Sunday, July 7, 2013

British Beatlemania: "A Hard Day's Night"

Movie Review: A Hard Day's Night

Director: Richard Lester

Reviewed: 30 June 2013

jamesintexas rating--****

The Beatles are such a phenomenon that to see them young and impish is a rare delight. When I was growing up, I checked out Beatles cassette tapes from the library and listened to Chicago's WXRT's program "Breakfast with the Beatles" on Sunday mornings. I remember hearing "Revolution" in Mr. Stan Reddel's World History class, as well as my good friend Dave Ward sing "In My Life" at our high school graduation. Beyond a few snippets of the Ed Sullivan show, they existed to me in music form only. Of course, it was impossible to escape some of the iconography of their album covers and fashion choices, but not until today did I ever watch the living, breathing musical force that was The Beatles. Part of my summer film challenge to myself is to seek out gaps in my own cinematic education, as well as to honor the great film critic Roger Ebert by seeing and reviewing films off of his "Great Movies" list. Richard Lester's "A Hard Day's Night" surely fits in that category.

The film takes place in England in the early sixties, and the band out-sprints its frenzied fans in the memorable opening sequence set to the title song. The quartet of John, Paul, George, and Ringo all get equal chances to mug in front of the camera as the film's loose structure involves full-length performances of their early hit songs, interactions with screaming fans, outfoxing a bossy manager, shenanigans and hijinks with Paul's meddlesome uncle, and a rehearsal and then television performance. The young men have an electricity about them, and Lester expertly captures it, showing the performances, the fans, the crew behind the scenes adjusting the image going out to the world. Without knowing too much of the context of the film, "A Hard Day's Night" feels like one of the first concert films, a hybrid of myth-making and song, with some gentle comedy thrown in the mix. John Lennon in particular stands out as a clown, a provocateur, a defiant and charismatic force. I loved seeing them interact with each other, tell jokes, and kid Ringo until he wanders off alone and despondent for a brief chapter. The film ends in the band's reunion and, appropriately, in song.

"A Hard Day's Night" offers a snapshot of the world's biggest band before they became the world's biggest band, and its sheer joy and exhilaration combined with some of the best songs ever written make this an unforgettable film. To complete the journey, I think that I need to see "Help!" and "Yellow Submarine" in order to best understand how fame, money, and worldwide acclaim changed these four lads from Liverpool. But this one is unforgettable and timeless.  Highly recommended.

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