The reputation of A Hard Day’s Night gained a lot from the film’s being better than it had any right or reason to be. Made quickly on a relatively modest budget, it was designed to cash in on the astonishing worldwide popularity of The Beatles. It would have served its commercial purposes adequately by being a bit of mediocre pop fluff. Instead, it was a bit of superior pop fluff.
A faux documentary about a day in the life of the lads, it seamlessly incorporated surreal images and transitions, varied and innovative presentations of the musical numbers, daffy Goon-Show humor, and social satire. In the process it captured the high spirits and self-mocking attitude of The Beatles themselves, making it a perfect setting for their joyful and expertly crafted songs, which were really the point of the whole exercise.
The Beatles on screen were sometimes quite skillful comedians, sometimes awkward and amateurish, like kids showing off in home movies. It’s fascinating to watch them in either mode, impossibly young as they were then, the hottest act in international show business, becoming very rich, and enjoying it all as a fab lark.
It’s depressing to compare them to young musical celebrities today, with their desperate exhibitionism, their inflated sense of their own importance, their demons and their recklessness. The Beatles, partly by long experience as club musicians, partly by temperament, were already canny professionals in 1964 — brilliant musical craftsmen who took their work seriously and the brouhaha around them with a grain of salt.
In a sense, their cultural impact and almost unbelievable commercial success were what changed the business of pop music into the spangled corporate cluster-fuck it is today, but it’s hard to blame The Beatles as people for this. Through all their success they stayed relatively sane — or as sane as any twenty-somethings who suddenly found themselves sitting on top of the world could reasonably be expected to be.
Their wit and professionalism come through in A Hard Day’s Night — as does their core innocence, which mirrors the relative innocence of the culture they took by storm. As a pop artifact, the film is both moving and instructive.
And then there are the songs, which sound as fresh today as they ever have — not so much a reflection of the individual personalities of the young men who made the music as of their dedication to their craft, their irrepressible joy in their craft.
Click on the images to enlarge.