Monday, September 1, 2014

About 'A Hard Day's Night'

The Fab Four in "A Hard Day's Night."

Ed Note: “A Hard Day’s Night” (1964): 87 minutes. B&W. Directed by Richard Lester. Produced by Walter Shenson. Cinematography by Gilbert Taylor. Screenplay by Alun Owen. Edited by John Jympson. Cast: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Wilfrid Brambell (Grandfather), Victor Spinetti (the TV director), Norman Rossington (Norm), Kenneth Haigh (Simon Marshall).

During 1963 the Beatles had sent four singles and two albums to the top of the British pop music chart. By the time “A Hard Day’s Night” premiered at the London Pavilion on July 6, 1964, the Beatles were celebrities of the first magnitude in the USA, as well. 

“Beatlemania” had been the original working title of the romp that was released as “A Hard Day’s Night” in Great Britain and the USA (in its first-run dates it had various titles in other countries). Accounts vary about what prompted him to say it, but there seems to be general agreement that it was Ringo Starr’s use of the phrase, “a hard day’s night,” as a wisecrack/malapropism -- that led to it becoming the title of the film.

Instead of just another quick-and-dirty rock ‘n’ roll exploitation flick, the director, Richard Lester, 32, assembled what became a milestone of popular culture history. After 50 years, the movie’s deft anti-authority tilt, with its humor -- both sly and slapstick -- together with its cinéma vérité look and exuberant pace, still holds up nicely.

To shoot this film, Lester guessed that improvisation in front of multiple cameras would work better than a bunch of rehearsal. Lester later noted: “Before we started, we knew that it would be unlikely that they could (a) learn, (b) remember, or (c) deliver with any accuracy a long speech. So the structure of the script had to be a series of one-liners. This enabled me, in many of the scenes, to turn a camera on them and say a line to them, and they would say it back to me.”

Cinematically, Lester captured what was in the air in 1964. He mixed techniques he had used in television with those being used in cutting-edge documentaries. He threw in looks he freely borrowed from the French New Wave.

“I have seen directors who write down a list of scenes for the day and then sit back in a chair while everything is filmed according to plan,” Lester explained. “I can’t do that. I know that good films can be made this way, but it’s not for me. I have to react on the spot. There was very little structure that was planned, except that we knew that we had to punctuate the film with a certain number of songs.”

In crediting Lester with establishing a “new grammar,” movie critic Roger Ebert wrote in 1996: [Lester] influenced many other films. Today when we watch TV and see quick cutting, hand-held cameras, interviews conducted on the run with moving targets, quickly intercut snatches of dialogue, music under documentary action and all the other trademarks of the modern style, we are looking at the children of ‘A Hard Day’s Night.’”

In 1965 “A Hard Day’s Night” received two Academy Award nominations: Alun Owen for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay, Written Directly for the Screen; George Martin for Best Music, Scoring of Music, Adaptation or Treatment.

After “A Hard Day’s Night” music videos were inevitable.

Now for the good news: the newly-restored version of “A Hard Day’s Night” is coming soon to a big screen in Richmond. More news on Wednesday.

Richard Lester, they went that-a-way...

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