Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Cinema Bestius: A Hard Day's Night

What would you say if I sang out of tune?
Would you stand up and walk out on me?

#22 – A Hard Day’s Night
The Pope has written about this terrific, life-affirming film (and about the Beatles) so many times in the past, he is left wondering what else there is left to say. No less an expert than Andrew Sarris called A Hard Day’s Night “the Citizen Kane of jukebox musicals.”

The Plot in Brief: A Liverpool pop group called “the Beatles” (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr) are travelling to London to appear on a television special. They seem to be prisoners of their own success, confined to “a train and a room and a car and a room… and a room and a room.” Paul’s Grandfather (Wilfrid Brambell) accompanies them on the trip and causes trouble, eventually talking Ringo into leaving the group. Will all four Beatles make it to the live television broadcast?
What starts out seeming like a documentary soon reveals itself to belong to a number of different genres: Director Richard Lester runs the gamut from absurdism to cinéma vérité and back again. The Pope cannot think of another musical that skips so effortlessly from style to style: it moves from sophisticated wordplay to slapstick to musical number to irony to surrealism. At times, the film seems like the work of Federico Fellini; at other times like the work of Vincente Minnelli. When Ringo, out parading, painstakingly places his camera on a rock to take a “selfie,” hits the cabled shutter release, and sends the camera flying into the Mersey river, Buster Keaton would have been proud of the way that sequence is composed, shot, and edited.
Of course, the real point is the music. It is joyous and fun. Look: the Pope is old. The Pope is old. (He shall wear the bottoms of his trousers rolled.) I just do not understand nor enjoy much of contemporary music—it’s often auto-tuned and sampled and drum-machined until the humanity is drained away. Shouting “YEE-AAH” over a sampled (and better) classic pop song is not music. Listening to modern pop music makes the Pope angry. Listening to the Beatles makes the Pope happy. In A Hard Day’s Night, the Beatles sing about how great LOVE is (“A Hard Day’s Night,” “I Should Have Known Better,” and “And I Love Her”), how one must be careful with others’ feelings (“If I Fell”), how much FUN it is to run around in an empty field (“Can’t Buy Me Love”), how much FUN it is to dance with the one you LOVE (“I’m Happy Just To Dance With You”) and just how great love TRULY is (“Tell Me Why” and “She Loves You”). The key words here are “love” and “fun.”

A Hard Day’s Night’s Three Miracles: The astounding screenplay from Alun Owen, which codifies the early Beatles and their language into the stuff of legend; the delirious direction of Richard Lester, so fresh, so innovative, so groundbreaking; and the performances (and dare I say, “magic?”) of the Beatles themselves—we never catch them acting.

SPECIAL NOTE: The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl finally made its digital debut last Friday (retitled The Beatles: Live at the Hollywood Bowl) to herald the release of the new Ron Howard documentary The Beatles: Eight Days A Week—The Touring Years. I am very familiar with the original album, which I spun endlessly during my (largely) wasted youth. Producer Giles Martin (son of original Beatles producer, Sir George Martin) has done an impressive job here cleaning up the original live tapes that originally sounded like the Beatles were playing in an airplane hangar with multiple jet engines roaring, the crowd noise was so loud. The new CD/digital download sounds great. A tip o’ my Pope hat to Apple Records for finally releasing this bit of history… only 39 years after its original vinyl debut. I’m sure we can all now expect the restored Let It Be film… sometime in 2071.

"In nomine Paul, et Ringo, y spiritu John et George, Amen.”

If you would like to hear the wonderful podcast the Pope and apostle Patrick recorded on A Hard Day’s Night, you can find it here.

If you would like to explore a display case the Pope designed at his day job to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Beatles arriving in America, you can find it here.

If you would like to read about the sorts of things one notices when watching a beloved film like A Hard Day’s Night for the 185th or 186th time, you can find it here.

If you would like to read about the Pope making a case for A Hard Day’s Night being one of the first manifestations of Magical Realism in English language cinema, you can find it here.

If you would like to take Doug’s magical “picture-y” tour of A Hard Day’s Night locations, you can find it here.

If you would like to read my previous column on Help!—the Beatles’ second feature film—you can find it here.

If you would like to read my previous column on Let It Be, an actual Beatles documentary that chronicles the troubled recording of that album, you can find it here.

Finally, if you still want more of the lads from Liverpool, read about another great Beatles documentary, Good Ol’ Freda, here.


  1. Hey mister, can we have our ball back?

  2. I didn't understand all those comments about Paul's grandfather being "clean" until I read about how the actor was the lead in "Steptoe and Son," the British sitcom that became the basis for "Sanford and Son." In the British show, Wilfrid Brambell is repeatedly referred to as a "dirty old man."

    1. Huh! Thank you, That would explain it. Come to think of it, though, did they (probably John of course) at one point like at the end point out he's really a "dirty old man", too? I vaguely remember them saying that and understanding that. Anyway, they sure did make a billion clean jokes.

    2. I thought Mean Mr. Mustard was the dirty old man? From all the sleeping in both the park AND a hole in the road.

    3. Near the end of the film, John Lennon takes Wilfrid Bramble's grandpa character to task. Bramble replies, "Well, at least I'm clean," to which Lennon replies, "Are you?"

    4. It's interesting that John, always the most cocksure-seeming Beatle (though I think he's pretty much copped to it being a bit of a front), is the most self-conscious actor of the group. I love his performance but I'd say it's the least natural.

  3. I'm not versed enough in Catholicism to know what that little prayer at the end is called but I love em every time - this one's the best yet.

    It's always awesome to fall in love with a movie at first sight, but it's a special kind of awesome when you don't care much for a movie on one viewing and then absolutely adore it on another. A Hard Day's Night was like that for me. My deep fandom of The Beatles hit my first year of university - at some point I rented AHDN from Blockbuster and disliked it so much I invoked the You'll Love it Guarantee and got my money back - I loved The Beatles but that was some stupid crap. I watched it again about 5 years ago and thought yeah this is kind of fun I can see why people like this. JB's enthusiasm for the film convinced me to buy the Criterion release a couple years ago and that time it finally clicked. I LOVE it now - like, I'm IN love with it. Besides just making me happy to spend time with The Boys, it's such a unique and wonderful movie experience (I think you referred to its "magic realism" in another article?) and I feel like I appreciate it all the more having gone through not getting it before.