A HARD DAY'S NIGHT, 1964
Cast: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Wilfrid Brambell
The Beatles--the world's most famous rock and roll band--travel from their home town of Liverpool to London to perform in a television broadcast. Along the way they must rescue Paul's unconventional grandfather from various misadventures and drummer Ringo goes missing just before the crucial concert.
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What makes certain performers into superstars, able to perform for decades for adoring crowds, while others fade away after just a short time? Some of it is surely luck, but there must be some other, unquantifiable quality that lets those certain few enjoy what so many seek. Their faces reprinted on tee-shirts and coffee mugs, even long after they have died, they are bigger than mere celebrities - Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and, of course, The Beatles. For a group whose musical output lasted less than a decade, their images and music have lived on for years after. Part of this can be attributed to personas they helped create for themselves in their first feature film, A Hard Day’s Night (1964). Although they were already one of the biggest bands in the world at the time, this film turned them into icons.
A Hard Day’s Night is the first of its kind, a mockumentary about a day in the life of a band, starring the actual members as themselves. This the first film where the line between reality and fiction was so blurred it almost disappeared, with John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison essentially playing heightened versions of their own personalities in a plot that almost directly reflects their own lives. The story revolves around them getting ready for a big television performance, an obvious take-off of their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, which, only six months before, was the most watched television show of all time with 74 million viewers. As evidenced by the first shot of the film, with the band running away from screaming fans as they try to board their train, they have begun to feel trapped by their own fame; as one character puts it, “so far, I've been in a train and a room, and a car and a room, and a room and a room.” Of course these are meant to be caricatures of the actual Beatles. However, since they are playing characters who are essentially themselves, it becomes hard to know whether or not this reflects their own true feelings. The main thrust of the film are the numerous attempts by the band to escape their “prison”, with the situations usually ending in disaster. Ultimately, though, the films ends with them putting on an excellent show for their adoring fans, as they always did in real life as well.
One of the real strengths of A Hard Day’s Night is how intimate it feels. Shot on a very low budget, the film has a very natural feel to it, as if the audience is actually getting to spend personal time with the band. This aspect of the film went a long way to solidify the popularity of the Beatles. Once audiences felt like they really knew the boys, they could pick their favorite based on the personas the Beatles created for themselves. John was the smart one, Paul the cute one, George the quiet one and Ringo the goofy one. They each became easily identifiable by their assumed roles, which is why the Beatles are one of the few bands where every member is well known. Despite being over forty-five years since its release, the impression audience members formed about them in this film is the image that was stuck with the Beatles ever since.
It would be impossible to review A Hard Day’s Night without mentioning both how innovative it was and how influential it has been on pop culture over the past four decades. With its jump cuts, quick edits timed to music and non-linear storytelling, this film was the beginning of a new type of filmmaking. Take, for example, a scene with the four boys on a train. They get into an argument with an older passenger who treats them like children. In a quick cut, they are suddenly outside the train banging on the window, and then, just as quickly, are back on the train without explanation. This kind of bending of reality had never been done before, and it is not hard to see the effects of this film on numerous projects since - most obviously in the form of the music video. Television shows like Arrested Development and The Office, which pretend to be documentaries about real people, and It's Garry Shandling's Show, a sitcom starring a comic playing a comic who knows he is starring on a sitcom, would never have made sense to an audience not accustomed to this type of surrealism.
The Beatles would go on to make four more films, each of them with their own merits, but none with the cultural impact of A Hard Day’s Night. As for the film’s offbeat title, it was taken from an offhand remark made by Ringo. The title track, written and recorded in a single day, went on to become a number one hit, yet another reason the Beatles are still icons.
A HARD DAYS NIGHT