Sunday, December 7, 2014

A Hard Day's Night

How I wish I could've been there when A HARD DAY'S NIGHT hit theater screens back in 1964.  To witness something so new and fresh, so inventive. Unless you've completely avoided visual and aural media for the last fifty years, the novelty of The Beatles' inaugural foray in cinema will be lost, and undoubtedly remind you of something you've previously seen. Being of a certain age guarantees that the uber cool piece of music or film that you find so ground breaking has already been done, in one form or another, perhaps before you were born. This will be especially true for certifiables like myself who have been exposed to so much.

None of the above should prevent you from watching A HARD DAY'S NIGHT. Aside from its obvious historic significance, the movie bursts with an energy and spontaneity that is infectious, inspiring.  Every shot suggests the possibility of another fit of creativity and imagination, an unexpected direction to take. Unlike many of its clones, it is not a sloppily constructed pastiche, an amateur night collegiate exercise, but rather a skillful collage of exuberance. I see I've used a lot of vocabulary so far, words critics toss about in their efforts to convince you one way or the other. This is warranted.

Director Richard Lester was undoubtedly the right choice for this, if you will, day in the life of the Liverpool quartet. A perfect match.  Lester is like the ultimate fan, albeit one skilled in the Spherical cinematographic process, trying to glimpse his quarries in hidden moments. He'd of photographed them changing their socks if he had the chance. But this is not a documentary. With a script by Alun Owen, A HARD DAY'S NIGHT travels with the boys as they ride trains, attempt to keep Paul McCartney's grandfather out of trouble, search for a wandering Ringo Starr, and eventually play a show.  It is filled with quick (and quick witted) dialogue which would be a stock in trade for Beatles films.  And that wonderful music. My generation had MTV. The Boomers had this.

As many have observed, what is quite noticeable in A HARD DAY'S NIGHT is the optimism, the wide eyed joy. Fame, drugs, psychadelia, and Eastern mysticism had not yet worn down the quartet (interesting as the resulting music may have been). Their early hits were upbeat and their dispositions even, at least onscreen. If any tsuris was going on off camera it is not evident here. Though pay attention to John Lennon. Lifting that bottle of Coca Cola to his nose. Ah, ha.  Is he trying to sabotage the light? He all but lifts his middle finger to the camera. Is he foretelling the future? The Figure of Portent? At one point, quite chillingly, the Beatles' manager, so frustrated in his efforts to reign the lads in, hisses "I'm going to murder you, John!"

But overall we have a sunny time capsule. An incredibly influential (and reverent to the French New Wave style) movie, the reach of which is still seen, even in those videos you see on the Fuse Network.  Watch A HARD DAY'S NIGHT followed by 1970's often painfully uncomfortable LET IT BE . You will see the classic disintegration of genius and harmony. Crushing, perhaps unavoidable. Criterion, having done another spot-on job with NIGHT, should get to work on the unfortunate coda.

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