Thursday, February 23, 2017

Rock Cinema - A Hard Day's Night

Rock 'n' Roll cinema certainly didn't begin with A Hard Day's Night – there's Jailhouse Rock and Expresso Bongo – but A Hard Day's Night isn’t just a great rock 'n' roll film, it's a great film without the genre tag; indeed for many, one of the 100 best films in cinema. A Hard Day's Night doesn't so much begin as it explodes into existence, that ringing first chord shattering the quiet (?) of the movie theater as The Beatles, mid-chase, run towards the camera. The film rarely backs down from this exuberant energy, barreling ahead with a constant cartoony smile.

There’s not much story to A Hard Day's Night  the band travels to London for a TV gig and Paul's irascible grandfather causes hi-jinx along the way  but the looseness of the structure is the key to the film's immense joy. The Fab Four get to run and jump and mug their way through barely-connected scenarios, as good at what they were doing as the Marx Brothers.

It's interesting to note that, as early as 1964, the Beatles' personalities are in place. John is a surrealist, a combination of Groucho and Harpo Marx with an edge of darkness. Paul's suave, laid back cuteness is instantly apparent as he hides behind a newspaper, the others scrambling away from girls. George Harrison seems serious, but he's seriously deadpan, and Ringo, the sad clown, the sole Beatle who openly wept when the band broke up, would come to define the Beatles throughout the remaining six years of their career.

Director Richard Lester used a handheld camera for much of the film, giving A Hard Day's Night the aesthetics of a documentary, blurring the lines between those characters and the real Beatles. That semi-doc style makes the film's more outrageous moments - John disappearing in the bathtub, Ringo helping a lady fall into a hole - pack an even bigger punch. The dialogue balances perfectly between Liverpudlian working class pith and exquisite wordplay and wit. 

The Beatles led the oddest life imaginable - chased through train stations, limo-driven from one hotel to the next - how could they not fall back on each other for comfort? More than anything, this film captures their genuine need for each other. True, Ringo disappears at one point in a near-silent section that found critics of the day hailing him as the "new Chaplin," but what’s wonderful about this movie is how natural its stars are.

And then, of course, there are the songs - "If I Fell," "I Should Have Known Better," "Things We Said Today;" to these guys, this was filler! Plus we get the wonder of "Can’t Buy Me Love" and the title track, not to mention George Martin's incidental score, as good as anything from the era, Bacharach and Mancini included. Beatlemania was in full swing when A Hard Day's Night was released, and had it flopped, had it not been good at all, the future of The Beatles is less certain. A good film would have kept them on track, but here, in a great film, a flawless film, The Beatles became iconic.