I had the day off today and, determined to do something that included air conditioning, went to see the newly remastered A Hard Day’s Night at the Film Forum. The film was originally released fifty years ago this week. I have seen the movie at least dozen times, including several on the big screen, and it never ceases to surprise. It is one of those cultural reference points that I revisit every 5-6 years and see through different eyes every time. What is on screen is the same; it is my perspective that changes as I grow older and develop. In that way I know the place for the first time.
A Hard Day’s Night strikes the perfect balance of story telling, musical montage, and seeming cinéma vérité. Seeming is the key word. Five decades on some viewers still believe they are watching a documentary. This is not surprising; the Maysles Brothers’ footage of the Beatles’s February 1964 arrival in the United States was one of the A Hard Days Night’s inspirations. It is easy to confuse the two. The whole movie is leavened with just the right dollop of magic realism, which is appropriate. The Beatles at their best contained just the right dollop of magic realism.
A few things I noticed this time around were:
the dinginess. This was the period of Austerity Britain, the two decades or so after WW2 when England was still recovering and London was not yet swinging. The peeling paint, damaged buildings, and bad roads were glaring in the remastered version;
the sprinkling of people of color in the crowd scenes. This was the era when the Empire was winding down and many from the Commonwealth were moving to Great Britain. Look closely and you will notice that some of the screaming fans are from India or other parts of the Empire. They did tour all over the world after all. Their fan base outside of Great Britain and America is an interesting and under-explored part of the Beatles’s story;
the North/South Divide. In England the caricature is flipped; Southerners are seen as being sophisticates and Northerners the rubes. This was especially true a half century ago. Unlike some scousers in show business at the time, the Beatles never hid their Liverpudlian provenance. I had never noticed the North/South jokes before today, probably because there is so much else going on.
The Beatles made a few more movies after A Hard Day’s Night, but none succeeded like this one. The later efforts couldn’t capture the wit and winningness on display here. It was a time when a rock group could share a variety stage with magicians, jugglers, and dancing acrobats without a trace of self-consciousness. It all seems so far away and yet so modern at the same time. Watch it again and you will see.