Some things are timeless. This is made evident by the fact that the greatest film musical of all time will turn fifty this year. Released August 11, 1964 everyone could finally enjoy Beatlemania on the big screen, if you could hear given the incessant screaming, with the US premiere of A Hard Day’s Night. This was before MTV. You could sometimes see them on TV, most notably the famous Ed Sullivan appearances, but director Richard Lester also set the groundwork for what capturing performances to film would become.
There are many revelations that one gleans from watching A Hard Day’s Night. First, it is hard to grasp how truly popular the Beatles were. Yes, there are modern examples, like One Direction and Justin Bieber, but they are just pale comparisons. They have neither the charm, personality or talent the Beatles had. As well, in this era where everyone brands and packages themselves, true personality is still lacking. That wasn’t the case with the Beatles. Each of the four were a distinct character that the camera loved. Manager Brian Epstein put them in suits but he didn’t have to do anything else. Most people forget they weren’t actors and it really is surprising how well they came across on screen. There was a reason everyone forgot there once was a man named Elvis. Above all, A Hard Day’s Night is a great movie and is a testament to their prodigious talents. So many of the movies of this kind, see Spice World, are only watchable once or twice. A Hard Day’s Night is as good the first time as it is the hundred and first time.
The plot is nothing to write home about. Screenwriter Alun Owen was given the task of bringing a feasible story for the Fab Four to showcase their talents. Owen spent time with them and tried to capture their essence. What came out were stock characters who had their grounding in reality but, when you get down to it, was not them as people. In the movie, John was the wise guy, Paul the suave, boyish one, George the little brother and Ringo was Ringo. In the movie, the band is on their way from Liverpool to their next gig in London. They are contrary when their pushy manager tries to lay down the law and Paul’s grandfather is a headache unto himself. Along the way, selections from the album of the same title are played and director Richard Lester crafts the musical sequences with the hand of a master. Unlike other musicals, the songs are performed straight. Lester’s camera does the work, frames the shots and creates the art. The Beatles perform the songs. It is easy to see why Lester is credited with being a major influence on what would become MTV. The musical interludes are simple and break from the Old Hollywood tradition of unneeded extravagance.
When you watch A Hard Day’s Night, you truly appreciate the fact that art is truly timeless. Yes, the film is a work of art. It is on Time’s 100 Greatest Films of all time and deservedly so. The Beatles cemented their place in music and cinematic history and continued creating a legacy that will not long be forgotten. When you consider the constraints under which Richard Lester shot the film, it is truly an achievement. Remember, this was during the Beatlemania craze when the screams of their fans made going to their concerts redundant. If you can, watch it again and again and again. As John Lennon would say, “A splendid time is guaranteed for all.”