Saturday, August 20, 2011

Film # 59: A Hard Day's Night (1964)

Director: Richard Lester

Initial Release Country: United Kingdom

Times Previously Seen: none

Teaser Summary (No spoilers)

The iconic pop quartet spend a day running from fans, being cheeky, and mixing in several smash hits.

Extended Summary (Spoilers included, not that it matters)

Pop music sensations The Beatles are busy young lads. On one “typical” day, they spend their time charming some fans with their playful puns, avoiding stodgy drags with impish impassivity, or simply driving the teenyboppers wild with their monstrously popular tunes. They bounce from trains to limos to concert halls to night clubs, bringing their playfully subversive charm with them.

Accompanied by Paul McCarthy's rakish granddad and the band's managers, the Fab Four break into song several times, be it in a train car, on the street or in its presumed proper place, a concert hall. After a series of misunderstandings nearly lose their drummer, Ringo Starr, to arrest by the local police, the four arrive at that evening's gig just in time play their set, sooth the panicked stage manager, and send the adolescent girls into absolute rapture.

Lennon & Harrison, dazzling adoring fans by their meer presence.

After all of the screaming, cheering and hoipaloi die down, John, Paul, George and Ringo run off with their managers to board a helicopter and fly away, presumably to the next day's gig and yet another bout of non-stop insanity and hijinx.

Take 1: My Gut Reaction (Done after this first viewing, before any research on the film)

I simply don't get it.

This isn't to imply that there's anything about the movie to “get”. What I mean by that opening line is that I don't get why it's placed on the TIME magazine “100 Great Films” list. A Hard Day's Night is ultimately harmless fun, featuring arguably the most popular band of all time. Still, it showed me nothing that would explain bestowing “great film” status on it.

I suppose full disclosure would be appropriate. I am not a huge Beatles fan. I have nothing against them. I certainly don't dislike them. In fact, I have several albums of their and actually quite like several of their songs. However, I've never felt drawn to them with the religious dedication seen in so many millions of other people. Not even close.

The rabid fandom gets going early and continues through the film and into the 21st century.

I can best describe myself as being a “post drugs” Beatles fan – a person who likes the music they made after they started dabbling in better living through chemistry. Hence, all of the songs I like are from 1965 and after (Revolver, Rubber Soul, and their successors). A Hard Day's Night predated these by a few years and was the apex of The Beatles early, teenybopper heyday (after seeing this film, I might dub The Beatles as the first ever “boy band”, though they grew out of that shortly after). The music was pure bubblegum – catchy, crisp, and lyrically shallow. The movie follows suit, for the most part.

Going into the movie, I didn't really know what to expect. I didn't know if it was a pure documentary or what. The answer was “or what”. A Hard Day's Night was a comical take on the hectic daily life of an incredibly popular “band on the run”. While the four band members play themselves, everything in the film is totally scripted, and it is quite clearly meant to be a lighthearted farce. The boys crack wise, ditch their uptight managers, and generally frustrate any person over the age of 30. The kids obviously loved it.

I, however, am not a starry-eyed 15-year-old British girl (so my girlfriend tells me). Whether my age had anything to do with it, I can't be sure, but I found the movie to be mostly a bore. There are a few one-liners that elicited a chuckle here and there, but the vast majority of the movie was plain dull. The jokes were mostly lame puns and the physical comedy was sadly sophomoric.

McCartney hides from fans by wearing a fake moustache. Just one of many silly jokes I can only guess were aimed at the vaudevillian/8-year old demographic.

One reason I assume people rate this movie highly is the music. The soundtrack is, essentially, the album of the same name. Without doubt, some of the band's most enduring and infectious hits are to be heard and seen performed. If you love that album, you'll no doubt love the movie, just for hearing the songs. As previously explained, though, these are not the Beatles tunes that draw me in. For me, these little musical interludes simply tried my patience.

I do have to say that the movie is shot well. It's in black and white, but the framing is solid and the acting is decent enough. Alas, it takes far more to make a great film. Sure, this one features a pop music group the likes of which may never be seen again, since our modern culture precludes the dominance of any one superstar band or group, but it's still very flat to me.

For people who love The Beatles in general, or just prefer their earlier G-rated vibe, this movie is probably one that you'd like. It wasn't my cup o' tea, sorry to say.

Take 2: Or, Why Film Geeks Love This Movie. (Done after some further research on the film)

A little research has shed a wee touch of light on the enduring praise of A Hard Day's Night.

While the earliest reviews, including this original one from TIME magazine, seem to find the movie far funnier than I did, several more modern reviewers bring up more salient points. As is often the case, Roger Ebert saw the greater picture in this 1996 review of his. Though he also found more humor in the movie than I did, he pays even more attention to the technical merits exhibited by director Richard Lester. Lester's unique blending of various filming styles apparently influenced movies, TV shows, and television commercials for decades to come. I certainly can't argue with this, as the cinematography was a clear standout aspect of the movie.

The other semi-novelty is that A Hard Day's Night was apparently an early stab at the "mockumentary". It certainly doesn't go all the way, as later films such as "The Ruttles" or "Spinal Tap", but one can see how the zaniness is there, though much tamer than those later entries to the genre.

I must that that, even in the more sober reviews, I couldn't help but think that the writer's couldn't shake off a certain amount of nostalgia. I'd probably do the same for any group that provided the primary soundtrack to roughly 15 of my formative years, if such a band existed. Despite this, I have to take the glowing reviews from the Baby Boomers with a tiny grain of salt.

That's a wrap. 59 shows down; 46 to go.

Coming Soon: Band of Outsiders (1964)

A French crime movie, oui? Actually, I've found many a pleasant surprise in watching French crime films, so I look forward to this one. Come back and check out my review, non?

Please be sure to pick up all empties on the way out.