A Hard Day’s Night (1964 USA/UK)

4951e6be-2181-4660-8fcd-bb41f0493f00_f_rOjpUlDpHJl5C2vkrpl9mduNmXKKUe45FFNWtxKoH“I thought I was supposed to be getting a change of scenery, and so far I’ve been in a train and a room and car and a room and a room and a room!” You tell em, Grampa. Irish actor Wilfred Brambell works very well in this landmark musical, a much needed focal point in a screenplay that requires some bearings in order to work.

If you ever wondered how four cheeky chaps from Liverpool, armed with three guitars and a drumkit, managed to change the Western world, then check this out. The first scenes in the film eerily seem to predict the break-up of the Beatles just over five years later. When the film starts, we see John, George and Ringo but there is no sign of Paul McCartney (John, George and Ringo would later unite against Paul, leading to the split over Allen Klein).

When we first see Paul, he is wearing a fake beard as a disguise (Paul would have a real beard when the other three turned on him in late 1969). Weird. In the follow-up to this film, (Help!) John is in a wheel chair with granny glasses and a long beard – just like he would be four years later. Except for needing the wheel chair. Maybe these movies gave the Beatles some career direction later on. On the set of Help! was where Harrison first encountered the sitar and Indian musicians. They were there for comedic purposes but George became seriously obsessed. Back to this review…

hard days night 05(“Are you a member of ISIS?” “No, the IRA!”)

The episodic non-story tells of a day in their hectic life, being shunted from pillar to post as they travel to do a TV show. Ringo goes missing between rehearsal and performance, and then they leave for the next engagement. In between this (which, allowing for artistic license, was probably not an unfair representation of the unrelenting pace of their lives throughout 1963 and 1964), there are opportunities for each of them to have a little bit of whimsical downtime and, fortunately, some tunes. Like so much of what the Beatles did, said and produced, this film was and remains a template for what came after.

Other bands like the manufactured Monkees shamelessly copied them with “Head” and their deliberately zany TV series. Even the Spice Girls 1997 effort was another rip off of the formula laid down here: carefree pop stars poking fun at the established order of things, neurotic manager, adoring fans, mixed with inane fluff. Except the Spice Girls failed to appear un-selfconscious. This trait seemed part of John, George and Ringo’s DNA.

Paul is more self-conscious than the others. In fact he sometimes comes across as a perfumed rattlesnake. Outwardly charming but still unable to conceal a profound narcissism in those oh! so sincere brown eyes of his that beg the camera to love him and only him. I kid ye not. At least he hadn’t yet perfected the lemon sucking expression (complete with mealy mouth and pursed lips) that was to plague his solo career. The songs are introduced as part of the storyline (rehearsing, run-throughs, passing time on a train), rather than suddenly bursting into song like in the Elvis movies. He must have been quite jealous of the Fab Four stealing his thunder on the big screen as well as on the musical charts.

image004They made him look out of date and too formally conventional almost overnight. They seemed breezy, natural and could produce their own music. They barreled along with an unstoppable momentum. Meanwhile, Mr Presley had to rely on others for increasingly stale material, toe-ing the showbiz line by constantly repeating the same old same old formula. A Hard Day’s Night buried him and all the old crap he stood for. To sum up; the camera work and editing are first-rate, wonderfully catching the manic storm the Beatles were already trapped in. Almost every scene is shot in a tight room… on a train, in rooms in a studio, a small cafe, etc. This hinted claustrophobia, especially in monochrome, really points at the world the Beatles were going to spend their next three years in.

They really were the greatest entertainers of the 1960s. They led and others followed like sheep. I still feel those Abbey Road studios were too primitive and did them no favours compared to the superior recording sounds coming out of the USA at the same time, but they are still the most popular entertainers of the twentieth century. They are mythical and never-ending. They keep acquiring new generations of fans. They had character. Most bands don’t. Even in this twenty first century. George Harrison somberly intoning “it won’t interfere with the rugged concept of me personality… she’s a drag, a well known drag…” delivered in that adenoidal accent are my favourite dumb lines out of this whole farrago of nonsense.

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