The Beatles' key inspiration, the Texas rock band Buddy Holly & The Crickets, was still a thriving act in 1958 when, in England, another crucial influence on Lennon, McCartney et al. took shape in a woodland clearing outside London.

This development wasn't called anything in particular at first - just a filmmaking lark for Peter Sellers, along with grumpy Leo McKern, pre-"Rumpole of the Bailey"; plus Spike Milligan, Graham Stark and a promising stage-and-television director named Richard Lester.Shooting on a borrowed 16mm camera with virtually no budget and no script, the friends improvised routines about a jolly weekend in the countryside: Here, a game warden makes like the Creature from the Black Lagoon. There, a music lover places a phonograph record on a tree stump, holds a gramophone's horn and tone arm, places the needle on the record, and "runs around the stump" to play the record. Elsewhere, a photographer uses a puddle as a film-developing tank.

Cut together to run scarcely over a reel, these bits of silliness became "The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film" (1958). John Lennon and Paul McCartney, both avid moviegoers, caught this wild extravaganza-in-miniature as it made the rounds from the theaters to the BBC, and they kept its rambunctious style in mind.

To make a long story short: This is the movie without which there would be no "A Hard Day's Night" (1964) and no "Help!" (1965).

The Beatles' small legacy of feature films is, unfortunately, usually presented without much context, nor with much understanding of Richard Lester's importance. But neither movie is so much a "Beatles" film as it is a "Lester" film, propelled by an energetic sense of humor that channeled the Beatles' talents to its purposes.

And here at last we have a comprehensive video reissue package to put matters in perspective.

These new editions, remastered to an unaccustomed clarity, feature abundant "bonus" footage that is more than mere padding. "A Hard Day's Night" (MPI Home Video; $19.98) includes a theatrical trailer from the 1982 theatrical reissue among more than two reels' worth - 20 minutes - of rare incidental footage. Its very centerpiece is the first authorized videocassette appearance of "The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film," hitherto available only on laserdisc.

Now, "Running, Jumping . . . " is a fairly primitive, silent comedy, with a jazzy score that has the same made-up-on-the-spot feel as the film itself. But it is also the undiluted essence of spontaneity, an obvious influence upon the Monty Python troupe as well as the Beatles. It prefigures "A Hard Day's Night" in many particulars, most notably in the tense mixture of abandoned hilarity and self-consciousness that distinguished the debut of George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney and John Lennon as movie stars.

Little more than a slapstick meditation on the pitfalls of celebrity, "A Hard Day's Night" merely offers a day-in-the-life glimpse at the Beatles as harassed casualties of an overbearing fame. Their misadventures are ironically underscored by the very music that has driven them to this desperate state.

Though it came close on the heels of "A Hard Day's Night," Lester's "Help!" (MPI Home Video; $19.98) is altogether a more confident, more commercial production. Here, the Beatles pull a takeoff on Ian Fleming's James Bond yarns and Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu tales as they circle the globe, outwitting a stereotypically villainous cult of Eastern mystics.

Additional footage on the "Help!" cassette includes the theatrical trailer, posters underscored by radio commercials for the '65 release, and silent footage of the world premiere.

These should stand for a long time as the definitive editions - especially with "The Running, Jumping and Standing Still" film finally available in this greater context of what delights the little film led to.

- A NEW JAMES BOND movie, "GoldenEye," is in theaters, and tied to it is MGM/UA Home Video's repackaging of eight James Bond thrillers. Priced at $15 apiece, they include all of the early Sean Connery vehicles - "Dr. No," "From Russia With Love," "Goldfinger," "Thunderball," "You Only Live Twice" and "Diamonds Are Forever" - plus George Lazenby's solo outing as Bond in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" and Roger Moore's first bond movie, "Live and Let Die."

The Connery movies are also available as a $90 gift set (letterboxed or panned-and-scanned), or as a couple of $45 sets, one of them with a documentary about the making of "Goldfinger," the other featuring "Behind-the-Scenes With Thunderball."

- John Hartl (Seattle Times)

VIDEO QUESTION

Question: What does the term "THX" mean on a video? I've heard that the new "Star Wars" tapes are in THX but I've never seen an explanation.

Answer: THX is shorthand for a broad array of technical standards devised by George Lucas's Lucasfilm company and meant to ensure high video quality. There is also an audio THX for certain expensive loudspeakers and a THX for some movie-theater sound systems. The one you're talking about denotes a program for overseeing the transfer of film to digital tape and the subsequent manufacturing of VHS tapes and laser discs. Users pay Lucasfilm a fee for THX authorization and use of the logo on the video package.

- Andy Wickstrom

(Knight-Ridder)

- Do you have a question you'd like answered? Send your queries to Andy Wickstrom, The Philadelphia Inquirer, P.O. Box 8263, Philadelphia, PA 19101.

NEW VIDEOS

THE WARREN MILLER COLLECTION - Hot-doggers and armchair skiers alike will be glad to know that five Warren Miller films are available at sell-through. In actuality, these snow-covered scenes weren't made by the famous ski filmmaker himself, but his son Kurt. "Comedy," "Extreme Skiing," "Ski Flying," "Snow-boarding" and "Women in Skiing" all feature the up-close coverage of winter skiing, whether the in-your-face antics are comedic, dramatic or traumatic. Unrated, Columbia/TriStar, $14.95 each.

- Max McQueen

(Cox News Service)

THE UNDERNEATH - Steven Soderbergh's surreal crime melodrama tells of a lust so powerful it makes you cringe. Stars Peter Gallagher, as a "reformed" gambler, vs. bad girl Allison Elliott.

- Michael H. Price

(Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

THE KENNEDYS OF MASSECHUSETTS - Can't get enough of the Kennedys? Here's four hours and 38 minutes' worth of the trials, tribulations and triumphs of America's premier political clan. Looking to Doris Kearns Goodwin's best-selling "The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys," this mini-series starring Charles Durning, Tracy Pollan and William Petersen follows the Kennedys from the courtship of Rose and Joseph to John Fitzgerald Kennedy's presidential election. Unrated, 1995, Orion, $39.98.

- Max McQueen

(Cox News Service)

FALL TIME - Stephen Baldwin and Mickey Rourke play homosexual-psycho-sadist-bandit partners in this astonishingly violent, vaguely coherent attempt to fuse cheap thrills, philosophy and sexual politics. A 1995 entry that aims high, misses wide . . . and never played the neighborhood cineplex.

- Michael H. Price

(Fort Worth Star-Telegram)