“Look it, 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 a car and a room, and a room and a room. Well maybe that’s alright for a bunch of powdered geegaws like you lot, but I’m feeling decidedly straitjacketed.”
And that passage, which previously I hadn’t given too much consideration, made me get a lump in my throat. Those words are told to Ringo to convince him to go out into the streets and experience life. The young rocker momentarily gets a taste of what a normal life used to feel like – having a drink at the pub, taking pictures, walking alongside a canal and riding a bicycle along a railway station platform without a care in the world. We can definitely relate to his need for normalcy. Who would have ever thought that we would become experts on how to spend months at a time containing ourselves into rooms? It’s been a hard day’s year.
“A Hard Day’s Night” (1964) remains a bracingly great movie. What the world – including the studio releasing it – expected simply to be promotional material for the phenomenon that was Beatlemania turned out to be one of the most influential films.
Take into reflection the “Can’t Buy Me Love” sequence. The fab four bolt out of an emergency exit down a fire escape staircase. They camera – there’s actually a multi camera approach – below the steps looking up captures them through the grids and iron bars. The editing and varied angles match the layered vocals in the song. The boys and cameras move freely. They move fast. It all feels fresh with the crisp black and white aesthetic that alludes to the past and modernizes it. They camera is shaky – nervous – excited. As the short song builds – an aerial shot from a helicopter captures the lads running in a field – the wind blowing on them. Nothing is holding still. It all seems to breathe and the camera moves with it all. The cinematographer was Gilbert Taylor, who just finished working with Kubrick on “Dr. Strangelove” and would go on to do “Star Wars.”
Director Richard Lester was inspired by the French New Wave and its breaking of rules – and what he comes up with is a visual representation of exuberance, spontaneity and joie de vivre. Lester creates the first music videos – yes – but creates as well a portrait of a moment in time in which everything is changing – not just for the main characters but for the world at large. It’s got a circus-like atmosphere peppered with innocence, cheekiness and lots of buoyancy. I wished I had some of their confidence.
Screenwriter Alun Owen (his script was nominated for best Original Screenplay) had interviewed the band members – and remained faithful to their Liverpudian roots and way of speaking. It is pretty simple plot. The band has a TV appearance in London. They travel by train to Liverpool – and Paul’s fictional grandfather tags along creating a bit of mischief along the way. They check into hotel rooms, go to cabarets and rehearse getting ready for the big gig. As exhilarating and fun as their fame is, there’s a tinge of sadness in their understanding that they’re trapped, that it’s become hard to mobilize and that their schedule is completely ruled by their production demands.
The first number takes place inside the train – as the men find themselves inside the caboose – with all the cargo. A group of young fans are behind the gate, staring at them as they sing “I Should Have Known Better.” The camera will capture them through the wheels of a bicycle. There’s a visual sense of entrapment throughout the film. It’s sad to think about the hardship that is ahead of them as you watch the film.
There’s a lot of humor. At some point the film takes on an anarchic aspect that will remind you of the Marx Brothers. I’m a huge Beatles fan and I’m so glad this exists. I like to watch it over and over again. By the way – the band’s name is never mentioned in the movie. You see the name on the drums and emblazoned here and there – but the words are never uttered.
John Lennon: “We’ve become a limited company.”
Available to stream on HBO Max, The Criterion Channel, WATCH TCM, Kanopy and DIRECTV. Available to stream on Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes and Vudu.
Written by Alun Owen
Directed by Richard Lester
Starring John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Wilfred Brambdll, Norman Rossington, John Junkin and Victor Spinettui
The Making of “A Hard Day’s Night”
Director Richard Lester later acknowledged that A Hard Day’s Night was put together quickly because it was thought The Beatles might be a passing vogue with little staying power. The movie was made in six and a half weeks, on a budget of only $500,000, and aimed primarily at English audiences. Premiering in theaters only three months after shooting began, the film became an international sensation and an instant classic…Lester shot the movie on the run, with a quirky visual style that draws on his experience as a director of television commercials and utilizes some of the techniques of France’s “new wave” filmmakers. The London street scenes had to be filmed furtively, with only a shot or two possible before interruptions by screaming fans and the police who tried to control them; the fans seen chasing The Beatles into the train at the beginning of the film are real ones. Some settings, notably the exterior of London’s La Scala Theatre for the press interview sequence, were quickly improvised to avoid the crush. Screenwriter Alun Owen built his plot around the boys’ efforts to get to a theater on time to perform on a television show. McCartney later said that “Alun hung around with us and was careful to try and put words in our mouths that he might’ve heard us speak, so I thought he did a very good script.” (tcm.com)
Director Richard Lester on Working with The Beatles
John Lennon, the director said, remains one of “two or three people to have shaped my character”, adding: “John did not suffer fools gladly, and I probably fell into that category. He always wanted to skewer any pomposity around him, and there can’t be any more pompous person on a film set than the director. But I could take all his criticism.” Paul McCartney was more difficult to handle because he was so enthusiastic, recalled Lester. “He tried harder than he should have.” Ringo, who has a key solo sequence in the film, proved himself more than capable of projecting his sympathetic persona for Lester’s camera, but it was George Harrison who was the easiest to direct. “George was the most effective actor. He attempted less, but he always hit it in the middle, so I knew what I would be getting.” When it came to sticking to the script, the Beatles were professional, Lester said. “They left all of that to us. They would have complained bitterly if they thought it was wrong, I think, or if they felt we didn’t have their interests at heart, but I did my best to show on screen what had impressed me so much about them – to recreate their “all for one and one for all” attitude.” Lester said the group functioned like “a four-headed hydra” and did not trust people easily. “But they always had the ability, if they found someone they thought they could trust, to let them get on and do it for them. I was blessed with being one of those people for a while. And George Martin was certainly one, and Brian Epstein too. But with me they soon felt they could control things on their own instead. And when that time comes, you just say: ‘Thank you very much, it was a lovely ride.'” (theguardian.com)
About The Beatles
The Beatles, formerly called the Quarrymen or the Silver Beatles, byname Fab Four, British musical quartet and a global cynosure for the hopes and dreams of a generation that came of age in the 1960s. The principal members were John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. Other early members included Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best. Formed around the nucleus of Lennon and McCartney, who first performed together in Liverpool in 1957, the group grew out of a shared enthusiasm for American rock and roll. Like most early rock-and-roll figures, Lennon, a guitarist and singer, and McCartney, a bassist and singer, were largely self-taught as musicians. Precocious composers, they gathered around themselves a changing cast of accompanists, adding by the end of 1957 Harrison, a lead guitarist, and then, in 1960 for several formative months, Sutcliffe, a promising young painter who brought into the band a brooding sense of bohemian style. After dabbling in skiffle, a jaunty sort of folk music popular in Britain in the late 1950s, and assuming several different names (the Quarrymen, the Silver Beetles, and, finally, the Beatles), the band added a drummer, Best, and joined a small but booming “beat music” scene, first in Liverpool and then, during several long visits between 1960 and 1962, in Hamburg—another seaport full of sailors thirsty for American rock and roll as a backdrop for their whiskey and womanizing. In autumn 1961 Brian Epstein, a local Liverpool record store manager, saw the band and fell in love. Unshakably convinced of their commercial potential, Epstein became their manager and proceeded to bombard the major British music companies with letters and tape recordings of the band, finally winning a contract with Parlophone, a subsidiary of the giant EMI group of music labels. The man in charge of their career at Parlophone was George Martin, a classically trained musician who from the start put his stamp on the Beatles, first by suggesting the band hire a more polished drummer (they chose Starr) and then by rearranging their second recorded song (and first big British hit), “Please Please Me,” changing it from a slow dirge into an up-tempo romp.
Throughout the winter and into the spring of 1963, the Beatles continued their rise to fame in England by producing spirited recordings of original tunes and also by playing classic American rock and roll on a variety of British Broadcasting Corporation radio programs. In these months, fascination with the Beatles—at first confined to young British fans of popular music—breached the normal barriers of taste, class, and age, transforming their recordings and live performances into matters of widespread public comment. In the fall of that year, when they belatedly made a couple of appearances on British television, the evidence of popular frenzy prompted British newspapermen to coin a new word for the phenomenon: Beatlemania. In early 1964, after equally tumultuous appearances on American television, the same phenomenon erupted in the United States and provoked a so-called British Invasion of Beatles imitators from the United Kingdom. Beatlemania was something new. Musicians performing in the 19th century certainly excited a frenzy—one thinks of Franz Liszt—but that was before the modern mass media created the possibility of collective frenzy. Later pop music idols, such as Michael Jackson in the mid-1980s and Garth Brooks in the 1990s, sold similarly large numbers of records without provoking anything approaching the hysteria caused by the Beatles. By the summer of 1964, when the Beatles appeared in “A Hard Day’s Night,” a movie that dramatized the phenomenon of Beatlemania, the band’s effect was evident around the world as countless young people emulated the band members’ characteristic long hair, flip humour, and whimsical displays of devil-may-care abandon. Indeed, their transformative social and cultural influence was even recognized among the upper echelons of political power. In 1965 each of the four Beatles was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE), having been recommended for the honour by British Prime Minister Harold Wilson (and despite a brief storm of protest by some previous recipients, mainly military veterans, against what they perceived as a lowering of the dignity of the royal order). The popular hubbub proved to be a spur, convincing Lennon and McCartney of their songwriting abilities and sparking an outpouring of creative experimentation all but unprecedented in the history of rock music, which until then had been widely regarded, with some justification, as essentially a genre for juveniles. Between 1965 and 1967 the music of the Beatles rapidly changed and evolved, becoming ever more subtle, sophisticated, and varied.
Their repertoire in these years ranged from the chamber pop ballad “Yesterday” and the enigmatic folk tune “Norwegian Wood” (both in 1965) to the hallucinatory hard rock song “Tomorrow Never Knows” (1966), with a lyric inspired by Timothy Leary’s handbook The Psychedelic Experience (1964). It also included the carnivalesque soundscape of “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” (1967), which featured stream-of-consciousness lyrics by Lennon and a typically imaginative arrangement (by George Martin) built around randomly spliced-together snippets of recorded steam organs—a tour de force of technological legerdemain quite typical of the band’s studio work in this era. In 1966 the Beatles retired from public performing to concentrate on exploiting the full resources of the recording studio. A year later, in June 1967, this period of widely watched creative renewal was climaxed by the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, an album avidly greeted by young people around the world as indisputable evidence not only of the band’s genius but also of the era’s utopian promise. More than a band of musicians, the Beatles had come to personify, certainly in the minds of millions of young listeners, the joys of a new counterculture of hedonism and uninhibited experimentation—with music and with new ways of life…In those years the Beatles effectively reinvented the meaning of rock and roll as a cultural form. The American artists they admired and chose to emulate—Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, the pioneering rock composers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, the influential soul songwriter Smokey Robinson, and, after 1964, folksinger and topical songwriter Bob Dylan—became widely regarded as canonic sources of inspiration, offering “classical” models for aspiring younger rock musicians. At the same time, the original songs the Beatles wrote and recorded dramatically expanded the musical range and expressive scope of the genre they had inherited. Their close vocal harmonies, subtle arrangements, and clever production touches, combined with an elemental rhythm section anchored by Starr’s no-nonsense drumming, created new standards of excellence and beauty in a form of music previously known for amateurism.
After 1968 and the eruption of student protest movements in countries as different as Mexico and France, the Beatles insensibly surrendered their role as de facto leaders of an inchoate global youth culture. They nevertheless continued for several more years to record and release new music and maintained a level of popularity rarely rivaled before or since. In 1968 they launched their own record label, Apple; hoping to nurture experimental pop art, they instead produced chaos and commercial failure, apart from the work of the Beatles themselves. The band continued to enjoy widespread popularity. The following year Abbey Road went on to become one of the band’s best-loved and biggest-selling albums. Meanwhile, personal disagreements magnified by the stress of symbolizing the dreams of a generation had begun to tear the band apart. Once the collaborative heart and soul of the band, Lennon and McCartney fell into bickering and mutual accusations of ill will. By now millions of dollars were at stake, and the utopian aura of the performers was in jeopardy, given the discrepancy between the band’s symbolic stature as idols of a carefree youth culture and their newfound real status as pampered plutocrats. In the spring of 1970 the Beatles formally disbanded. In the years that followed, all four members went on to produce solo albums of variable quality and popularity. Lennon released a corrosive set of songs with his new wife, Yoko Ono, and McCartney went on to form a band, Wings, that turned out a fair number of commercially successful recordings in the 1970s. Starr and Harrison, too, initially had some success as solo artists. But, as time went by, the Beatles became as much of a historical curio as Al Jolson or Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra or Elvis Presley before them. In 1980 Lennon was murdered by a demented fan outside the Dakota, an apartment building in New York City known for its celebrity tenants. The event provoked a global outpouring of grief. Lennon is memorialized in Strawberry Fields, a section of Central Park across from the Dakota that Yoko Ono landscaped in her husband’s honour. In the years that followed, the surviving former Beatles continued to record and perform as solo artists. McCartney in particular remained musically active, both in the pop field, producing new albums every few years, and in the field of classical music—in 1991 he completed Liverpool Oratorio; in 1997 he supervised the recording of another symphonic work of large ambition, Standing Stone; and in 1999 he released a new classical album, Working Classical.
McCartney was knighted by the queen of England in 1997. Starr was also very visible in the 1990s, touring annually with his All-Star Band, a rotating group of rock veterans playing their hits on the summertime concert circuit. Beginning in 1988, Harrison recorded with Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and Roy Orbison in a loose amalgam known as the Traveling Wilburys, but, for most of the 1980s and ’90s, he had a low profile as a musician while acting as the producer of several successful films. After surviving a knife attack at his home in 1999, Harrison succumbed to a protracted battle with cancer in 2001. Early in the 1990s McCartney, Harrison, and Starr had joined to add harmonies to two previously unreleased vocal recordings by Lennon. These new songs by “the Beatles” served as a pretext for yet another publicity blitz, aimed at creating a market for a lavishly produced quasi-historical series of archival recordings assembled under the supervision of the band and released in 1995 and 1996 as The Beatles Anthology, a collection of six compact discs that supplemented a 10-hour-long authorized video documentary of the same name. A compilation of the band’s number one singles, 1, appeared in 2000 and enjoyed worldwide success, topping the charts in such countries as England and the United States. The afterglow of Beatlemania may have disappeared, but the iconography of an era of youthful tumult had been reverently preserved for posterity. The Beatles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, and Lennon (1994), McCartney (1999), Harrison (2004), and Starr (2015) were also inducted as individuals. In September 2009, specially packaged digitally remastered versions of the Beatles’ entire catalog and a Beatles version of the popular electronic music game Rock Band were released simultaneously. After it was reported in February 2010 that the financially troubled EMI was soliciting buyers for its Abbey Road Studios, where the Beatles made the great majority of their recordings, the British Department for Culture, Media, and Sport declared the recording complex a historic landmark. EMI subsequently announced that it would retain ownership of the iconic studio while seeking outside investment to improve its facilities. (britannica.com)
About Screenwriter Alun Owen
Alun Owen was born on November 24, 1925 in Liverpool, England. Of Welsh parentage, Owen attended school in Wales and Liverpool and began his theatrical training as an assistant stage manager in repertory theatre (1942) and then became a stage and screen actor. He started writing for radio and television in 1957, quickly proving his sharp ear for dialogue and his gift for characterization. His television plays, numbering more than 50, sometimes concentrated on the seamier aspects of city life, as in “No Trams to Lime Street” (1959). His quartet of plays, televised as “Male of the Species” (1969), with Laurence Olivier, Paul Scofield, Sean Connery, and Michael Caine, was immensely successful and was produced for the stage in 1974. But, although the play set out to depict the exploitation of women, the protagonist of the piece, Mary MacNeil, emerges as a willing victim and the men in her life as attractive. Owen won critical acclaim for his stage plays, which included “Progress to the Park” and “The Rough and Ready Lot,” both of which were broadcast in 1958 and produced for the stage in 1959 and which depicted religious and cultural bigotry. The former concerns the destruction of the love between a Protestant boy and a Roman Catholic girl in Liverpool of the late 1950s…In 1961 Owen received the Screenwriters Guild Award for “The Rose Affair” (produced for television 1961; produced for stage 1966), a modern-day version of the fairy tale “The Beauty and the Beast,” and another play, “A Little Winter Love,” was produced in 1963. Owen is perhaps best remembered as the author of the screenplay for the Beatles’ first film, “A Hard Day’s Night” (1964). From the 1970s on, he produced plays mainly for television, although he also continued to write for the stage. (britannica.com)
About Director Richard Lester
Richard Lester was born on January 19, 1932 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A piano prodigy, Lester continued his musical activities while pursuing a clinical psychology degree at the University of Pennsylvania. After graduating in 1951, he worked at a local television station, beginning as a stagehand and eventually becoming a director. He traveled to Europe in 1954, ostensibly as a “roving correspondent” for a newspaper syndicate, and paid his way by playing guitar and piano. Within a year he was working at London’s Independent Television studios as a composer and director. He hosted his own one-shot “The Dick Lester Show” in 1956, which though a disaster led to a series of choice directorial assignments on the various television projects of “The Goon Show” co-creators Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers. Also during this period, he began directing commercials, an activity to which he would periodically return throughout his career. While working on Milligan’s TV series “A Show Called Fred,” he provided frantic, non sequitur filmed segments. These came to fruition in his theatrical-film directorial debut, “The Running,” “Jumping and Standing Still Film” (1959), which featured Milligan and Sellers in a series of surreal sketches and sight gags. Lester graduated to features with “It’s Trad, Dad!” (1962), a low-budget capitalization on Britain’s then current traditional jazz craze.
When he helmed his first studio-financed film, “The Mouse on the Moon,” the following year, he continued to rely upon working methods he had honed for television, including the cost-saving use of multiple cameras. Because of this work, Lester was chosen to direct the Beatles’ first film, “A Hard Day’s Night” (1964). Though tightly scripted by Alun Owen, the film possessed a charmingly spontaneous, improvisational energy that not only encapsulated the dizzy euphoria of “Beatlemania” but influenced moviemaking in general during the 1960s. Described by critic Andrew Sarris as “the ‘Citizen Kane’ of jukebox musicals,” “A Hard Day’s Night” was followed by another enjoyable Beatles-Lester collaboration, “Help!” (1965). With the exception of “Petulia” (1968), a comparatively straightforward account of an extramarital affair in contemporary San Francisco that starred Julie Christie and George C. Scott, Lester’s other 1960s movies—the “swinging London” spoof “The Knac”k…and “How to Get It” (1965), the Broadway adaptation “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” (1966), the wickedly satiric antiwar pieces “How I Won the War” (1967) and “The Bed Sitting Room” (1969)—were cut from the same stylistic cloth as the director’s two Beatles pictures, and the first of them was awarded the Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival. His later films were more “mainstream” than his earlier efforts, though no less visually stunning. These included the all-star swashbucklers “The Three Musketeers” (1973), “The Four Musketeers” (1974), and “Royal Flash” (1975), the revisionist “Robin and Marian” (1976), the bittersweet historical romance “Cuba” (1979), and the lavish comic-book derivations “Superman II “(1980) and “Superman III” (1983). After “The Return of the Musketeers” (1989), Lester virtually retired from filmmaking, reportedly disheartened by the on-set accidental death of his longtime colleague, comic actor Roy Kinnear. He was briefly coaxed back to work by former Beatle Paul McCartney, who engaged the director’s services for the concert feature “Paul McCartney’s Get Back” (1991). (britannica.com)