Friday, 13 August 2010

God knows what you've unleashed on the unsuspecting South. It'll be wine, women, and song all the way with Ringo when he gets the taste for it.

No 410 - A Hard Day's Night
Director - Richard Lester

Well, what a strange little film we have here. Essentially it is 'A Day In The Life Of The Beatles', but it is also a pun-laden surreal adventure - and it is joyously joyously happy.

The first thing that strikes me is what an absolute headfuck Beatlemania must have been. The opening scenes in which the boys have to hide from a tsunami of screaming fans may be fake and played for laughs, but isn't too far from what actually happened to them on a day to day basis.

Those first few minutes strike up some nice moments of visual comedy but the film really settles when the boys get onto the train. Here we have the introduction of the entourage (Norm and Shake) and of Paul's grandfather - John McCartney - played by the excellent (and excellently named) Wilfrid Brambell - a true icon of comedy. Brilliantly, the characters constantly note how 'very clean' Paul's grandfather is - thus cancelling out the 'dirty old man' reputation he had built up as Steptoe. Although Brambell is fabulous in it - a wonderful mix of judgemental and sleazy - he largely feels a bit surplus to requirements. For most of the film he is just wandering around on his own as the boys have their adventures - and whilst there are a couple of moments which centre on him (the casino, and more notably Ringo's little breakdown) - they could easily have been done without him.

So let's focus on the Beatles themselves. They are surprisingly good. The film has a lot of energy and a crackling chemistry which all stems from the great relationship they still had at this point. They also have some wonderful one-liners. Almost every line throughout the entire film is either a pun or a build up to a pun - which is epitomised by the press conference. Here the press ask stupid inane 'pop star' questions and the Beatles give wonderfully acerbic or surreal replies.
Check out this video - about 8 minutes in - to see the Press Conference in all its surreal glory.
What do you call your haircut? Arthur.

The real star of this film (and indeed the most non-musically successful of the Beatles) is Ringo. I think largely this is because he just has a funny face. Bless him. So here, Ringo feels a bit dejected and he goes for a little wander (the filming of which was helped in no small part by the fact that Ringo had come to the morning shoot direct from all-night clubbing) - and during his wandering around is essentially arrested for being 'suspicious looking'... which hardly seems fair.

The 'John McCartney being a pain' (albeit a very clean pain) and the little Ringo breakdown are the nearest things this film really has to a plot - essentially it is a loose and mildly chaotic framework for a collection of songs.

The best of these is without doubt the Can't Buy Me Love sequence, in which the boys escape from the TV studio and run around a lot. It is so free and so exhilarating... it is also probably the most iconic and famous part of the film.

Other (more directorially knowledgeable) people tend to agree. Here's Edgar Wright reminiscing about his strongest memories of the film:

The images that really stay with me are the aerial shots of the Fab Four in Thornbury Playing Fields. Most pop stardom films deal in some way with the prison of fame, but when "Can’t Buy Me Love" kicks in over the Beatles goofing around in a public park, it’s just beautiful; the bright young things running free on a stolen afternoon.

(Incidentally - Wright also puts Phantom of the Paradise as a favourite musical, so the man clearly has exceptional taste.)

Overall, the entire film is light and breezy - but it is also insanely happy and a joy to watch.
It probably isn't my favourite Beatles film (HELP! Is a guilty pleasure, and despite only featuring the Beatles for about 30 seconds Yellow Submarine is my outright favourite), but it probably is the best one.

1 comment:

PhilH said...

I watched this after sneaking into a slightly posh hotel in the mountains in Tanzania, where I wasn't staying.

It was bizarre.