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Fifty Years On, A Hard Day's Night Is Still Revelatory

Fifty Years On, <i>A Hard Day's Night</i> Is Still Revelatory
Janus Films
Onscreen and on record, they're this young forever.

Let's get the obvious bit over with: The early days of the Beatles, as reflected in Richard Lester's ebullient shout of freedom A Hard Day's Night, were all about the optimism of the early 1960s, a thrilling and energizing time when young people, and even some older ones, truly believed that the future held great promise. By the late '60s, disillusionment had set in, and the Beatles broke up.

There. Now let's talk about joy, and about wistfulness, because one so often trails the other, and both are woven into the DNA of A Hard Day's Night. To read it as a movie that the future proved wrong—a movie that's somehow "about" our collective, historic innocence, a set of hopes that were dashed by Vietnam, or by Nixon's betrayal, or by anything—is to miss the glorious reality that A Hard Day's Night lives so fully in its particular present. At the end, as the band takes the stage for a televised appearance, the faces of the girls (and a few boys) in the audience complete the story that John, Paul, George, and Ringo set in motion at the beginning. If the audience looks incomprehensibly young, the Beatles themselves aren't that much older — there's still hopefulness in them, too. (During the filming, George, after all, met his first wife.) No wonder these kids are lost in the moment and totally of a piece with it, beside themselves with elation shot through with longing. Their future is before them, and before them: Everything they want out of life is up on that stage, both out of reach and theirs for the taking.

That's the beauty of A Hard Day's Night, and the source of its eternal freshness. For a 50-year-old movie, it still looks impossibly youthful, especially in this restored version: In all its satiny black-and-white splendor, it feels more like today than yesterday. I can't imagine what it must be like to be watching, in 2014, A Hard Day's Night for the first time. I didn't catch it during its original theatrical release — I was a bit too tiny for that — but I saw it not so long afterward on television, an event that occasioned much jumping around and faux fainting on the living room couch. I have watched it many times since, each time seeing new things. But this is the first time I've viewed it knowing that there's more of my life behind me than ahead of me, and now more than ever, I understand the faces of those girls.

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Location Info

Map

Film Forum

209 W. Houston St.
New York, NY 10014

Category: Movie Theaters

Region: Greenwich Village

Details

A Hard Day's Night
Directed by Richard Lester
Janus Films
Opens July 4
Film Forum (209 W. Houston St.)



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Even through the mystical blur of my affection for it, I can see that A Hard Day's Night is one of the world's perfect films. Lester, who'd previously directed a trad jazz caper called Ring-A-Ding Rhythm!, knew just what to do with the material (written by Alun Owen) and with the stars, who were already on their way to being (almost) bigger than Jesus. This is a stylized day-in-the-life picture, and while this particular day does look extremely exciting to us average people, we can also see that it's not much of a life: The movie opens with a chase scene, in which John, Paul, George, and Ringo barely outrun a blur of screaming girls in their Balmacaans and parkas, their plaid skirts and skimmers — they're a schoolgirl pride on the hunt. The boys are on their way to make a television appearance in Liverpool, which, thanks to a series of mishaps, barely comes together: Ringo, feeling unloved and underappreciated, goes AWOL, disguising himself in an oversize, secondhand coat and shuffling through an unfamiliar city looking both irrevocably lost and finally possessed of profound inner peace. And Paul's "very clean" grandfather (the magnificently pinched sour patch Wilfrid Brambell), who has been entrusted to his grandson's care, keeps wandering off to gamble (at the casino) and gambol (with a series of comely cuties, all less than half his age).

Lester must have worked some magic, conscious or otherwise, to bring the personality of each Beatle to the fore so distinctly. George is the lover of off-kilter visual puns: He gives the band's road manager, Shake (John Junkin), a shaving lesson by spritzing foam on a bathroom mirror, neatly outlining the image of Shake's jaw and then swiping the shaver along the surface of the glass. John favors an even more oblique visual gag, daintily blocking off one nostril as he takes an imaginary snort from a Coke bottle. Paul is dutiful in looking after his grandfather, but he's also easily exasperated — he plays by the rules so honorably that he can't abide anyone else's breaking them. And Ringo is the language mangler who says exactly what he means, usually inadvertently—though sometimes his eyes, good-natured but also ringed with dark circles that suggest excessive worry, say more: On a train, he passes a glass-windowed compartment where a stunning young woman sits, stroking a furry cat that rests suggestively in her lap. She sees him, smiles, and crooks her finger; he does a double take — that cat! — and then demurs, half-shocked, half-flattered, and having no idea what to do.

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10 comments
james933
james933

Very enjoyable review. Agree entirely. 


Just caught the re-release at the BFI/NFT last night. Hadn't seen it for years and it was a pleasure to be reminded of what an excellent job Lester did.


Quick point re the review (slightly pedantic). The story starts at Liverpool Lime Street station as the boys are heading to a telly studio in London -- not a filming in Liverpool. Granted, it's not hugely obvious, but note the 'Metropolitan Police' sign on the cop shop during the scene when Ringo is 'rescued' from the rozzers. Not only that, but I doubt whether there would have been telly studios in The 'Pool in 1964 (cue a stream of angry Scouse abuse to put me right ...)

michaeldal65
michaeldal65

What a beautiful review. Very inspiring for the rest of us.

pzang7
pzang7

Beautiful, Stephanie. Just Beautiful.

Binkconn
Binkconn

Happy white people doing happy white things

(thank God Don't Look Back appeared a year later so rock could grow up)

hkguy
hkguy

@Binkconn It's because it was filmed before rock "grew up" and took itself seriously that makes HDN such a consummate masterpiece AND so damned enjoyable. 

pzang7
pzang7

@Binkconn If growing up is being you, comparing the two films and not appreciating the gorgeous, insightful writing here, who would ever want to grow up? Oh yeah, aside from this brilliant exegesis of A Hard Day's Night, it's also-thank God- missing a key, insufferable aspect of Don't Look Back: Bobby Fucking Neuwirth. Awfully self -important for a guitar carrying lackey, dontcha think? I'll take John Lennon, thank you. 

 

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