Why On Earth Should I Moan – Still Nothing To Complain About in ‘A Hard Day’s Night’
By Neil Sambrook
YEAH YEAH YEAH to coin a phrase – I know, I know, another appraisal of The Beatles film ‘A Hard Day’s Night’
Nearly fifty four years old and the subject of countless critiques does the world really need one more? Well after watching it on television for the umpteenth time over Christmas I decided another set of observations could do no harm – after all what is wrong in celebrating eighty seven minutes of such joy one more time?
Having watched ‘A Hard Day’s Night,’ at least once every eighteen months for the roughly the past forty years I thought there was nothing new for me to see but like the brilliant rock album and great film (which it most certainly is) there is often something new to discover. Much of the back story I discovered in the two-set DVD edition that I received as a birthday present about five years ago and while ‘the making of,’ documentary of is both fascinating and informative it also served to shatter one of my lasting illusions of the film. Down the years when walking along the platform of Liverpool Lime Street station I always conjured the image of the Fab Four being chased down the same walkway in the opening scene, only to discover it was not shot there but at Marylebone Station and the train journey they take in the first twenty minutes of the film is not from Liverpool to London, but back and forth from Marylebone to Minehead – leaving me with mixed feelings whether it was information I really needed to be aware of.
But no matter how many times I see it (and on this latest viewing I did spot a couple of errors in continuity that had never come to my attention before) I am always enthralled by the sheer exuberance of how The Beatles perform as actors. To clarify ‘A Hard Day’s Night,’ completely breaks with the tradition laid down in the films made by the likes of Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard up to that point, as rather than play singing characters The Beatles are themselves which gives ‘A Hard Day’s Night,’ its documentary feel and in a story that sees them travelling to London for a television appearance also provides an insight into the lives they were living at the time. The film, cleverly directed by Richard Lester, depicts each member with a distinctly individual personality that from this point onward they would retain until virtually the day they split up – John (rebel), Paul (romantic), George (thinker), Ringo (jester) – but in 1964, before a dark side to ‘Beatlemania’ had developed, their camaraderie is joyful and a far, far cry from the tetchy, squabbling individuals they became when breaking up in front of cameras for ‘Let It Be,’ just five years later.
In early 1964, however, the hand of manager Brian Epstein is still on the tiller, evident in their clean shaven, collar and tie appearance – with hard drugs, political pronouncements and mysticism still someway off. The music too has yet to undergo the transformation that happened once Bob Dylan and psychedelics replaced Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran as the principal song writing influences of Lennon and McCartney – nevertheless the soundtrack of ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ is still a marvel. ‘If I Fell,’ ‘Tell Me Why,’ and ‘And I Love Her,’ all have gorgeous melodies and straightaway as songwriters they are way ahead of the field, while in the latter song the stunning classical guitar arrangement shows The Beatles were quite capable of eclecticism in their own right.
One oddity of the film given it is their movie, is the name of the group is never mentioned – ‘The Beatles’ appears on Ringo’s drum kit and on the helicopter in the closing scene – but everywhere else the superb script, written by playwright Alun Owen, contains comical references to their fame and throws in several in-jokes for good measure, the most obvious being frequent remarks made to Paul’s grandfather, who is travelling with them, about him being ‘a clean old man.’ Played by Wilfrid Brambell, this is a reference to the character Brambell was currently making famous in the television comedy ‘Steptoe and Son’ where he is often labelled ‘a dirty old man.’ After spending time with The Beatles, Owen manages to give his script strong authenticity, picking up on expressions the group were using such as ‘grotty’ and ‘mocker’ that had never been used before. What did come as a surprise when recently watching the film was a scene on a backstage staircase where there road manager (played by Norman Rossington) says to John Lennon as a chorus line passes: ‘put those girls down Lennon or I’ll tell your Mother.’
It seems a strangely insensitive line particularly as Lennon had lost his Mother in a tragic car accident six years before and in view of the tortured songs he wrote about her (‘Mother’, My Mummy’s Dead,’) most notably on his breath taking solo album ‘Plastic Ono Band’ in 1970.
But let us not leave ‘A Hard Day’s Night,’ on a sombre note – it is much too upbeat and infectious for that.
If you have seen the film then see it again and dare yourself not to smile. If somehow you have never seen it what a treat awaits – a wonderful opportunity to witness many of the reasons people remain enthralled by The Beatles to this day.
Renowned Rock Music critic Neil Sambrook takes a new look at The Beatles debut movie ‘A Hard Day’s Night,’ and despite the film being over fifty years old still finds it joyous and enthralling.
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