© istockphoto.com/Tatiana Popova
Hollywood was quick to recognise the commercial potential of a musical star. The first 'talking picture' or 'talkie', 'The Jazz Singer' (1927), starred vaudeville singing star Al Jolson, and provided a model for how the film industry has used "big pop names. . . [to] supply both charisma and crowds" (Thompson 1995) ever since. The connection between film and the star potential of musicians was one that continued through the Paul Robeson and Bessie Smith films of the 1930s, through Elvis' 25 movie outings of the 1950s and 1960s, and on to the Spice Girls' film of the late 1990s.
Each of these films attempted to cash in on the fame of popular music artists in order to gain mass appeal, and each used the power of moving image to do so. To begin with, the kinds of images used were mainly those drawn from live performance - and indeed, for much of its history the movies' use of images drawn from popular music has borrowed extensively from the conventions of live performance. But it also added to the mix a new set of conventions, developed in the film musical, in which performers were seen (and heard) performing music not on stages but in more naturalistic, albeit fictional, contexts.
As the British pop industry grew in the 1950s, the UK film industry attempted to replicate the success of the American so-called star vehicle films. Cliff Richard starred in a series of such movies, whilst Adam Faith took acting parts in films such as 'Beat Girl' and 'Never Let Go' (both 1960). These star vehicles often used thinly developed plot lines in order to frame a series of musical performances by their stars. The fact that musical performance became central to the star vehicle format has often meant that the line between the star and the character being played is often very thin (Strachan and Leonard 2003). This is certainly true of Liverpool musicians who starred in their own films. For instance, Billy Fury played a fictional up and coming singer in Michael Winner's 1962 film 'Play It Cool'. This trend was repeated in Fury's second film 'I've Gotta Horse' (1965) where he played Billy, a thinly fictionalised, racehorse owning version of the man himself. Similarly, 'A Hard Day's Night' saw the Beatles portraying a band much like themselves. Although the band are never referred to as the Beatles within the film, it uses dialogue directly lifted from the band's real press conferences and the crowd scenes and sections set in TV studios clearly capture the intense media and fan frenzy around the band during the height of Beatlemania. In the same year Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Fourmost and Cilla Black featured in another 'fictional' film, 'Ferry 'Cross The Mersey'. The film used Liverpool as a backdrop, further re-enforcing images of the city in the public imagination.