A Hard Day's Night (1964): A Cheeky Satire on Beatlemania Right During the Peak of It.

by Paul Deeter

With the release of Peter Jackson's most recent epic: Get Back, its appropriate time to get back to the roots of celluloid Beatles and its influence on film history. Get Back is an 8-hour unedited peek into the history of a single rooftop concert (but perhaps the band's most memorable performance) and is a lengthy project to tackle. But A Hard Day's Night (1964), a satire as much as it is a music documentary on the craze that was Beatlemania, clocks in at just over 87 minutes in length. And yet A Hard Day's Night feels just as colossal as anything the Beatles have attempted on screen. It flies by narratively through the use of song cuts and indirect musical sequences that fit comfortably between the events of the film. And the film's narrative itself lies in the idea of a "Band on the Run" with four young (I mean truly kids) musicians slipping in and out of alleyways and jumping into moving cars just to get around their screaming crowds of fans. I don't need to dive deep into the history of the band and the idolization of the different members which made the Beatles so much more unique at the time. I will mention however that this film exists directly following the terming of the hype worldwide (and most notably stateside) as "Beatlemania." Scottish music promoter Andi Lothian claims he coined the term "Beatlemania" "in speaking to a reporter on October 7, 1963, at The Beatles concert in Caird Hall, Dundee." And Beatlemania is just the term for the band, while the 'British Invasion' also famously occurred in this decade and the UK conquered the top of the charts. But the invasion aside, Beatlemania was a time that was almost as ridiculous as it was exciting, and Richard Lester saw this as an apt opportunity to pull back the curtains. As film historian Stephen Glynn put it, A Hard Day's Night was intended as "a low-budget exploitation film to milk the latest brief musical craze for all it was worth."

To put the film in context of its historical timeline, the Beatles only just began appearing on TV in 1963. The album and titled "Please Please Me" track conquered UK charts and then US charts as well. The follow up of the fandom of young teenage girls primarily and their wild admiration for the band built Beatlemania universally and left the ballpark wide open for something big. And something big was what Lester had in mind with UA (United Artists) which planned a film soundtrack coupled as the band's fourth feature album.

"At first, the film itself was something of a secondary consideration to UA, whose primary interest was in being able to release the soundtrack album in the United States before Capitol Records (the American EMI affiliate who had first shot at releasing Beatles music in the States) got around to issuing their material; in the words of Bud Ornstein, the European head of production for United Artists: "Our record division wants to get the soundtrack album to distribute in the States, and what we lose on the film we'll get back on this disc."

A promotional poster for the film.

All this is questionable to what part of the project became more influential, knowing the history of the film and its many releases, including a 4K remaster planned by Criterion in 2022. The film's seen multiple home and theater re-releases and its questionable what was the bigger hit, with the album spending 14 weeks at the number one spot on the chart... the longest run of any album that year. United Artists rushed the album into stores over a month before the film's US premiere; as a result, the Beatles had both the number-one album and number-one single in the country when A Hard Day's Night opened on 11 August 1964. The film meanwhile would see the equivalent of $70 million dollars in box office profits. With the film's success clear and the influence on concurrent releases obvious the movie is unquestionably a landmark of film and music history. It wasn't the first musical or first film to mix the musical artist with his own performance; Elvis Presley had a couple of movies before this one including 1961's smash Blue Hawaii. But A Hard Day's Night had a different kind of flavor to it that gave it a reason to last as long as it has. The film's firmly featured on the British Film Institute's list as the 88th most influential British feature of all time, has been written about in Roger Ebert's books on great films and sits pretty at 98% on Rotten Tomatoes (with 111 critical reviews.) And if so far this article has read like a research paper, then that's on me, and now lets get into what makes this movie so uniquely... Beatle-esque.

The movie would soar alone from the music that makes up the 20 plus song soundtrack, but also benefits from the surprisingly solid comic performances from our Fab Four. Who would have known Paul McCartney would have the comedic timing he has in this film, or George Harrison could dramatically bring in the romance that underlies the comedy in the film. Just as each Beatle has his own fan and flavor, each "character" here is strong for their personality. The film's comedy is pretty much entirely credited to the Beatles, with the exception of Wilifrid Brambell, who plays Paul's grandfather. Or at least one of them. "Everyone's entitled to two of them!" Paul says in his introduction. Critics would note the distinction between his grandfather's presence in the background of this large scale pandemonium. He just never seems to get it, at his older age the effect of Beatlemania never truly sets in. In fact the majority of male characters behind the scenes who get them in and out of cars and powdered up before performances treat the Beatles with condescension. These are young men its easy to forget, with their massive egos and cheeky sensibilities, (Ringo Starr only turned 24 the year this film came out). The movie's portrayal of the Beatles however remains humorous and cheeky without poking too much fun at them and their talent. Sure the jokes come plenty with their quick witted silly responses to interview questions, but the film reminds us with countless solid musical performances that this is, no question, the biggest band in the world.

Behind the Scenes.

With the influential deadpan and sardonic nature of the comedy in this film, its no question why A Hard Day's Night is seen as landmark cinema. Part of the idolization of the Beatles comes at the unfortunately narrow-minded idea that there will never be music as good as theirs. This is something I disagree with and always will. It is questionable whether there will ever be another A Hard Day's Night, a film as self aware and astoundingly timely as it is. And for what it's worth, as there are yet critics as to the band's importance today and whether or not they're just as damn good as history says, its pretty hard not to smile at four men in their twenties running around and making faces with the cheekiness of kids half their age.

We love you, yeah yeah.

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