jim brosnan
just keep throwing

a hard day's night (richard lester, 1964)

A Hard Day’s Night has been re-released in a 50th anniversary version that has been nicely restored. We took the opportunity to see it on the big screen. It was an interesting crowd … theater couldn’t have held more than 100 people, probably less than that, and it was maybe 3/4 full for an afternoon bargain matinee. I didn’t check everyone’s ID, but I’d guess the vast majority of the people in the audience were alive when the film was originally released. The print is gorgeous, the sound crisp, the movie as good as ever. When we did our Fifty Favorite Films series on Facebook, I chose A Hard Day’s Night at #42, so I’ve written about it fairly recently. I’ll cut-and-paste here.

In the meantime, Salon ran a couple of good pieces on the re-release. Andrew O’Hehir talked about its place in movie history, and Luke Epplin did an excellent job of breaking down how Lester created the claustrophobic feel that permeates the film:

The subtext of “A Hard Day’s Night” is that the Beatles have become entrapped by their success, confined to a series of interchangeable interior spaces broken up only by live performances, mad dashes into chauffeured vehicles, and inane interviews with the befuddled press corps. It’s a glimpse of Beatlemania from the inside — more tedious than exhilarating. The film exposed a central irony of the Beatles: They were always on the move, but their movements were increasingly restricted. They traveled from one exotic locale to another, but each new place looked just like the last.

Here’s what I wrote for Facebook:

Before A Hard Day’s Night, rock and roll movies fell into two basic categories. There were the cheap exploitation films that stuffed as many rock acts into the flimsy plot as possible, and there were Elvis movies. Elvis showed promise in a few of his earlier pictures, but by 1964 he was already reduced to Kissin’ Cousins (and, to be fair, Viva Las Vegas, which wasn’t as bad as most of them). Beatlemania meant that the Beatles were prime candidates for a quickie pic designed to milk the pop culture moment before the kids moved on to something new. So the budget was set at just over half-a-million dollars, and the director’s chair was handed to a TV director with only two features on his resume, a sequel to The Mouse That Roared, and one of the rock and roll quickies, It’s Trad, Dad, which featured Chubby Checker, Del Shannon, Gary U.S. Bonds, Gene Vincent, Gene McDaniels and more.

He had also directed the Oscar-nominated short The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film with Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan. It was a plot-less gag fest, with joke piling on joke in a surreal fashion. It was this short, more than anything else Lester had done, that offered hints of what would become A Hard Day’s Night.

For A Hard Day’s Night, Lester and screenwriter Alun Owen gave the producers what they wanted: plenty of Beatle songs, with lots of close-ups of the lads, attached to a minimalist plot about a day in the life of the Beatles. But they were also up to something greater, and the Beatles turned out to be the perfect cast. Owen spent time with the group, forming easy-to-recognize stereotypes that felt precise (John witty, Paul cute, George shy, Ringo Ringo). The dialogue was fun, and Lester pasted over everything with a frenetic editing style that mirrored the frenetic lives of the four mop tops.

The result was a movie that convinced even grownups that these Beatles were A-OK. It didn’t hurt that the music was great (the U.K. album A Hard Day’s Night remains the best of their career). Lester and Owen captured the Beatlemania moment, and turned an unappreciated genre (pop musical) into a work of art. After A Hard Day’s Night, it was a lot harder to sit through a typical exploitation cheapie.

My favorite scene happens to also be Roger Ebert’s, the concert scene at the end of the film that climaxes with “She Loves You.” Ebert calls it “one of the most sustained orgasmic sequences in the movies.” He’s right on target.

#550 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 10/10.