Rated G for its outright silliness. It's great when a live action movie that isn't necessarily aimed at kids is G. There's nothing really all that questionable about the movie. There are nods to the fact that the Beatles like all kinds of girls in their travels. That's a bit odd. The Beatles themselves, if I have to distance myself from the quality of the film, probably make poor role models in the movie. But it's G. Give it a break. It is mostly an innocent movie with very little to question. G.
DIRECTOR: Richard Lester
When I first read Crime and Punishment, I didn't love it. I thought that the first tenth of the book was great and then was bored stupid for the rest of the book. Intellectually, I got what the "and Punishment" part of the book was doing. I just didn't enjoy it very much. Then I had to teach it when I took over Honors English. I read that book a billion more times since then. One of those times, I really enjoyed it. I had memorized a bit of it and have some real highlight moments in that book. But after all was said and done, I eventually stopped teaching the honors sophomore class. Now I don't read Crime and Punishment anymore...and I don't mind one bit.
That's a little bit of what is going on with A Hard Day's Night. I keep watching this movie over and over. The first few times I watched it, I intellectually got a lot of it. I knew what was happening. I got some of the cooler shots that Richard Lester was doing. But actually enjoying it? It took quite a few viewings to get to that point. But I've rounded the bend. I think I've gotten as much as I can out of A Hard Day's Night, but it keeps somehow getting watched in our household. It doesn't help that we have three / technically four versions of the movie: the DVD, the blu-ray, and the Criterion...which has both the DVD and the blu-ray. We're a Beatles family. I know that makes us a little bit basic. I honestly believe that when people say that they hate the Beatles, it's a little bit of "she doth protest too much." There's street cred that comes with saying that you hate the Beatles. I get not being a Beatlemaniac. My wife, at one point in her life, was a Beatlemaniac. She still has threads of that lingering that she passes on to our children. My daughter went on a real bender with the Beatles when she was younger. What I'm getting at is that my kids have short-term memory and I have a feeling I'm constantly going to be returning to the Hard Day's Night well for a while.
The biggest issue I had with it originally and I've now returned to is that there is very little emotionally to hang out to except for joy. I love (some) music videos. I think I talked about it during Be Kind Rewind, but I continually share Michel Gondry music videos with anyone who will watch them. But the reason that I bond with something like a Michel Gondry music video versus a film length music video is because it is so digestable. There are a lot of music videos that I do not care for. In fact, the majority of music videos can jump off a bridge. But a few of those Gondry videos work because every element of the video, mise en scene and music, works for about two to four minutes.
There's something really vulnerable about A Hard Day's Night when a song ends. In the most cynical and broken part of my heart, I really believe that a lot of musicals are an excuse to link together songs in a way that loosely tells a story. This isn't true for all musicals, but there are far too many that are guilty of this crime. In some way, there's an attempt to hide it behind a coherent narrative. With A Hard Day's Night, the film feels like a variety show more than anything that can be appreciated outside the music. It's a well-shot Saturday Night Live bit, showing that the fab four have personalities. That has to be the goal behind the piece altogether. Now, I have a contentious relationship with Richard Lester. He took over Superman II for Richard Donner and directed the very uncomfortable Superman III. While he may get the most attention for A Hard Day's Night, I always tie him to the Superman sequels. That's fine. Those movies are fine, even Superman III. But I don't know if the shots of the movie in A Hard Day's Night are as mindblowing as film historians have made them.
Normally, I try not to spit in the face of history. I tend to lean with film scholars when it comes to a film's role in the cinematic canon. But I also have a really hard time taking A Hard Day's Night so seriously that it is considered one of the greatest movies ever. It's goal had to have been to capitalize on The Beatles' success by showing people who wanted even more Beatles that they can have a good time. That's the biggest draw to the movie. It's your favorite singers cutting loose, having a good time and telling jokes. The jokes, often, are pretty good. Even some of the deliveries are halfway decent. But let's put something else out there: a lot of them aren't. I'm going to put myself on trial right now with my American ear. I am a huge Anglophile. I watch way too much British cinema and television to claim that I can't understand people. But there are a lot of rushed lines and buried deliveries going on in the movie. I think every time but one, I have watched A Hard Day's Night with the subtitles on. Many of the jokes are really funny. I still guffaw at a lot of them. But some of those deliveries are cringy. I know. They aren't actors. But let's stop pretending that A Hard Day's Night is near perfect cinema. These are fun vignettes that show the Beatles having fun done in a pretty good way.
But all that being said, let's look at the movie from an analytical perspective. Do you know that I still have a hard time trying to figure out if the old man is actually supposed to be portraying Paul's grandfather? That makes me almost unqualified to talk about the movie with any sense of gravitas or authority. The only thing that actually bears weight in the movie is the film's depiction of Ringo. I'm critical of myself with this one, because it almost feels like I need to superimpose the plot of A Hard Day's Night over the many formulaic plots. The only time I can do so is with Ringo's feelings of abandonment. It's not enough to be considered a full length feature plot, but it is something that has a beginning, a middle, and an end while developing character in some esteem. Ringo wandering around London is what makes the movie for me. Perhaps it is because it has structure, but also the fact that Ringo playing the outsider really works emotionally for me. Much of the movie portrays the boys as footloose and fancy free, especially John Lennon. (I was about to go into a tirade on why I don't like John Lennon, but then thought better of it.) But I love the idea that Ringo rides the fence between celebrity and humanity. The things that he does are so ultimately human and personal. The boys live a life of partying and letter writing and Ringo likes to walk along the river. He likes to meet people. There's something very serene about Ringo's attitude towards being in The Beatles and it's touching and sad at the same time.
I won't even deny it: the movie as a whole makes me laugh. I watched it pretty closely this last time. Not perfectly closely. Again, I was doing the dishes. But A Hard Day's Night has always been a perfect background movie for me. Because there is a very thin through line in the film, I can look up and know that I didn't really miss anything narratively because there is no narrative. The only problem with that logic is that I miss a lot of the running gags that are absolutely phenomenal in this movie. It's just that it is a movie that doesn't really require the investment that I tend to give to movies, thus I don't really get the same outcome. When I do pay attention to it closely, all I can see are the loose ends.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.