#11 — A Hard Day’s Night (Richard Lester, 1964)
Is there another movie that is as inherently likable as A Hard Day’s Night Under most circumstances involving a film centered on a single rock ‘n’ roll act, I’d be inclined to couch that rhetorical question in a caveat allowing that the answer may very well depend on the level of personal preference an individual has for the act in question, but it’s hard to fathom how anyone could have an ill opinion of the Beatles, at least without operating in a perpetual state of deliberate contrary argumentativeness. That’s especially the case when catching the moptops at this point in the career. The film was released a mere sixteen months after their debut LP, and only five months after their American live television debut on The Ed Sullivan Show demonstrated that this quartet was likely to redefine the extraordinary levels a pop sensation might reach. It’s before stadium tours and groundbreaking albums, before they fully changed the face of popular music. It’s from that sliver of time when it wasn’t ludicrous to speculate over whether it would be them or the Dave Clark Five who’d have the longer, more significant career. They were barely out of the Cavern, enjoying unbelievable success and without any burden of imposed expectation to do anything but bang out a catchy tune.
A Hard Day’s Night is a brisk, almost hit-and-run attempt to capture the crazy energy the Beatles were creating at that point in time. There is less of a plot to the film as there is simply an attitude. It is informed somewhat by the brashness of rock ‘n’ roll, but more than that it is the freedom of youth (at the time the film was released, George Harrison was nineteen-years-old, or a year younger than Miley Cyrus is right now). Like their fellow citizens who came of age after World War II, the Beatles were presented with a world that was moving faster than could be believed and was simultaneously theirs for the taking. The main difference for this particular quartet was that they’d managed to actually grab it, a gold ring the size of the globe. The exuberance of that triumph–arrived at so suddenly, arrived at so early in their lives–gives the film an astonishing energy. Director Richard Lester thankfully manages to keep up, stitching together the film with a point of view that shifted and bounced quicker than Ringo Starr’s deviously thrilling backbeats. Any staidness of traditional film technique was jettisoned in favor of a tremendous visual verve that anticipated the rapid-fire editing of the future without succumbing to the recklessly hashed aesthetic that would emerge concurrently with MTV nearly two decades later. As did his subjects, Lester operated with a creative latitude that indicated he knew the rules but felt that maybe–just maybe–they didn’t really apply anymore.
If the movie were solely about the thrill and joy of the Beatles’ music, it would be little more than another relic from the days when filmmakers anxiously plugged these skyrocketing rock combos into half-considered movies in an effort to make a quick buck (well, considered it was the Beatles’ music, it would be likely still be a cut above). But the unique charisma of the band member’s was matched with a genially anarchic sense of humor, a love of daffy absurdity that owed a debt to the Marx Brothers. Alun Owen’s screenplay was drawn from conversations he had with the band or responses he’d seen them give in earlier interviews (Starr’s assertion “I’m a mocker” when asked whether he was a “mod” or a “rocker” was a prime example of the latter), giving the lads a racing wit that forecast the band’s inventiveness to come more than it mirrored their simple, graceful songs that filled this particular soundtrack. Subtly, gently, it also relayed the cost of Beatlemania, a bit of commentary undoubtedly lost on the fans who were known to scream straight through screenings. Maybe that didn’t matter, though. One of the most cunning attributes of the Lester’s film is the way it feels blithely disposable while simultaneously exhibiting the durability of the best-built time capsule.