Discover A Hard Day's Night All Over Again
Lester must have worked some magic, conscious or otherwise, to bring the personality of each Beatle to the fore so distinctly. George is the lover of off-kilter visual puns: he gives the band's road manager, Shake (John Junkin), a shaving lesson by spritzing foam on a bathroom mirror, neatly outlining the image of Shake's jaw and then swiping the shaver along the surface of the glass.
John favors an even more oblique visual gag, daintily blocking off one nostril as he takes an imaginary snort from a Coke bottle. Paul is dutiful in looking after his grandfather, but he's also easily exasperated -- he plays by the rules so honorably that he can't abide anyone else's breaking them.
And Ringo is the language mangler who says exactly what he means, usually inadvertently -- though sometimes his eyes, good-natured but also ringed with dark circles that suggest excessive worry, say more: on a train, he passes a glass-windowed compartment where a stunning young woman sits, stroking a furry cat that rests suggestively in her lap. She sees him, smiles and crooks her finger; he does a double take -- that cat! -- and then demurs, half-shocked, half-flattered and having no idea what to do.
The mischievous, semi-surreal jokes of A Hard Day's Night -- like George's response to the journalist who asks what he calls that hairstyle he's wearing -- have become legends unto themselves. (George calls his hairdo "Arthur.") There was a brief time when everyone loved the Beatles, finding them agreeable and charming and cheekily nonthreatening.
But there's real danger, all right, in their music, and the numbers in A Hard Day's Night -- filmed by the watchful, clever cinematographer Gilbert Taylor -- are the most gently seductive ever put on film. The boys captivate the young schoolgirl played by Patti Boyd -- later to become Mrs. George Harrison -- with a magically impromptu performance of "I Should Have Known Better" in a train carriage, the song's myriad boy-meets-girl questions wedged between the hands of a card game.
But it's in the final cluster of songs, an artful melding of "Tell Me Why," "If I Fell," and "I Should Have Known Better," where Lester truly tips his hand. He knows what this movie is about, and he knows who it's for. And if the Beatles have never looked as beautiful as they do in this performance sequence -- beautiful even, or especially, dusted with the faintest dew of sweat, visible in Taylor's tight close-ups -- they're at least matched by the plaintive, surrendering beauty of the girls screaming and crying over them.
A Hard Day's Night screens 1 p.m. today, 7 p.m. Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday and 1 p.m. next Thursday (July 10) at the Museum of FIne Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet.
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