Over the years I ve made it a point to play devil s advocate with hardcore Beatles fans, pointing out how embarrassing some of the band s late-Sixties hippie-drippy musings sound today and how fresh by comparison the music of the Rolling Stones and the Velvet Underground still sounds. Mostly this is just mischievousness on my part: I love the Beatles, love them because I love rock-and-roll, and I own every studio album they released. But lately, in cultural if not musical terms, I ve come to honestly find those oh-so-ubiquitous pop icons rather boring and oppressive. I m sick of seeing their work and image continually repackaged and resold, and I m sick of the never-ending cycle of baby-boomer nostalgia cluttering a culture that should be more concerned with the here and now. I gag when I see VH-1 claim that six of the 11 greatest rock-and-roll albums are Fab Four long-players, and I just get depressed when I see an obvious act of consumer fraud like the recent, already platinum, greatest-hits set One clogging space on the Billboard Top Ten.
But, man, is it hard to maintain your cynicism in the face of something as great as A Hard Day s Night. Who cares about nostalgia run rampant and cultural overexposure when it means we get a chance to see a film like this projected again on the big screen? Richard Lester s 1964 cinema veritÇ documentary about a day or so in the life of the world s most popular rock-and-roll band is back in circulation in a fully restored print and remastered soundtrack, and it is as wonderful as ever. I ve seen the film many times and it is always an exhilarating experience.
The film opens with a rush; the great, jarring chord that kicks off the title track leads directly into screaming teenagers erupting from the edges of sleepy London town. The entire film is essentially a light essay on Beatlemania, with John, Paul, George, and Ringo hopping through career hoops while constantly dodging handlers and rabid fans in their search for moments of normalcy yet even when they escape to go out dancing it s to their own music.
In addition to the group s effortless charm and still-stunning music (I may mock Sgt. Pepper s on occasion, but in 1964 it was all glorious), A Hard Day s Night lifts hearts because of the camaraderie on display. The critic Greil Marcus once wrote that a large part of the Beatles greatness was in how they showed the world how individuals could find their fullest expression through service to a community. It s as fine a definition of a great rock-and-roll band as I ve heard, and this film is the visual embodiment of the idea.
A Hard Day s Night is stuffed with magic moments: John sniffing a Coke bottle (actually Pepsi); a card game in the luggage compartment of a train which morphs into a performance of I Should Have Known Better, with girls trying to paw the boys through the compartment s cage-like grating (Handler: This place is surging with girls. John: Please sir, can I have one to surge with? ); the series of one-liners and exchanges during a press conference scene (Ringo s response to being asked whether he s a mod or a rocker I m a mocker ); the band s joyous escape to the tune of Can t Buy Me Love and that sequence s subsequent sackless sack race; and on and on.
It s a testament to A Hard Day s Night s significance that the film, essentially promotional product for a new pop act, is simultaneously an essential new-wave work it makes great sense alongside Godard s Breathless and Truffaut s Shoot the Piano Player and, with all due respect to The Harder They Come and The Last Waltz, the greatest rock-and-roll movie ever made.