A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Thursday, September 29, 2016

A Hard Day's Night (Richard Lester, 1964)

I am the same age as Ringo Starr and was born only a little over a week before John Lennon, so I watch A Hard Day's Night with more than ordinary nostalgia, the kind that might make me say with Wordsworth, "Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, / But to be young was very heaven!" except that I'd be lying. Still, if there was bliss to be had in that post-Kennedy-assassination, Goldwater-haunted, Cold War summer of '64, it was to be found in watching John, Paul, George, and Ringo larking about at the movies. It was a breath of optimism, a statement that youth could conquer the world. It didn't quite turn out that way, but it didn't for Wordsworth either: He was talking about the French Revolution, which proved not to be so heavenly. This is, of course, one of the great film musicals, packed with engaging songs. They may be more lightweight than the Beatles' later oeuvre, lifting the heart rather than stirring the imagination, but they're impossible to resist. It also slyly, cheekily makes its point about the generation the Beatles are trying to leave behind: the ineptly bullying managers (Norman Rossington and John Junkin), the fussy TV director (Victor Spinetti), the marketing executive (Kenneth Haigh) sure that he has a handle on What the Kids Want, the Blimpish man on the train (Richard Vernon) who tells Ringo, "I fought the war for your sort." Ringo's reply: "I bet you're sorry you won." Celebrity is closing in on them, epitomized by the wonderfully elliptical dialogue in John's encounter with a woman (Anna Quayle) who is sure that she recognizes him but then puts on her glasses and proclaims, "You don't look like him at all." John mutters, "She looks more like him than I do." Alun Owen's screenplay, written after hanging out with the Beatles, absorbing and borrowing their own jokes, was one of the two Oscar nominations the film received, along with George Martin's scoring. None of the songs, of course, were nominated. Neither were Richard Lester's direction, Gilbert Taylor's cinematography, or John Jympson's editing, all of which kept the film buoyant and fleet.

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