So here we are, half a century later and two Beatles fewer, and the newly reissued ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ looks more aggressively modern than just about any recent pop movie you’d care to name. Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard and the beach-party crowd may have been grinning away on the big screen for nearly a decade by the time the Fab Four’s film was released in 1964, but this is where it all started: the first (and, some would argue, the last) truly successful fusion of pop music and cinema.
Structured as a two-days-in-the-life portrait of the ‘real’ Beatles, Richard Lester’s film follows John, Paul, George and Ringo from Liverpool to London by train, up to a fancy hotel, out to a nightclub and off to the BBC. Along the way, they’re pursued by hordes of screaming girls. They have to bust Ringo out of chokey. And they suffer the taunts of Paul’s scheming granddad (Wilfrid ‘Steptoe’ Brambell).
Inspired in equal measure by Godard and the Goons, the film is best remembered for its herky-jerky camerawork and mile-a-minute banter. So it’s easy to forget that this cheeky romp also contains a rabid speech about police brutality and a scene where the lads sneeringly harass a member of the aristocracy. Add to that a stream of homoerotic asides from Lennon and an almighty swing at commercial teensploitation and the film’s just-a-bit-of-fun reputation looks increasingly shaky.
So, as well as positioning ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ at the top of the music-movie pyramid, we should also view it as the pinnacle of the 1960s British New Wave – and one to outlast all those gloomy, patronising grim-oop-North ‘serious’ dramas. And we haven’t even mentioned George’s amazing knees…