This summer marks the 50th Anniversary of the release of A Hard Day’s Night, the first film with the Beatles. From the first time I saw it as a kid, it has remained one of my favorite films. It’s also perhaps the film I’ve watched the most times, as well as had the biggest impact upon my childhood. Produced at the dawn of Beatlemania, A Hard Day’s Night had a profound effect upon the film world, as well as the culture in general. Up until this time (1964) rock-n-roll movies consisted of either studio lip-syncing by various one hit wonders strung together with a crazy host introducing the next act. Or, as in the case of all of the Elvis’ movies, producers would give the singer, an occupation and a simple situation that would justify the performance of their latest songs. Hard Day’s Night comes along and changed the formula completely. Screenwriter Alun Owen, prior to putting pen to paper, spent ample time with the Fab Four, discovering their personas, idioms and their world of sudden, unprecedented stardom. The movie, shot in black and white, comes about as close to a documentary as a scripted piece has ever come before or since.
Up until this film, the world had only known the Beatles by their recordings and TV performances. Now being cast as themselves, with carefully constructed dialog, peppered with improvisation and actual quotes, the world was able to discover who were these lads from Liverpool. The production was ground breaking also. Handheld cameras and many actual locations added to the realism of the film. The quick cut editing and inventive camera placement set the template for music videos to be later enjoyed by the MTV generation.
When John Lennon is asked in the movie, “How did you find America?” his reply (echoing what he said at a press conference upon arrival at JFK Airport), was “Turned left at Greenland.” This quip solidified a change that had been brewing in comedy. Pioneered primarily by British comedians such as The Goons (directed by Hard Day’s Night director Richard Lester), Peter Sellers, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, there was a playful rebellion in the humor of Hard Day’s Night. The Beatles acknowledged an “us vs. them” generation gap, but it wasn’t a hostile divide like audiences found in James Dean’s Rebel Without A Cause or the standup of Lenny Bruce. Their cordial playfulness made a statement that we all are pretty silly, but each generation merely possesses a different flavor of silly. Throughout the film, the Beatles show that even though the world was going crazy around them, they could maintain their sanity and sense of humor.