Sunday, May 21, 2006

A History of the Beatles

Today’s feature is another that could have fit under the Movies That Fell Through the Cracks banner except that
a) it isn’t really a movie and
b) every bit of the footage is easily accessible on the Internet.
A HISTORY OF THE BEATLES was a more-or-less random compilation of rare footage of the Fab Four that played the Alpha Fine Arts Theater in Cincinnati in early 1978. For all I know, it may well have been compiled locally and that may well have been the ONLY place it played.
Note that the flyer emphasizes that this is NOT a multimedia performance or a slide show. Throughout the seventies, various travelling shows attempted to cash in on the Beatles with exactly those tactics, to varying success. BEATLEMANIA ( "NOT the Beatles but an incredible simulation!")continued well into the eighties, in fact, when I finally saw it. I liked it. Clearly a lot of work went into it and there was a live group on stage performing Beatle songs (in various period costumes) to an overwhelming backdrop of historical context footage, sight and sound. Casual fans loved it but many hardcore fans decried the stage shows. Thus, to appeal to those fans, they distanced themselves with the disclaimer for A HISTORY OF THE BEATLES.
The Alpha Fine Arts had been (without the "Fine Arts" tag) a notorious porno theater that, as you might guess in Cincinnati, was constantly in trouble for one thing or another in the seventies. In the late seventies, it underwent a complete rehabilitation and became a repertory cinema. Their colorful monthly calendars were filled with such fare as SIDDHARTHA, BARBARELLA, THE BICYCLE THIEF and M. HULOT’S HOLIDAY. I had to take two buses to get there (age 19. I didn’t drive until 32 but that’s another story) but I would try to make it every Sunday afternoon.
The footage found in A HISTORY OF THE BEATLES included the STRAWBERRY FIELDS FOREVER video (with Dick Clark outro), REVOLUTION on DAVID FROST, early concert clips, ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE and…well, I’m not sure. You see, one of the first pre-recorded videos I purchased when I bought my beloved Betamax two years later was a two tape set of the same stuff…with about four hours added on! I get confused as to which footage was actually on display at the Alpha. The tape included the full Shea Stadium TV special, the full Tokyo concert and the full MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR and I’m sure THOSE weren’t a part of HISTORY.
Anyway, for a Beatles fan like myself, that showing I attended at the Alpha Fine Arts 28 years ago now was an overload of new to me musical joy. Yeah, yeah, yeah indeed!


  1. I was 17 in 1978 and I would have KILLED to see a movie like that! By now, of course, people like us have all this footage and much more in our private collections. In 1979 there was a slide show in a local theater - they called it a "multimedia" presentation. In 1981 a Brazilian fan club did a 3-day screening of their rare films in my home town including the Shea Stadium, Magical Mistery Tour and several promo films. It's great to be able to obtain most anything on DVD nowadays, but it's great to relive memories of those pre-home video days.

  2. Anonymous7:45 AM

    I am a Cincinnati native who remembers the Alpha Fine Arts theatre quite well. I never got to see a movie there, but they were close to where my dad lived. I loved their calendars and they got me interested in the offbeat cult films that would become my bread and butter later on. I seem to recall the last movie they played before shutting down was, ironically, an X-rated film - Roger Vadim's CHARLOTTE.

    Do you remember any other incarnations this theatre had? I know the masthead at the top said "Park Theatre," but did they use other names before the Alpha?

    For a while, after giving up on movies in the '80's, the Grote family opened a bakery franchise in this location. I went to high school with one of their sons, and I think he helped us get food for a party at my dad's place and we picked it up from this location. I guess it's a furniture store now last I saw it.

    I think that Beatles compilation also played the Moviola, a/k/a The Movies, which was a longer-lasting repertory theatre downtown on Race Street.

  3. For whatever it's worth, I saw the same "History of The Beatles" film at an art house movie theater in New ORleans in around 1978 or 1979, so it was something that made the rounds, of art house theaters and the like, but there is very little information about it out there on the internet! Kind of a fly-by-night film of the 1970s.

  4. Did you ever find out any more about this movie? I saw it in San Francisco some time in 1978 and would love to lay my hands on it because it had a brief bit of me in it from the 1964 Hollywood Bowl show.

  5. Nope. And I've checked. Most of the clips I recall have turned up either in other compilations or on YouTube but I have not come across any specific info on this particular show other than the fact that quite a few of us saw it! Sorry.