Monday, July 7, 2014

A Hard Day's Night - 1964

"A Hard Day's Night" - 1964
Dir. by Richard Lester - 1 hr. 27 min.

50th Anniversary Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

There are a lot of different stories you could tell about the Beatles, depending on what your mood was or which time period you wanted to focus on.  For a lot of people, the story was wrapped by the time we even found out about the Beatles in the first place, and the story was discovering that the Fab Four actually were a lot better than most of their solo careers would suggest (even though three of the four have essential albums to their credit), and that they had split acrimoniously, and would never work together again, and that we had nothing to look forward to except periodic reissue campaigns.  "A Hard Day's Night" is something else; a peek at the personalities of the band when they still got along, and could still have a good time together, and were still looking forward, with several albums of fantastic music in their immediate futures.

The plot isn't exactly the point here.  But just so you know, the Beatles must get from point A (a city) to point B (a television studio), largely via train, for a big broadcast event.  In the mean time, they get chased round by hysteric teenagers, look for a good time, try to escape boring times, play music, and babysit Paul's grandfather (Wilfrid Brambell), who is more trouble than he appears at first blush.

Part of the draw of "A Hard Day's Night" is seeing the Beatles performing (sort-of) their hits.  There's no point in debating the merit of the Beatles' music; it's beyond good or bad, it's foundational.  But there is a thrill to seeing the Beatles, the actual Beatles, playing their own songs.  By the time I was aware of the Beatles as a kid, John Lennon was already gone, and George Harrison wasn't in the public eye.  The first song I heard by him (that I knew was by him) was "Got My Mind Set On You," which was pretty un-Beatle-like.

Ringo was a goofball that showed up on late-night TV every now and then, and Paul had spent a decade or two with Wings and doing his solo stuff; he was a staple of rock radio for many years.  But my introduction to them, collectively, had been as grown men (much in the same way that I was introduced to Robert Plant and Jimmy Page not through their Led Zeppelin work, but through Plant's MTV-friendly hits of the late '80s and stupid Coverdale/Page), not as the mop-topped popsters that spawned Beatlemania.

There's an energy and a looseness to their on-screen presences that really couldn't be duplicated elsewhere - they were famous for their fifteen minute concerts during the height of Beatlemania, logic being that firstly, you couldn't hear them over a stadium full of girls screaming at the top of their lungs, and secondly, why try to play over the top of that?  The performance in the animal storage portion of the train is maybe the best example of this (and a wry joke as well), even crammed together in a pen like and with animals, the handful of girls who have stumbled across the performance keep trying to reach through the chicken wire to touch them.

I feel like "A Hard Day's Night" is a movie that would reward repeat viewings - the dialogue and wit is very quickly-paced, musical performances always go down easy, and there's a lot of little things along the way that brought a smile to my face (like George's being forced into a one-man focus group, or watching Ringo dance, or really, whenever Ringo pops up.  Ringo Starr makes me happy just by existing).  It's entirely likely that I missed a lot of what's going on, and it was still a blast.  The movie feels like a greatest hits of the Beatles' dialogue between one another, and none of it feels forced.  It's just four guys who like to have a good time (they run around a lot, they must have had a lot of excess energy), were really good at playing music, and always had a screaming throng waiting just around the corner.  Out of all of the Beatles stories, it's one of the fun Beatles stories, lively and joyous.

4.5 / 5 - Theatre

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