Fifty years after it was first made, A Hard Day’s Night has hardly dated a bit. Currently in revival at BFI Southbank and other selected cinemas, Richard Lester’s madcap pseudo-documentary about two days in the lives of the Fab Four was heavily inspired by Godard and the French New Wave: hand-held camera, jump cuts, speeded up film. It itself influenced other swinging sixties films, inspired the Monkees, and invented a new visual grammar that would become the pop video.
The film does have a farcical sort-of-plot in which Paul’s ‘grandfather’, played by Steptoe & Sons’ Wilfrid Brambell, stirs up trouble, running up debts in casinos, and undermining Ringo’s confidence until he goes AWOL just before a live TV performance. But what really keeps it fresh is the Beatles’ easy, breezy charm. Liverpudlian playwright Alun Owen, who received an Oscar nomination for the script, spent several days hanging out with the boys and included a number of their own lines.
It feels improvised, with John Lennon taking the lion’s share of the witticisms – though Ringo, who came up with the title A Hard Day’s Night (the song was then written overnight to go with it), has the best, which again was taken from real life. In one scene, the Beatles are asked inane questions by plummy-voiced journalists. “Do you consider yourself a mod or a rocker?” Ringo is asked. “I’m a mocker,” answers Ringo, deadpan.
And the real hysteria on the faces of their legions of fans – mostly girls, but also young boys – as they chase their idols through the streets, literally falling over themselves in their desperation, or weep tears of bewildered adoration throughout the gig, is an unforgettable sight.
I was a child of the Beatles (um, not literally). My babysitter was an original Beatlemaniac who would play their music over and over while I was in my crib; she carried with her at all times a hallowed sod of turf on which their Cuban heels had trod. Theirs was the only rock/pop music in the house when I was growing up, or that I had any access to until the age of ten. I still know every word to every song, and can sing along to any individual instrumental part: it helped that our stereo, for a while, had only one working speaker. When you plugged it in one way, you would get, say, bass and drums; the other way, guitar and vocals. I’d have to play an album twice over and reconstitute it in my head to get the full effect.
So perhaps I’m not the most impartial judge of A Hard Day’s Night. Take it instead from Village Voice, which called it “the Citizen Kane of jukebox musicals”.