By Richie Angel
“It’s my considered opinion that you’re a bunch of sissies.”
One month after their appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, The Beatles began production on a film designed to introduce the global public to the four young men who were causing mania in Britain and were about to invade the entire world. But far from settling for a documentary concert tape with flattering character profiles, screenwriter Alun Owen penned an Oscar-nominated script with a tongue-in-cheek narrative that fit the Fab Four’s “mocker” attitude coined by Ringo Starr.
A Hard Day’s Night tracks a day in the life of The Beatles, from fans to press conferences to a studio television performance. Feeling confined by their professional obligations and trapped in “a train and a room and a car and a room and a room and a room,” the bandmates escape at every opportunity, encountering shenanigans with partiers, policemen, and Paul’s “other” grandfather, blurring the line between fact and fiction.
The movie starts with an iconic sequence of the band fleeing from a mob of fans—one that was spoofed in Jojo Rabbit and lifted beat-for-beat in Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience (trading phone booths for cell phones and a train for a helicopter). After that, the striking constant throughout the film is that it simply didn’t have to be as good as it is. The movie is filled with visual and verbal gags that border on absurdism, and there is genuine artistry in the camerawork. The screenplay cleverly helps the new market distinguish four similar-looking new rock stars by subversively inhabiting self-effacing media caricatures of themselves: Ringo, feeling overshadowed and self-conscious about his nose; George, overcompensating for lesser intelligence; John, a wild provocateur; and Paul, dismissive and bored. But at the center is a showcase of the band’s unstifled independent streak, escaping from managers and fans, speaking however they want to whomever they want, unbothered by the hype.
Today, the film can only be watched in hindsight, highlighting what would eventually become the best-selling band of all time. But at its release, A Hard Day’s Night fell squarely between Beatlemania and the group’s global sensation status, early enough for the band to have become a fad.
In theory, the movie is a warning that the British are coming. In practice, The Beatles not only assure that they come in peace, but with a nonchalance that said, “Eh, we’ll get there eventually, or not, whatever.” When The Jonas Brothers copied the opening scene, they declared themselves the new Beatles. When The Beatles did it, tripping over each other in the very first shot, they told the world not to take them too seriously—a subversion of expectations so endearing it can only have expedited their arrival.
A Hard Day’s Night promises a peek at the origins of The Beatles, packaged with fun and fictional antics that turn the product into more of a lesson in marketing than history. And that’s why every musician should watch A Hard Day’s Night.