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Thursday, May 5, 2016

"Condensed Cream of Beatles" & Other Charles Braverman Films at Pratt Library

Braverman's Condensed Cream of Beatles
(Directed by Charles Braverman, 1974, 17 minutes, 16mm)

Braverman's "Condensed Cream of Beatles" (1974)

One of the treasures of the Enoch Pratt Free Library's 16mm film collection is Braverman's Condensed Cream of Beatles, which was directed by American  film director and producer Charles "Chuck" Braverman. The Pratt Library catalog describes the film as:

A history of the Beatles and the 1960's from the flip, exuberant, youthful days to the sober, socially conscious end of the decade is seen in a fast moving collage of still pictures, films clips, works of art, and album covers accompanied by the innovative music of the British quartet
Originally produced in conjunction with Apple Films, and first seen on Geraldo Rivera's "Good Night America" television show for ABC, it was later distributed in 16mm format by Pyramid Films in the 1970s. I wish I could say it was available in other formats, but so far Braverman's Condensed Cream of Beatles has never been officially released on video or DVD.

Still from "Condensed Cream of Beatles"

Braverman went on to become a successful documentary filmmaker and television director. According to his Wikipedia entry, "he was nominated for an Academy Award for Documentary Short Subject for his 2000 documentary, Curtain Call; he was also nominated for three Directors Guild of America Awards for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary (2000, 2001, 2002), winning in 2000 for High School Boot Camp. He has also directed episodes of several major television series, including Beverly Hills, 90210, Melrose Place and Northern Exposure as well as television films such as the Prince of Bel Air and Brotherhood of Justice starring Keanu Reeves and Kiefer Sutherland."

But it's Braverman's early experimental film shorts that interest me. They imbue the spirit and style of Sixties Pop Art. In fact, one of the three Braverman titles in Pratt's 16mm collection is a 15-minute film called The Sixties (1970). Another is one of his earliest efforts, a short film called American Time Capsule: A Very Short History of the United States (1968). Set to the militaristic beat of Sandy Nelson's "Beat That#?! Drum*"...

...the film uses a montage of over 1,300 images to depict 200 years of American history, from 1997 to 1968, in three minutes. American Time Capsule was originally broadcast on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour on the CBS network in 1968. (It is strikingly similar to Mason Williams' "Classical Gas" video, which also aired on the Smothers Brothers show in 1968 and has been called the "first music video." Williams, a musician and Smothers Brothers writer, paired his Top 40 instrumental hit with images from Dan McLaughlin's UCLA student film "God Is Dog Spelled Backwards;" the result shows 3,000 years of fine arts history in three minutes.)

In his book about the Smothers Brothers television show, Dangerously Funny, David Bianculli describes the serendipitous way that Tommy Smothers discovered recent USC film graduate Charles Braverman:

Tom was shooting pool one night at The Factory, a Hollywood nightclub, when Braverman's mother, playing at a nearby table, introduced herself and said he should take a look at her son's student movies. "I met Tommy Smothers tonight, and he says he wants to see your films," Braverman says his mother told him - and to his amazement, when he called the number Tom had given her, Tom picked up and invited the young Braverman over. After seeing his films, which included images presented in rapid-fire, almost subliminal jump cuts, Tom suggested maybe he should do something about history. Braverman left, and Tom forgot about it, but Braverman didn't. He and some friends, following the mandated three--minute limit, decided on a film about American history, and assembled a fast-moving piece he called American Time Capsule. When she showed the finished product to Tom, Tom rushed it onto Comedy Hour the very next week - just before the election... 
It's an astonishingly powerful compilation, and one of its regrettable but unavoidable recurring themes is violence: massacres of Native Americans, assassinations of American leaders, bloody world wars, and, at the end, current bloodshed at home and in Vietnam. The film concludes with a swift parade of presidential faces, from George Washington to LBJ and comes to a halt with an ominous question mark. (When Comedy Hour repeated the film due to popular demand a few weeks later, it replaced the question mark with the face of President-elect Richard Nixon, which seemed, somehow, even more ominous.) Tom had presented a fast-paced montage by another filmmaker before, on the summer series, but that was a rapid romp through the history of art [Classical Gas]. American Time Capsule, by contrast, was an artistic sprint through our country's history, so potent it still stuns college students when I show it to them in a TV history class forty years later.
And there's even a Beatles connection to the film. Bianculli comments that George Harrison, then visiting the United States, was so impressed when he saw American Time Capsule that he agreed to slip in and appear as a special unannounced guest for the next week's Comedy Hour show.

Both American Time Capsule and The Sixties, which epitomize the "fast-cut" editing style, are available on DVD from Braverman Productions Inc.

The Smothers Brothers commissioned a second film from Braverman about the year 1968, aptly entitled 1968, for their final 1969 season. 1968 was a violent and volatile year that featured the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, the mayhem of protesters battling police at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and the escalation of the Vietnam War following the Tet Offensive. Braverman's film captured it all, ending with an image of a peace sign. At the film's conclusion, Tom Smothers commented, "Let's hope 1969 will allow us to make a film that has nothing but beautiful things in it."

American Time Capsule and 1968 are available on the Smothers Brother Comedy Hour DVDs and on YouTube.

Watch American Time Capsule on YouTube.

Braverman produced the opening sequence to the 1973 film Soylent Green in the same style as American Time Capsule.

Watch Soylent Green opening on YouTube.

Watch 1968 on YouTube.

But back to Braverman's Condensed Cream of Beatles...First seen on Geraldo Rivera's "Good Night America" ABC television show, it used mostly animated graphics, but also featured some short live action clips, including a cameo by Rivera interviewing John Lennon about his American citizenship troubles. Rivera would revisit the film's images when he reported on John Lennon's death for ABC News on December 9, 1980.

The most recent footage used in the film is taken from George Harrison's The Concert for Bangladesh and John Lennon's "One To One" concert, both held at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

When it was first released on 16mm film by Pyramid Films in the early '70s, it was shown in schools across the USA, serving as many pupils' first introduction to footage of the Beatles. One teacher at a Massachusetts high school praised the film as a serious "introduction to the culture of the sixties, the study of rock music, discussion of the Vietnam War and the Protest Movement. It illustrates the concept of montage in creative writing, and demonstrates both technique and idea in filmmaking. It can be combined with song lyrics printed as poetry, with Braverman's film The Sixties for a study of the recent past, or with other films on Rock and Roll. Unique in conception and style, Cream of Beatles will succeed in the classroom as well as provide geniune entertainment."

Blogging about Braverman for Dangerous Minds (http://dangerousminds.net), Richard Metzger added, "It's a seriously cool film, but for whatever reason, it's practically disappeared off the face of the earth. One of the few places you can actually still get a 16mm print of the film is the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, MD. (They've got quite a few cool things in their collection.)" [Metzger's link is to my "Top 10 Pratt 16mm Film Rarities" post in my other blog, Accelerated Decrepitude.]

Here's a 7-minute extract I found on YouTube:

And here's the 1-minute Billy Shears excerpt:

The Beatles fansite WogBlog wrote it up in 2014:

And here's the Hey Dullblog write-up, in which the author notes that Apple Corp. has prevented the entire film from being uploaded to the Internet (alas):

I've screened it here at Pratt in the past; unfortunately, with the Central Library renovations, we can no longer project 16mm films (we are currently screening only videos and DVDs in the downstairs Children's Department "Night Room," which is not set up for 16mm film equipment). And as I noted earlier, it is not currently available on video or DVD. Oh well...

As the WogBlog review noted, Condensed Cream of Beatles still pops up occasionally at film club screenings and some film libraries still have prints. But as with all 16mm films that are not preserved, age takes its toll on them, reducing many of the original day-glo pop-art colors to the ravages of pinkish hue.

That said, on a similar (naturally melodic) note, following is one more Beatles-related film in Pratt Library's collection.


(Directed by James Archibald, 1968, 50 minutes, 16mm)

Great Britain’s National Music Council produced this 1968 film as a documentary record of their nation's music and it was later broadcast on American television in 1970 as part of NBC-TV's short-lived Experiment in Television series that was aimed at youth culture.

"I got me pants stuck in the bleedin' drum pedal!"

It uses quick-cut montage techniques to survey the many and varied roles of the music maker in Britain, including opera singer, street musician, school and military band, electronic musician, jug band, folk singer. But the film is most famous for six minutes of rare footage showing The Beatles rehearsing "Hey Jude" at Abbey Road Studios. The take is preceded by an odd 24-second clip of a printer spewing out a list of Lennon/McCartney song titles. Paul McCartney is first seen scat-singing some Little Richard lyrics with John throwing in a refrain from “Drive My Car," before Paul announces “‘Jude’ in A minor”. Partway through the take, the scene cuts to George Harrison in the booth discussing various forms of music with George Martin. Further takes ensue, with Ringo complaining that he caught his pants in his bass drum pedal and John sarcastically suggesting that Ringo solve the problem by removing them!

Here's the only other mention of this documentary that I could find, taken from the Beatles fan site WogBlog - All Things Beatle:

Music! was released in 1968 and it is a celebration of music in Britain, ranging from Tippett, The Beatles, folk clubs, brass bands right through to bell ringing. 
 The Beatles footage captures rehearsals for "Hey Jude", and was filmed on Tuesday 30th of July, 1968. The Beatles recorded takes 7 through to 25, though according to Mark Lewisohn, it was not The Beatles' intention to capture the perfect recording yet. But this session was arranged as more than a means of rehearsing "Hey Jude", it was also arrenged so that the Beatles could be filmed for part of this documentary. The resulting film only includes around six minutes of Beatles footage, compiled from several hours of shooting, showing The Beatles busking, chatting and rehearsing. The musical takes recorded during this session featured just piano, drums and acoustic guitar - so there was no role for George Harrison. Music! showed him in the control room of studio 2 with George Martin and Ken Scott. "The film crew was supposed to work in such a way that no-one would realize they were there," recalls Scott. "But of course they were getting in everyone's way and everyone was getting uptight about it." Most of the footage used were from take 9 of "Hey Jude".

Maybe these will come out someday as part of a future Beatles ephemera DVD compilations. We can dream, can't we?

Related Links:
Braverman's Condensed Cream of Beatles (Enoch Pratt Free Library catalog entry)
Braverman's Condensed Cream of Beatles (IMDB entry)
Braverman's Condensed Cream of the Beatles (WogBlog review)
Music! (Enoch Pratt Free Library catalog entry)
Music! (IMDB entry)

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