' ' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: A Hard Day's Night (1964)

Friday, July 11, 2014

Friday's Old Fashioned: A Hard Day's Night (1964)

Late in “A Hard Day’s Night”, Richard Lester’s glee-infused ode to Beatlemania that moves as fasts its titular quartet moves to get away from the screaming, crying, fawning harems chasing after them everywhere they go, the camera presents John Lennon’s face in extreme close-up. And the close-up is made extreme by looking beyond just the contours of his face and focusing quite tightly on just his smile as he sings. And each time the camera catches sight of his compatriots, Paul, George, and Ringo, they are smiling too. So often the movies lead us to believe in Stardom’s Burden, and while many burdens came with The Beatles' stardom, “A Hard Day’s Night” prefers to imagine it as joyful. On stage, at the club, messing with the mind of their eternally stressed out manager (Norman Rossington), even when they’re dashing to and fro to evade the star-mongering female throngs, The Beatles can’t stop smiling.

Just re-released into theaters to coincide with its fiftieth anniversary and a Criterion re-issue, “A Hard’s Day Night” originally descended in the immediate wake of the British Invasion but ahead of the group becoming more popular than Jesus and their eventually tumultuous breakup. Thus, it’s a timeless snapshot of a revolutionary band at the almost utopian point between the Rise and the Fall, when they genuinely appeared to enjoy each other’s company, the days of Lennon demanding that his songs appear on the opposite of the album than McCartney’s songs since, you know, McCartney’s songs might have, like, cooties or something in the seemingly distant future. In the midst of a late-film performance there is a moment of absurd delight when George, situated on stage between John and Paul, does a little shimmy while strumming his Rickenbacker, and it’s enough to make you swoon like one of the innumerable teenage girls the camera routinely captures in various stages of About-To-Pass-Outedness. You think, Why couldn’t they have been this happy forever?

The screenplay was written by Alun Owen and for his contribution he received an Oscar nomination, a fact which seems to contradict the old babble at $2200 afternoon guru seminars about screenplays revolving around structure and conflict. Here the structure is but a flimsy clothesline whipping in the wind, but oh how those black suits look while drying! The driving – or perhaps we should say, careening – plot point is The Beatles needing to get to Liverpool for some sort of show, but the tenets of this show are not established to much effect and it doesn’t much matter. The show just provides the movie a wrap-upand everything in between is the juice. While staying at a hotel, the band’s manager assigns them “homework” in the form of reading and replying to their boundless stacks of fan letters. Naturally they can’t be bothered with such restrictions and light out for a local club. It effortlessly illustrates how this specific film portrays them as nothing much more than super-famous schoolboys, a few kids who view fame as lark and their manager as the dreaded schoolmaster trying to curb their enthusiasm. His attempts are foiled at every turn, of course, setting the template for Edward R. Rooney, Dean of Students, twenty-one years later. After all, what were Ferris, Sloane and Cameron but John, Paul and George, with The Parking Lot Attendant as Ringo.

The closest our boys from Liverpool come to being thwarted in their efforts to have a good time is through Paul’s fictional grandfather, John (Wilfred Brambell), a character who appears to have been invented not simply to increase hijinks, but to provide an entry point into the film for the gaggle of older folks who viewed those mopheads in matching black suits as troublemaking whippersnappers. Yet he doesn’t threaten thwartation because he’s a whiny old crank but because he keeps trying to re-capture his youth, sneaking off to have his own good time, forcing everyone to deal with his antics. John McCartney proves that even notably clean old men can enjoy jangly Brit pop. He's like a comical version of Ed Sullivan when Ed told America that it was okay to like Elvis.

He also provides the convenient means by which Ringo, near the end, is made to (kind of) question his place in the universe, gallivanting away from the band to indulge in an identity crisis only a few hours ahead of the big Liverpool show, sending everyone into a tizzy. Everything that can wrong does go wrong, as it must, yet even though it does and he winds up in jail, it all still turns out fine, which I sincerely hope is not a spoiler, and even if it is, well, how can you be sad?

In retrospect, “A Hard Day’s Night” is the happy ending The Beatles never got.


Andrew K. said...

Totally taking this off topic but this: " In retrospect, “A Hard Day’s Night” is the happy ending The Beatles never got." is why I think no matter how often we may be burned, we cling to bio-pics especially ones that trace a particular time in a famous person's life. We get to relive that moment and leave with the happiness still intact, or with the promise of happiness. Like stopping time in a bottle.

(It's why even as someone who's not a necessarily industrious fan of the Beatles I like Taylor-Wood's NOWHERE BOY so much which deliberately ends just before the success of Lennon, the promise of success to come on film is almost better than re-representing.)

Nick Prigge said...

"Like stopping time in a bottle." This is going to be a super obscure reference, I think, but do you know what watching this made me think of? This old Muppets sketch where the Scientist is singing "Time In A Bottle" and crafting potions that make him younger and younger and younger until the last one when, of course, he just ends up as himself in old age once again. Hardcore tragedy.

Nick Prigge said...

Well, maybe not that obscure. I had to find it after I mentioned it. God, it's depressing.