Saturday, January 28, 2006

A Hard Day's Night

Dir: Richard Lester (Help, How I Won the War)


In the future, an interdisciplinary team of scholars - physicists, biologists, psychologists, and not a few philosophers - will attempt to discover why the human animal is physiologically incapable of remaining unhappy while watching A Hard Day's Night. The answer will almost certainly involve a convergence between the harmony of She Loves You, the shape of writer Alun Owen's frontal lobe, and the frequencies at which the fundamental superstrings that make up the fabric of space-time vibrate.

The budget for a Hard Day's Night was less than $500,000 - a sparse figure for a Hollywood production even in the early 60s. even then was sparse for a Hollywood production. The sum was a result of widespread feeling that rock musicals were not serious film - even the ones staring musical greats like Elvis had never succeeded in raising the genre up to any level of repute. But Lester took his limited budget and made it into a virtue - the camera is primitive and frantic - it has as much trouble keeping up with John, Paul, George, and Ringo as the wild throngs of screaming girls.

The movie is a day in the life flick. What little plot there is revolves around trying to keep the Boys together long enough to appear on live on a BBC program in the evening. Standing in between that manager Norman Rossington and that goal is Paul's grandfather - a "real mixer" who lives to create chaos and weave strife wherever he goes. The rest of the movie is just non-stop one-liners, jokes, and obscure near-non sequiturs.

No scene in the movie disappoints, but that are some that are shiver-inducing good. Toward the beginning of the movie, the Boys sneak away from their "homework" of answering letters to go dancing at a club. Film scholars will tell you that the subsequent few minutes bear attention because of Lester's innovative use of jump-cuts, cutting from Norm's resigned exasperation at the Boys' mischief to the Beatles themselves laughing, dancing, and flirting to their own music. Contemporary films that punctuate pace by cutting in and out of frantic music and suppressed dialogue - or that weave music into documentaries - are both the descendents of Lester's modern style and his pale imitators. Meanwhile, everyone else will tell you that the technique is irrelevent to the ultimate point - that it's impossible not to be happy during the joyful sequence.

In terms of raw comedic horsepower, there's the press conference - a masterpiece of writing driven, again, by Lester's jump-cuts ("are you a mod or a rocker"... "I'm a mocker"). And of course there's the canonical scene in the field, shot from the air, where the Boys run around to Can't Buy Me Love until evicted from the field by yet another dour old man who hates fun. It doesn't matter whether the scene is all words or all music - the editing is near perfect, and the sense of reckless happiness is palpable.

But all of these scenes - brilliant as they are - pale in comparison to the concert scene at the end of the movie. Norm has finally managed to herd the Boys on stage. Having already had fun doing everything else, they joyfully pick up their instruments and launch into a medley. This is pure Beatlemania - Lester cuts from joyful Ringo to content George to laughing John and Paul, and in between he splices shots of the screaming and hysterical girls in the audience. The Boys can barely hear themselves play, the audience certainly can't hear the music, but still girls are sobbing and tearing at their hair and fainting. The camera gives just a glimpse of a bunch of girls jumping up and down, cuts away, and then comes back to focus on just one sobbing girl screaming in ecstasy. In between we see the Beatles, grinning and singing and being the greatest band of all time.


Blogger ronvon2 noted on 1/28/2006 10:16:00 PM that...

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Blogger ronvon2 noted on 1/28/2006 10:18:00 PM that...

To save time and money to answer your opening proposition, I call upon the insight of Occam's Razor: those who fail to achieve a state of sheer bliss while watching A Hard Day's Night are most likely dead.