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MIXED MEDIA : Fab Four at Work and Play : * * * * 1/2 “THE FIRST U.S. VISIT” The Beatles <i> Apple videocassette ($89.98), laser disc ($39.98)</i>

For anyone who loves the innocence and energy of the Beatles’ first movie, 1964’s “A Hard Day’s Night,” this new 83-minute documentary is an enchanting companion piece.

The assumption has always been that director Richard Lester’s secret in “A Hard Day’s Night” was simply capturing on film the natural charm and wit of John, Paul, George and Ringo as they found themselves caught up in an almost unprecedented display of pop adoration.

This chronicle of the Beatles’ first days in the United States confirms that view. In fact, the video offers so much of the same spirit--and even the same antics--that it’s easy to picture the entire two-week American jaunt as a rehearsal for the movie. The Beatles started work on the film within a week of returning to London.

The video--by a team of filmmakers featuring the Maysles Brothers, whose credits include “Gimme Shelter"--combines the complete performances from three 1964 Ed Sullivan TV show appearances with offstage glimpses, ranging from limo rides to hotel-room interviews to a train ride where the tomfoolery includes George Harrison donning a porter’s outfit.

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While it’s disarming for most of the video to watch the exuberance of band members’ living out their wildest pop fantasies, it’s also telling in the closing scenes to see how they have begun to grow weary of the constant intrusion of cameras and other career demands.

Not nearly as penetrating as the fame-as-a-prison undercurrents of “Don’t Look Back,” the Bob Dylan documentary from the ‘60s, but some of the moments are still magical.


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