It's an odd thing to think about, but imagine seeing the Beatles on American television for the very first time. Imagine how different they looked from any other musician making popular music in the early 1960s. Or think about Bob Dylan, going electric at Newport, how scandalous it would have been for one of the top musicians in folk music to deny his own roots, and to have the cojones to do it at a folk music festival. It doesn't seem so revolutionary now, since both The Beatles and Dylan are an established part of the rock and roll canon. Rocks Off was born about two decades too late to be caught up the original Beatlemania, but a one-off screening of the movie A Hard Day's Night at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art's large-screen theater in 2002 helped us to understand just how much George Harrison's slightly off opening chord change the course of music forever. This weekend at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, music collector Bill Shelley will present a collection of archival film clips of both the Beatles and Dylan performing. It's a chance to see rare TV performances, bloopers and outtakes, and home movies, and to maybe rediscover the effect both the Beatles and Dylan had, and continue to have, on popular culture. Marian Luntz, curator of film and video at the MFAH, first learned about Bill Shelley's collection -- 100,000 reels of old 16- and 35-millimeter films, all about music -- from a colleague at the Cinema Arts Center in Long Island, NY, where Shelley is from. Then she read an article about him in The New York Times. Shortly after, she decided to try and bring him to Houston.
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"I know Aurora Picture Show has done some screenings of music films, but we haven't done anything like that in a long time," she said. "I just though, well how fun to do this." So she called up Shelley to see if he'd be interested in doing a screening in Houston. "He immediately started throwing out all this Houston and Texas fare," she said. "He has a film of The Who performing at The Summit." Luntz said Shelley is both archivist and music historian full of anecdotes and obscure musical facts, and that his ongoing Rock Legends screenings at Cinema Arts Center regularly sell out. "He apparently has a cult following there," she said. "My colleague at Cinema Arts Center said Bill is definitely part of the reason people keep coming back." Luntz said Shelley will often compile clips based on a theme or location. The Beatles and Dylan compilations are two of his most recently completed works. Before the screenings, some of Shelley's other clips will be shown as people take their seats. And if this weekend's screenings go well, the MFAH would like to bring him back to do a series on Texas performances and musicians. The Beatles -- Rare Film Clips shows tonight at 7 p.m. Bob Dylan and Friends is tomorrow at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 each, with discounts for museum members.