Discover A Hard Day's Night All Over Again
Let's get the obvious over with: The early days of the Beatles, as reflected in Richard Lester's ebullient shout of freedom A Hard Day's Night, were all about the optimism of the early 1960s, a thrilling and energizing time when young people, and even some older ones, truly believed that the future held great promise.
There. Now let's talk about joy, and about wistfulness, because one so often trails the other, and both are woven into the DNA of A Hard Day's Night. To read it as a movie that the future proved wrong -- a movie that's somehow "about" our collective, historic innocence, a set of hopes that were dashed by Vietnam or by Nixon's betrayal or by anything -- is to miss the glorious reality that A Hard Day's Night lives so fully in its particular present.
At the end, as the band takes the stage for a televised appearance, the faces of the girls (and a few boys) in the audience complete the story that John, Paul, George and Ringo set in motion at the beginning. If the audience looks incomprehensibly young, the Beatles themselves aren't that much older -- there's still hopefulness in them, too. (During the filming, George, after all, met his first wife.)
No wonder these kids are lost in the moment and totally of a piece with it, beside themselves with elation shot through with longing. Their future is before them, and before them: Everything they want out of life is up on that stage, both out of reach and theirs for the taking.
That's the beauty of A Hard Day's Night, and the source of its eternal freshness. For a 50-year-old movie, it still looks impossibly youthful, especially in this restored version: in all its satiny black-and-white splendor, it feels more like today than yesterday.
Even through the mystical blur of my affection for it, I can see that A Hard Day's Night is one of the world's perfect films. Lester, who'd previously directed a trad jazz caper called Ring-A-Ding Rhythm!, knew just what to do with the material (written by Alun Owen) and with the stars, who were already on their way to being (almost) bigger than Jesus.
This is a stylized day-in-the-life picture, and while this particular day does look extremely exciting to us average people, we can also see that it's not much of a life: The movie opens with a chase scene, in which John, Paul, George, and Ringo barely outrun a blur of screaming girls in their Balmacaans and parkas, their plaid skirts and skimmers -- they're a schoolgirl pride on the hunt.
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