thing that’s no longer there”. There’s no bet­ter means, surely, to find ways to per­suade us to sus­pend our dis­be­lief, to spend a while imag­in­ing, to para­phrase Schama, “we are in­deed in a world akin to dreams or mem­o­ries, a fugi­tive uni­verse”.

Ac­cord­ing to Tyner’s film, the ar­rival of the Bea­tles, cre­at­ing these un­prece­dented scenes of mass hys­te­ria wher­ever they ap­peared, brought a new — and un­set­tling for con­ser­va­tive author­ity fig­ures — loss of con­trol of pub­lic spa­ces as their chil­dren found a voice for the first time.

While the Bea­tles’ ca­reer has been doc­u­mented in ev­ery de­tail, the story of their 13 days Down Un­der is less well known and Tyner does it imag­i­na­tively with some su­perb footage, never seen be­fore. The band played 20 shows — in Ade­laide, Mel­bourne, Syd­ney and Bris­bane, two each night and none on Sun­days. To judge from this film, the Bea­tles were not so much ex­hausted by their per­for­mances but by the af­ter-hours shenani­gans.

Aus­tralia had never wit­nessed scenes of adu­la­tion by such huge crowds of teenagers. In fact, the erup­tion of Beatle­ma­nia was more in­tense here than any­where else in the world, as the na­tion quickly be­came cap­ti­vated by the talent, the songs and the svelte charm of the band.

As Tyner shows, each Aus­tralian city wel­comed the Bea­tles in its own way. Ade­laide was orig­i­nally to be ex­cluded, but a pe­ti­tion signed by 80,000 fans per­suaded the pro­moter to ex­tend the tour. In grat­i­tude, 300,000 people lined the streets of Ade­laide, the big­gest Bea­tles crowd any­where, any time.

It’s one of those un­usual do­cos that taps into our mem­o­ries and takes us back in emo­tional waves to the people we used to be — es­pe­cially, if you were there at the time or watched it on tele­vi­sion.

Chantal Con­touri — now 65 and once known as Num­ber 96’ s sado­masochist se­rial killer, “the “Pan­ty­hose Stran­gler” — was first fa­mous, it turns out, as “The Girl Who Wagged School for the Bea­tles”.

In a news­pa­per in­ter­view at the time she re­vealed how she sneaked out of the posh Ade­laide Girls High (“the beret, the tie, the gloves”) af­ter head­mistress Miss Har­ris banned her girls from at­tend­ing their ar­rival, lock­ing the gates and mar­shalling pre­fects to guard them. “For me wag­ging school, well, right, it gave me no op­tion. Morn­ing re­cess I got out.”

Her in­ter­view is en­thralling as she de­scribes the noise the huge crowd made when the Bea­tles trav­elled in an open car from Ade­laide air­port to the city.

“I re­mem­ber the scream; it started off at such a pitch that it trav­elled to the point where you went deaf,” she says. “You couldn’t ac­tu­ally hear yourself scream­ing, you knew you were scream­ing, but it was as though the sound trav­elled away from your ears and there was just a few sec­onds of va­cant noth­ing­ness, and you felt you had left your body.” Has any­one de­scribed what rock ’n’ roll does to us more ex­actly?

Nar­rated by the la­conic Bryan Dawe, the doco also fea­tures in­ter­views with other leading Aus­tralians about their di­rect ex­pe­ri­ences, in­clud­ing Glenn Shor­rock, Molly Mel­drum, Bob Rogers, Blanche d’Alpuget, Pa­tri­cia Am­phlett (aka Lit­tle Pat­tie) and Jenny Kee, one of the many who seems to have spent at least a night with John Len­non.

The bulk of the vi­sion came from the ABC ar­chive, and Tyner and his ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer, the re­doubtable Mar­got Phillip­son, were for­tu­nate that the rather con­ser­va­tive ABC, as it was back in June 1964, rightly iden­ti­fied the Bea­tles’ visit as a ma­jor cul­tural event. A great deal of film was shot, par­tic­u­larly of the record-break­ing crowds in Ade­laide. Tyner in­ter­cuts this footage — ar­rivals, press con­fer­ences, con­certs and the mes­meris­ing be­hind-the-scenes se­quences — with gor­geously pre­served generic vi­sion of young women of the pe­riod, in­clud­ing a li­bidi­nous “Stomp” com­pe­ti­tion.

There are also stylised re-en­act­ments, imag­i­na­tively shot by cam­era­man Greg Ash­man, im­pos­si­ble to pick from the orig­i­nal footage. “They were un­der­taken by raid­ing the ABC wardrobe and props depart­ment, and shoot­ing in var­i­ous lo­ca­tions around the older parts of the ABC’s Ade­laide build­ing,” Tyner says. “Greg shot reen­act­ments us­ing a vari­able shut­ter speed to make them look less staged and hope­fully more dra­matic.” And they are; I was cer­tain Tyner had some­how snuf­fled some ac­tual footage of Len­non punch­ing up an er­rant press pho­tog­ra­pher in a Bris­bane ho­tel toi­let.

The il­lu­sion Tyner cre­ates is mas­ter­ful. It looks as if all this daz­zling footage had been shot by the same cam­eras, as though a doc­u­men­tary film crew is fol­low­ing them from start to fin­ish.

“The ma­jor­ity of the ar­chive vi­sion was orig­i­nally shot on 16mm black-and-white film and the vi­sion of the Mel­bourne crowd out­side the South­ern Cross Ho­tel was a live ‘out­side broad­cast’ recorded on two-inch video­tape,” he says. “So, as all the vi­sion was go­ing to be in black and white, a lot of ef­fort was put into grad­ing it to give the film an art-house look.”

This kind of ho­mogenises the aes­thetic look, giv­ing the ap­pear­ance of all the vi­sion be­ing shot by the same cam­era. He gives the still pho­to­graphs, news­pa­per clip­pings and graph­ics a dis­tinct treat­ment, em­bu­ing them with a hint of colour so as to dif­fer­en­ti­ate them from the film vi­sion. Tyner clev­erly shoots his in­ter­vie­wees on a stan­dard­ised light back­ground and stylises the seg­ments by grad­ing and high­light­ing the colour in what each was wear­ing. When they ap­pear, they stand out with­out dom­i­nat­ing the seam­less nar­ra­tive.

Like all good rock doc­u­men­taries, from DA Pen­nebaker’s Don’t Look Back to Martin Scors­ese’s The Last Waltz, Tyner’s film brings to­gether doc­u­men­tary’s tra­di­tional fo­cus on ac­tu­al­ity and the fic­tional cin­ema’s em­pha­sis on stars, spec­ta­cle and joy. And oc­ca­sion­ally pain, though there’s lit­tle on view dur­ing this tour. Far from it; it’s hard to imag­ine any group of rock ’n’ roll stars en­joy­ing them­selves quite so lust­fully. Be­hind the scenes of the Bea­tles tour is fas­ci­nat­ing — as Len­non mused later, it was like be­ing in Fellini’s Satyri­con, a mes­meris­ing orgy of faces, im­ages and mu­sic. Says pub­li­cist Barry Whalan, who lucked into the Bris­bane trip: “If I had had a cam­era I could have shot enough footage to make Linda Lovelace blush.”

Me­dia com­men­ta­tor Catharine Lumby, who pro­vides a droll but cau­tion­ary con­tem­po­rary fem­i­nist con­text through which to view the events of the tour, is more quizzi­cal.

“You’ve got to won­der if the me­dia weren’t get­ting some of the spoils, so to speak, and cer­tainly en­joy­ing the par­ties,” she says.

And dear old Rogers, a prom­i­nent DJ at the time, won­ders, “There was so much go­ing on, I’m sur­prised there wasn’t a whole ar­ray of young Bea­tles born in 1965.”

The Bea­tles ar­rive at Syd­ney Air­port in 1964

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