A Hard Day's Night (2000 Re-issue)

Directed by Richard Lester
Starring: The Beatles (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr), Wilfrid Brambell.
MPAA Rating: G

Review by Matt Heffernan <matt@filmhead.com>
December 1, 2000

So, you thought it was a big deal when they re-issued This Is Spinal Tap. Well, in the immortal words of Al Jolson, "You ain't heard nothing yet." The greatest of all rock 'n roll films is back in theatres with a new, digitally-remastered soundtrack. No, not Let's Twist Again. It's the Beatles in Richard Lester's landmark 1964 film: A Hard Day's Night.

The film was already in the can by the time the Fab Four had reached America with their smash single "I Want to Hold Your Hand", two years after they hit it big in their native England. British Beatlemania had reached such an incredible height so quickly, they simply had to make a film. Needless to say, the combination of A Hard Day's Night and their first few singles stirred up American Beatlemania almost instantly.

The plot is simple: a day in the life of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr. They start out on a train from their hometown of Liverpool, and ride to London to perform on a variety show. Along the way, they get involved in all sorts of antics, parties, impromptu performances, and, most importantly, bucking authority all the while.

Simply put, it's perfect. Every single frame of it. Every note and word on the soundtrack. I haven't seen the new print yet, but luckily I have it in my video collection, so I could watch it yet again before writing this review. Supposedly, there is some additional footage in the re-issue, but I won't be able to comment on that any time soon. I'll update this review once I (or one of my contributors) get a chance to see it.*  I just hope that Miramax didn't destroy it after fighting for the rights, like Warner Bros. did with The Exorcist. For now, on to what is (or at least was) so wonderful about this film.

Lester created a whole new style of filmmaking that would now be characterized as "MTV". Tune into the cable channel now, and you will see his influence in not only the videos (of course, if you tune into that 5-minute period in the day when MTV still plays videos), but in all their other programming. Even the advertisements use this quick-cutting, energetic style. Mind you, the style isn't entirely visual. The attitude is what makes it special. It's about the empowerment of youth, and the freedom that comes from irreverence.

In this film, we see the Beatles playing their music in their mop-top haircuts, and nothing can stop them from their pursuit of happiness. All of the over-30 characters want to suppress them, make them behave, make them conform to society's standards. The blissful ignorance of this pressure is what made the film so popular with the Baby Boomers who were just coming of age and realizing that they far outnumber their parents' generation.

However, there is one adult character in the film that can relate to the boys. It's Paul's grandfather, played brilliantly by Wilfrid Brambell. He's from the "lost" generation that fought the first World War and lived it up in the 1920s. He has the same disregard for the conservative generation between his grandson and himself. Everybody remarks (in an incredibly effective running gag) that he is "very clean", but he longs for social freedom even more so than the boys.

Of course, you can't have a great rock 'n roll film without a great soundtrack. Some of the Beatles' best early songs are performed, including the title track, "Can't Buy Me Love", and "I Should've Known Better". The closing sequence is the telecast, which shows a then-innovative behind-the-scenes look at the performance for a studio full of screaming teenagers. They go through a medley of songs while cutting between the band and the crowd. Most of the crowd shots are close-ups of young girls, totally beside themselves, screaming out the bandmembers' names. There are a few boys in there, and one of them is supposed to be a young Phil Collins, but I still can't spot him. I don't think I ever could without going through the film frame-by-frame, because the energy of the scene is so powerful that I sit there just as rapt as the audience on the screen. By the time the closing number (the 1962 hit "She Loves You") has finished, I am filled with the joy that only a great and entertaining film can provide.

On a closing note, I'll leave you with some optimism. The album inspired by the film still sells quite well on Amazon.com. It's currently #326 on their list. If that seems pretty low, consider the following: Kathie Lee Gifford's new album, Heart of a Woman, is currently #728. An even greater vindication: the album inspired by the Spice Girls' movie, Spice World, which was largely a rehash of A Hard Day's Night, is #7605 just three years after its release. From this, anybody can easily tell that the Beatles were more than just flash-in-the-pan teen idols. Their lasting contribution to popular music is matched by their contribution to film. By all means, watch A Hard Days Night, even if you've seen it countless times, and witness once again the beginning of a cultural revolution.

Addendum on the re-issue presentation
Review by Lauren Snyder <
December 3, 2000

A Hard Day's Night, now showing in the Bob Fosse Theatre at the Film Forum, is the best $9 you can spend in Manhattan. Upon admission, each person receives a print of the movie poster (though that may be an opening weekend special -- I'm not sure). This takes the edge off of having to wait several hours to see the film, as the screenings sell out at least two hours ahead of time. Celeb sightings are very likely at this movie house; after purchasing my tickets, I saw Gabriel Byrne and his young son step out of a taxi to attend the 2:50pm Saturday show. Even before you're sitting in your seat, popcorn in hand, it's already an event.

And the film itself! I'm such a huge fan of this one, owning both the video and the soundtrack, so it was amazing to see it onscreen. I was told that there was added footage, but I couldn't quite pinpoint where. I think that perhaps in the opening "running away from the screaming fans" scene, there are a few more wacky hi-jinks, as well as a little more to the "Ringo Goes Parading" sequence and the television performance.

The soundtrack sounds fabulous. Listening to it is like being at a party thrown by your friend with the kick-ass sound system. The picture looks great, though it had been restored previously as part of the AMC Film Preservation program. My only negative comment is that the shaky camera stuff is Blair Witch-nauseating if you are sitting in the first few rows. Otherwise, a great time, a great film.

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
A Hard Day's Night (1964)

Here's some merchandise for sale at Amazon.com
A Hard Day's Night (1964) -- VHS
A Hard Day's Night (1964) -- DVD
The Beatles - The Making of A Hard Day's Night -- VHS
The Beatles - The Making of A Hard Day's Night -- DVD
A Hard Day's Night, The Beatles -- Compact Disc

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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan and Lauren Snyder