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Arts & Culture

A Hard Day's Night

The Beatles on the set of "A Hard Day's Night."
United Artists
The Beatles on the set of "A Hard Day's Night."

The Beatles on the set of A Hard Day's Night (UA)

Richard Lester, an American-born but British-based filmmaker, was deemed perfect to helm this project based in part on an inventive short film he'd made called The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film (the film is also the precursor to Monty Python's style of visual comedy). The film featured Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers who were veterans of the British radio comedy  program The Goon Show. That show along with Lester's film were favorites of the Beatles. That short film's inspired lunacy combined with a savvy sense of old school silent movie comedians and hip filmic sensibility, made Richard Lester the choice of both the Beatles and producer Shenson. And it would be a match made in heaven. All would combine again for Help!, but that film seemed less spontaneous and more calculated to cash in on the success of A Hard Day's Night. Lester would go on to work with just John Lennon in the film How I Won the War , and Lester's The Three Musketeers had at one point been considered as a project for the Beatles.

Even though more than forty years have passed, the film remains as fresh, irreverent and inspired as when it first came out. The Beatles, writer Alun Owen and director Richard Lester  formed a perfect collaborative alliance -- they all displayed a willingness to break with conventions, challenge the establishment and have a ball doing it. The Beatles supplied the appealing on screen talent and a score of wonderful songs. Owen provided a witty script that played slyly off the Beatles’ real personalties as well as their pop icon images. And Lester, a brilliant but underappreciated director, mixed elements of the French New Wave, cinema verite, the Marx Brothers and even TV commercials to create a freewheeling style to match the energy of its young stars. The film moves with such joy, humor and fluidity that you can’t help getting swept up in the frenzied action.

There are also a host of great scenes. When the lads finally escape their confines to have a romp in a field while “Can’t Buy Me Love” plays on the soundtrack, it is one of the most exuberant scenes ever put on film. It is also where today's music videos find their roots. There’s also a savage take on marketing when George has an encounter with a TV director who thinks he has his finger on the pulse of British youth. George shocks him with some real opinions and even makes fun of the TV show’s teen host (“we turn the sound down on her and say rude things”). The man panics and fears that George might be “an early clue to the new direction.” But then he looks on his calendar and assures himself that the change isn’t due for three weeks. And of course there’s Paul grandfather, “a very clean old man.”

Paul McCartney on the set of "A Hard Day's Night" with director Richard Lester.
United Artists
Paul McCartney on the set of "A Hard Day's Night" with director Richard Lester.

The genius behind A Hard Day's Night, director Richard Lester (right) with Paul McCartney (UA)

At a time when Hollywood is finding it more and more difficult to deliver anything fresh, you’re best filmgoing bet is an old classic like A Hard Day’s Night. It won’t disappoint you and it might even make fans out of a new generation of filmgoers. I started showing A Hard Day's Night to my son when he's was three (my theory was why let him watch things like Barney when he could watch things that we both could enjoy) and for a time he was his most requested film to watch. When I was in elementary school it was the film I had seen more than any other -- fourteen times! And that was much harder to do back in the days before VCRs and video tape. My son enjoyed the film so much that he would grab his play guitar and sing-along to I Wanna Be Your Man. Make every effort to see this classic, and even though it's at midnight, bring the kids.

Companion viewing: Help!, Let It Be, The Three Musketeers (1973 and directed by Richard Lester), Petulia, This Is Spinal Tap

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