Arts

Psychedelic Celluloid looks at when pop, film and money collided

The fab four have some fun in A Hard Day's Night, director Richard Lester’s 1964 masterpiece
Ralph McLean

IN BRITAIN in the 1960s the worlds of movies and pop made perfect bedfellows. Both were obsessed with tapping into popular trends, reeling in young audiences and raking in as much filthy lucre as they could. They were made for each other really.

While it may seem like a lost world today, there really once was a time when no film or TV show was complete without a group, a singer or a beat-flavoured soundtrack. European and American film companies flocked to London to grab a piece of the action and the results were there for all to see and hear.

From the jazz handing youngsters seen in It's Trad Dad to the Fab Four frolics of Help! and the more esoteric soundtrack offerings of Pink Floyd, pop loomed at it's largest on the big screen throughout the swinging 60s.

That rich and varied cinematic history is explored in Simon Matthew's new book Psychedelic Celluloid: British Pop Music In Film And TV (Old Castle Books). Matthew's well-researched tome actually tracks pop-infused films made between 1965 and 1974 but an understanding of those earlier stabs at capturing British pop culture on film like It's Trad Dad (1962) is essential to understanding the weirder stuff the decade would later offer.

Traditionally British pop movies were cheap and cheerful, short on running time and long on bog-standard plotlines that usually found some suspiciously old looking 'youngsters' kicking back against stuffy authority figures so they can save their local scout hut or similar focal point for their endless coffee drinking and dancefloor frugging.

Around these micro plots there would be bizarre musical items where bands would fire into their latest hit single quicker than Cliff Richard could express his bongo. That's the template and while things got wilder as the decade progressed the basics remained the same. When pop and music collided on screen it sometimes created great art but it usually just meant someone was trying to make some money.

Matthew's book charts the development of this less than grand tradition and picks out some real beauts and some horror shows. He tells how the innocence is drained from the format as film-makers try to tap into the mind-melting world of 'Swinging London' with all the free love and wanton drug dabbling that entails.

Taking in 120 key works, he dissects the growth in odd, faintly trippy product like Blow Up (1966) – where tracks from The Yardbirds sit side by side with a superlative Herbie Hancock score – and picks out arthouse material like The Committee (1968) which paints the 60s with a paranoid Pink Floyd soundtrack. Through it all he addresses everything with a thoroughness and eye for detail that's hugely impressive.

Be it the fun-filled era of early Beatlemania, captured in director Richard Lester's 1964 masterpiece A Hard Day's Night, or the woozy pop culture overload of the animated epic Yellow Submarine (1968), this book takes on the point in history when pop and movies seemed at their most powerful and culturally creative.

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