"He’s very clean…", as were The Beatles – at least to a public who compared them with the Rolling Stones in a media-led "battle of the bands" that has continued for the sake of publicity right through the pointless Blur/Oasis debacle of the 90s.
At the time of A Hard Day’s Night the Beatles were huge in the UK – a cheeky group of "four loveable mop-tops" on the cusp of taking on the USA in a manner that no British band has since equalled. With its U-rating and very British sense of humour, A Hard Day’s Night can be seen as innocent fun, but it also follows in the tradition of popular bands mocking authority figures in a way that is really quite subversive. The Fab Four mercilessly harass a grumpy bowler-hatted businessman in a train carriage and there’s even a hilarious Spinal Tap moment with a sandwich. But this should come as no surprise – the film’s energy and freshness are the result of a number of factors. Apart from the boys themselves in their "still raving after Berlin, not yet tripping with mystics" phase, the guerrilla nature of the shoot (tight budget, short schedule) gives the whole film an anarchic edge.
Director Richard Lester was no stranger to scattershot surreal humour having directed the Goons feature The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film (1959) as well as the musical showcase It’s Trad Dad!, Then there’s cinematographer Gil Taylor, who manages to provide the film with its more memorable moments by compensating for a slowly running down camera battery (hence gradually increasing the apparent speed of the band) by keeping the lighting levels constant in a bravura helicopter shot. In less technically able hands this
iconic accident would never have made it to our screens.
Coming from the cosy nostalgia of the Turner Classic Movies stable (possibly the most useful film channel since Film Four dropped its Extreme and World strands in favour of modern popular cinema), you might well expect this part of their British Film Guide series to be informative but a touch lightweight. However this book’s depth and analysis go way beyond expectations. In terms of format, those familiar with the BFI series of books on classic films would be well at home. Starting off by exploring the background of the film, Glynn cites not only the making of the project but its relationship to the (specifically, though not exclusively British) pop movie genre and the way that A Hard Day’s Night subverts the standard plots that were ordinarily little more than a showcase for new songs. It’s essential to see the film in the context of its time – while The Beatles are still one of the planet’s more recognised bands, it’s worth remembering that A Hard Day’s Night is over forty years old.
The influence of British humour, particularly the Goons, is emphasised, along with the way the band retained their regional autonomy at a time when London "plum" accents were still the norm (although one US critic at the time bemoaned the fact that some of the film could have done with subtitles). The second section of the book provides an in-depth analysis of the film itself including the way that each member is given his own vignette. except Paul whose piece was left on the cutting room floor and allegedly destroyed five years after the film was
This is an exhaustive account of the film that covers all the bases from technical, trivial (the Coke John is seen snorting is revealed to be Pepsi), musical and inspirational. The influence of the pop-art movement on both Lester’s style and in the stark black and white marketing is contrasted with an examination of how the juxtaposition of the film’s sequences can be read. Finally the aftermath of the film is explored including the follow-up Help! (also by Lester) and in the marketing of the soundtrack album on both sides of the Atlantic – the very raison d’etre for the film in the first place. The cultural influences of the film are also examined (even, Heaven help us, Spiceworld) as well as the spin-off 52-part cartoon series.
Anyone with even a passing interest in either The Beatles or British cinema will find something of interest here from both an analytical and factual perspective. Lucid, fascinating and occasionally contentious, this is the ideal companion to the film.