A Hard Day’s Night
The first film The Beatles made, A Hard Day’s Night will unwind starting this holiday weekend in a special restorations and revivals engagement at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. (July 4 through July 10, check the website for times and prices.) The restoration is at 4K resolution and the soundtrack is a re-mixed 5.1 sound mix.
The Beatles only have an oeuvre of five films in which they appeared together: A Hard Day’s Night, Help!, Yellow Submarine, Magical Mystery Tour (a British television movie), and Let It Be. With the exception of the latter all of their films are available in authorized Blu-ray editions.
Let It Be is a sort of curiosity in the manner in which it’s treated, almost pariah like. That documentary which chronicles the last release the Beatles recorded has already been released on VHS (back in the day) and is available on bootleg DVD copies. Perhaps the fact that it shows them in the heat of breaking up prevents it current trajectory. Perhaps one day Let It Be will see its Fear and Desire release. The common conception is that Yoko Ono broke up The Beatles. That couldn’t be any further from the truth. The Beatles broke up because after manager Brian Epstein died John, George and Ringo wanted to go with Allen Klein as their new money manager and Paul wanted to go with his father-in-law from his relation with Linda Eastman, whose dad was an entertainment lawyer. The only way the lads from Liverpool could get the royalties they deserved was to disband, liquidate The Beatles assets, and start anew on their separate career paths. Let It Be captures the quartet in the midst of this quandary.
Paul McCartney would go on to direct Magical Mystery Tour with Ringo Starr as the Director of Photography. In A Hard Day’s Night Ringo can be seen holding a 16mm camera. There are supplemental films, not directly Beatles projects, which for the moptop maven should be checked out. That would include the fictional narratives Backbeat (about Stu Sutcliffe and the Hamburg days) and The Hours and Times, a one-hour film that theorizes about the relation between Lennon and Epstein. There’s also the 1964 documentary What’s Happening! The Beatles in the U.S.A. helmed by Albert and David Maysles and concentrating on their initial American tour.
A Hard Day’s Night burst onto the scene by depicting a musical group in a way they’d seldom been seen. Sure, movies from the beginning of the cave man days exist that depict musical acts in their own plotline, but the mainstay of musical performers was as cameo appearances in films like The Girl Can’t Help It (1956, featuring Julie London, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Gene Vincent, among others).
AHDN is The Beatles on their own terms. They crack wise and they run from screaming mobs of fans. Maybe Frank Sinatra had screaming fans a generation previously and who’s to say that some mad medieval monk didn’t have a horde of leaping ladies hanging on to his verse.
A Hard Day’s Night features several new songs (at the time) that were specifically written for the soundtrack. AHDN may be the ultimate cowbell Beatles song. Curiously one track was shot but left out of the film, a track that also features predominant cowbell – “You Can’t Do That.” That song in its outtake version is included in the new Criterion Collection release of A Hard Day’s Night (6/24).
The Criterion release comes in a dual-format Blu-ray and DVD package and a regular DVD release; included are three sound mixes, 5.1 and Stereo and Mono that will test the limits of your particular sound systems. There’s also a doc on the making of the film chock full of news footage of the Fab Four that’s hosted by Phil Collins who was, as a young lad, an extra in AHDN.
One of the most interesting aspects of AHDN is how the individual members of the band are introduced. George gets one song. But it’s Ringo who takes center stage when the movie actually goes from docu-drama to narrative. Starr’s making the rounds of quaint mod clothing stores when he finds himself besieged by fans. He ducks out in an overcoat but subsequently gets arrested, a mere hour before The Beatles are to perform before studio cameras. The whole rest of the film revolves around getting Ringo to the freedom of the soundstage.
Compare the excitement seen in A Hard Day’s Night to the exultation of watching bootleg copies of The Beatles performing on The Ed Sullivan Show. The best versions are Japanese.
There’s plenty of surreal satire bounding forth from AHDN, especially in a scene where Harrison auditions for a magazine ad and totally destroys the project manager’s conception of hipness. I’ve been told that the MFAH intends to play this film loud.