Tuesday, March 2, 2010
The Great Movies: "A Hard Day's Night"
A Hard Day's Night
Richard Lester, 1964.
Previous Contact: I watched A Hard Day's Night several years ago with Mrs.5000, something of a mild Beatlemaniac, with a stony, unamused face. I found it the opposite of amusing.
- - - -
The Beatles were a popular rock quartet whose songs reflected and had considerable influence on the rapid stylistic changes in popular music during the 1960s. Because of their unparalleled commercial success and, to a certain extent, because one of their number would eventually meet a tragic end while still at the height of his fame, this band has become emblematic of an entire generational shift that occurred in the U.S. and Europe during their tenure at the top of the pops. Had this not happened, A Hard Day's Night would be a mere museum piece, a marketing tie-in for musicians of yesteryear. But because the Beatles became such a larger-than-life phenomenon, the film can still command an audience 46 years later.
A Hard Day's Night is a mock documentary of a day in the life of the Beatles' early stardom. The movie begins with the band fleeing a hysterical mob of female fans and concludes with them playing a concert for a hysterical mob of female fans. In between is a long series of absurdist skits, many of which involve "Paul's Grandfather," a strange older gentleman who tends to make trouble but who, everyone notes, is very clean. And of course there are lots of Beatles songs.
My grouchy original reaction notwithstanding, A Hard Day's Night is a hoot. All four musicians are relaxed and clearly enjoying themselves in front of the camera, playing themselves with wit and a kind of polite antiauthoritarian panache. There is a nice undercurrent of social satire, as well. At one point, one of the lads stumbles into a marketing office, gets mistaken for a model, and is told about how a shabby make of shirt is going to be engineered into an enormous teen fad within the month. This is a cheeky swipe at The System, but it's of course also deeply ironic -- the Beatles being, after all, among the most effectively engineered teen fads of all time.
Plot: The Beatles prepare for and play a television concert, overcoming obstacles such as their managers' attempts to keep them from having any fun.
Images: Athough it is not explicitly set up as a documentary, the film has a spontaneous, lifelike feel that comes from its black and white imagery, an active, mobile camera, and its use of everyday locations and dizzyingly enthusiastic extras.
Dialog: From the same strange and silly realms of British humor that would, a few years later, bring you Monty Python's Flying Circus. People say a lot of things that don't make sense, and if you are in the right mood that's pretty funny.
Prognosis: I've looked at this movie from both sides now. I guess it all depends on your mood. In my current mood, it's mildly awesome.