Happy 70th birthday, Sir Paul McCartney! (Oh, he’s a big Flavorwire reader, you didn’t know? Comments a lot. Really bad about the “first!” thing. ) The Beatles have been on our mind a lot lately, after their song “Tomorrow Never Knows” was used so hauntingly in the “Lady Lazarus” episode of Mad Men. Much of the subsequent chatter about the song’s appearance on the show was centered on its hefty price tag ($250,000), and indeed, the high cost of using Beatles songs is part of the reason why you hear so few of their original recordings in movies and on television (at least compared to, say, The Beach Boys). Producers will more often go the cheaper route of using covers or even sound-alikes, but a few films have made the effort to use the original Fab Four tracks, and to great effect. After the jump, we’ve compiled a few of our favorite Beatle moments in modern movies.
“Twist and Shout,” Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
No single sequence introduced more Gen-Xers to the Mersey sound than this memorable scene in John Hughes’ 1986 comedy, in which our hero follows up a parade float lip-sync of Wayne Newton’s “Danke Schoen” with a rousing rave-up of “Twist and Shout” that, it seems, gets the entirety of downtown Chicago going. Sir Paul was among the many critics of those parade horns being laid in atop the original recording (and in all fairness, it certainly doesn’t add anything), but that complain aside, the scene is a marvelous testament to the song’s continuing power to just plain make you happy.
“Come Together,” A Bronx Tale
Few filmmakers are as skillful with the deployment of rock music as Martin Scorsese, so it would make sense that when his most frequent collaborator, Robert DeNiro, made his directorial debut, he might have learned a lesson or to on that from the master. In his wonderful, underrated 1993 film A Bronx Tale, DeNiro uses “Come Together” in a terrific, jarring sequence that finds a bar full of wiseguys locking a bar’s doors and beating the holy hell out of a gang of bikers. While the incongruity of the title with the action is a quick and easy joke, the savagery of the violence is a good match with the song’s coiled, dirty vibe.
“When I’m 64,” The World According to Garp
George Roy Hill’s 1982 film adaptation of John Irving’s bestseller isn’t exactly an upbeat picture, but it’s got one of the most delightful opening credit sequences of the 1980s: a grinning, bouncing baby boy floating up dreamily between the titles, to the strains of “When I’m 64.” The song is one of Paul’s blatant music hall nostalgia grabs, so it somehow seems appropriate to marry it to such a cute image; whenever we hear the song now, it is accompanied by bouncing babies in our heads.
“Girl,” a Lennon-McCartney composition from the Rubber Soul album, is one of our favorite of all their songs, a melancholy lament for the girl who can treat you badly, and knows it. That’s hardly an apt description of the relationship between Rocky Dennis (Eric Stoltz) and Diana Adams (Laura Dern) in Peter Bogdanovich’s Mask, but when they dance to the song on New Year’s Eve, the song somehow seems perfect for both the loveliness of that moment, and the heartbreak ahead of them.
“Happiness is a Warm Gun,” Bowling for Columbine
John Lennon said that he got the title of this montage song from the cover of a gun magazine, so it seems perfect that it wound up illustrating a sequence in Michael Moore’s Oscar-winning examination of gun culture, 2002’s Bowling for Columbine. The filmmaker uses the song’s faux-doo-wop finale for the brief scene, which begins with a sampling of disturbing yet humorous examples of gun love before culminating in a harrowing montage of gun violence captured on camera (Budd Dwyer, Daniel V. Jones, Maritza Martin, etc.). The track was always a bit of a shocker, due to the incongruity of its style with the grim subject matter; its use here only makes that discomfort more explicit.
“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” Shampoo
Hal Ashby’s politically-tinged sex comedy is set in 1968, so the diegetic Beatles music only makes sense, but the use of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” during the election night party sequence is far from period window dressing; it floats onto the soundtrack from outside the walls as Warren Beatty and Julie Christopher kiss softly in an empty room of the darkened mansion, the surrealistic number an appropriate aural illustration of their impossible romance. The cue then continues under scenes from the party, where the free-love attitudes of the party guests prove contagious to Jack Warden’s picture of California establishment, much as the sounds of Sgt. Pepper were irresistible to mainstream culture the previous year. (The clip isn’t on YouTube, drat, but that just means you’ll have to go track down the whole movie.)
“While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” Withnail and I
Director Bruce Robinson had a bit of an advantage over other filmmakers who clamored to use Beatles music in their movies: having a Beatle on his team. Withnail and I was distributed by HandMade Films, the company George Harrison co-founded in 1978 — initially for the specific purpose of financing Monty Python’s Life of Brian (which couldn’t find funding because of its controversial subject matter), but then for distribution of low-budget, unique British films like Time Bandits, The Long Good Friday, Mona Lisa, and Five Corners. Because it was a Harrison composition, “While My Guitar” also had the advantage of not being under the publishing control of Northern Songs, who sold their library to Michael Jackson in 1985 (and whose high prices were part of the reason Beatle tunes became so scarcely used in films and television).
“Can’t Buy Me Love,” A Hard Day’s Night
We couldn’t finish this list without at least one song from the films the Beatles made themselves — but picking just one is tough, particularly when looking at A Hard Day’s Night, where every single musical number is a masterpiece. But we have to go with “Can’t Buy Me Love,” perhaps the most high-spirited sequence in the film, in which the group’s infectious sound and director Richard Lester’s witty visual style come together in perfect harmony. When we think of the Beatles — the early, Beatlemania iteration of them anyway — this is what we’re thinking of.
Those are some of our favorites — what about yours? Let us know in the comments!