A Hard Day’s Night
Directed by Richard Lester
Starring The Beatles
It’s interesting to watch the reaction of today’s youth to A Hard Day’s Night. If they can get past the fact that the movie is filmed in glorious black and white, they might rightly comment that they’ve seen it all before, on MTV. Exactly. Produced quickly on a shoestring budget, The Beatles’ first film can be regarded as ground zero for the video age. It defined the way bands are photographed in performance (the behind the drummer, out to the crowd shot; the sweeping camera move along the guitar fingerboard — it all started here), and with its witty verbal jousting and sight gags, the film set a standard for pop music movies that has been oft-imitated, but rarely bested.
Director Richard Lester got the lads’ stamp of approval for having previously directed films featuring The Goons, the Spike Milligan/Peter Sellers comedy troupe that was “Brit Com” before Python and Ab Fab made it cool. His wild visual style, and ability to “go with the flow” enabled him to mesh with the juggernaut that The Beatles in 1963-64 had become. They were conquering the world, songs flowed like water, and they were still touring, which meant that performing under hot lights and screaming kids was second nature. They never made a better movie than this. Help!, while having the virtue (perhaps) of being in color, is not as tightly made or deceptively unique as this film, and the less said about Magical Mystery Tour, the better. No, this was the pinnacle of The Beatles’ movies, and while they seem so young in it (as they were), they portray a maturity beyond both their years and perhaps even that of the world around them. The Beatles came to grips with “Beatlemania” long before their public did — if they ever have. They realized the screaming girls, the sold-out shows, the Beatles lunch boxes were all tricks of fate, and didn’t have anything to do with what really mattered — the music. In the 30 years since, no one has come close to reaching the musical heights they did — just look at the music in this one film, for instance. “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “If I Fell,” “And I Love Her,” and the title track, written overnight at the request of film producer Walter Shenson who complained that a movie needed a title song, now go write one. And they did. That was their genius.
This two-DVD set is to be praised for the fine, clean version of the film. It looks and sounds (in most cases) wonderful. Sharp grayscale, and the boys’ Liverpool accents ring out well. The songs, well, they sound great — but they also sound remixed into stereo, which is somewhat jarring. As for the second disc of “extras,” don’t bother. The package features no involvement by the remaining Beatles, only interviews with George Martin (The Beatles’ producer, always interesting), Richard Lester, and numerous “I was there” crew members, who add exactly zilch to our understanding or appreciation of the film. Still, the package is worth buying, if only to own a nice version of the finest of rock movies. It never got better.