The Beatles chart domination and complementing British Invasion were well under way when A Hard Day’s Night premiered in the U.S. 50 years ago on August 11, 1964, and to celebrate, the Criterion Collection has just released The Beatles’ historic first film on DVD and Blu-ray.
The Criterion release is full of extras including three audio options; an audio commentary featuring cast and crew; a new feature, In Their Own Voices, combining 1964 interviews with the Beatles with behind-the-scenes footage and photos; a 1994 documentary by the film’s producer Walter Shenson, You Can’t Do That: The Making of 'A Hard Day’s Night,' including a Beatles outtake performance; a 2002 documentary about the film, Things They Said Today, featuring director Richard Lester, music producer George Martin, screenwriter Alun Owen, and cinematographer Gilbert Taylor; a new feature about Lester’s early work, Picturewise, with a new audio interview with the director; Lester’s 1960 Oscar-nominated short subject The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film; a new feature on Lester’s methods, Anatomy of a Style; a new interview with Beatles biographer Mark Lewisohn, an essay by critic Howard Hampton and excerpts from a 1970 interview with Lester.
That’s a lot for a DVD release, but as TCM’s Robert Osborne noted on the channel’s recent A Hard Day’s Night premiere, the film truly opened the door for films by other British Invasion bands including the Dave Clark Five and Herman’s Hermits--and was way more than a “quickie film thrown together to collect money from rabid fans.”
As Osborne accurately related, A Hard Day’s Night had appeal for all ages then and now. More significantly, it established a new standard in spirited cinematography and editing that has since become the norm in filmmaking.
Above all else, of course, it brought to the big screen each of the Beatles’ “natural charisma and likability”—almost as much a reason for Beatlemania as their immortal records. Here Osborne rightly credited Lester for letting the boys be themselves rather than force “artificial personalities” on them—though it’s hard to imagine, after rewatching the movie, that he could have succeeded had he tried.
For the Fab Four indeed come off too free-spirted and spontaneous in the film’s loosely scripted day-in-the-life plot. Even in the frenzied run from screaming fans in the opening credits to the sound of the still-arresting titletrack, John, Paul, George and Ringo, jumping barricades, hiding in phone booths and finally escaping on a train, are presented as the madcap cutups that a generation came to love and clearly still does half a century later.
It’s ironic that 50 years after, Ringo, the only Beatle not inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist, remains as wrongly underappreciated in reality as he is in the movie—though in the latter, at least, he’s the central figure. After he tells George on the train how the irascible Paul’s grandfather character doesn’t like him because he’s little, George tells him, “You have an inferiority complex, you have,” to which Ringo replies, “I know that’s why I play the drums—it’s a compensatory factor.”
Still, Ringo gets some of the best lines: Asked at a press cocktail party whether he’s a mod or a rocker, he says, “A mocker.” And the last third of the movie involves his poignant disappearance, an hour before a major concert taping, during which he haplessly gets kicked out of a pub, gets arrested, and befriends a 10-year-old fellow “deserter” who skipped school to play with his mates—all this to a plaintive instrumental version of “This Boy,” or for the sequence, “Ringo’s Theme.”
As for Ringo and his mates, the famous soundtrack songs are delivered with all the buoyant fun and youthful energy that marked all their early performances, highlights including “I Should Have Known Better”--played on the train—and especially the final concert segment songs “Tell Me Why,” “If I Fell,” “I Should Have Known Better” and “She Loves You,” the last virtually drowned out by the ecstatic audience.
Having left the building, The Beatles evacuate in a helicopter, the camera looking up from the ground as it rises away—a nice opposite of an earlier overhead shot looking down upon the band goofing around on a playground, before getting hassled by its older owner.
Looking back at it all now, it’s fascinating to see what soon became known as “the generation gap” so neatly juxtaposed by The Beatles, on the young side, and that playground owner, grandpa, the cops, music management and media on the old. As the chopper lifts John, Paul, George and Ringo to the next stage of their career, we now know that while it won’t be as seemingly carefree and happy-go-lucky, it will be no less monumental—let alone ageless.
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