“Given the sacrosanct aura that’s developed around pretty much everything to do with the Beatles over the past half-century, it seems unbelievable that anything related to the Fab Four might have ever gone missing through the decades,” begins Randy Lewis in the Los Angeles Times. “But in coming up with a 50th anniversary, 4K digital restoration of the band’s beloved feature film debut A Hard Day’s Night, technicians at the Criterion Collection and Janus Films had to work around missing chunks from the first and last reels of the original negative.” Lewis talks with Giles Martin, son of the Beatles’ original producer, George Martin, and Criterion president Peter Becker about the restoration.
“If you are seeing A Hard Day’s Night (1964) for the second, fifth, or fortieth time, you’re bound to catch some perfect detail—a brazen incongruity, sneaky delight, or intangible grace note—you missed on the first, fourth, or thirty-ninth go-round,” writes Howard Hampton for Criterion. “Everyone recalls the tall man in the club jumping alongside diminutive Ringo, inventing pogo dancing long before the punks embraced it. But for all these years, with my eyes glued on that Mutt and Jeff pair, I had completely missed the wondrously elongated, posh bird opposite them laughing uproariously, throwing herself into the music, the moment…. Under director Richard Lester’s knowing eye, the Beatles and all the actors and extras seem less like ‘the cast’ than a group of more or less accidental coconspirators.”
“On April 23, 1964,” recalls David Thomson in the New Republic, “when I got home from work at Penguin Books in London, my wife, Anne, had a story to tell. She had been walking our daughter Kate in a pushchair over the railway bridge on the way to go shopping in Hounslow. Anne had seen what looked like a film being shot in the Thornbury playing fields, in Isleworth, full of soccer at the weekends, but empty that day, except for a crane and quite a lot of people. ‘Wonder what that was?’ we said. We didn’t have long to wait. By July 6, the film had opened, and a few days later we saw it—A Hard Day’s Night—and Anne could say, ‘That’s what that was.’ Some people said it was the best bit of the film: the boys running wild in the fields to that triumphant song, ‘Can’t Buy Me Love.'”
“Richard Lester was the man born to direct this kinetic, kaleidoscopic comedy-with-songs, starring a quartet still fresh from the first gusts of chart-topping fame,” writes Nigel Andrews in the Financial Times. “The ‘plot’ is 36 hours in the life of The Beatles, playing themselves: from gig to gig and giggle to giggle. Lester’s previous collaborations were with Spike Milligan and the Goons. Weirdly, effectively, he combines that DNA with seeming genes from Godard. (Add bits of Fellini, Keaton and the Marx brothers.)”
“A Hard Day’s Night feels fresher and cheekier than ever,” writes the Telegraph‘s Robbie Collin. “It’s the first and best of the five Beatles films” and “it seems incredible that Godard’s era-defining Bande à Part appeared in French cinemas exactly a month after Lester’s film graced British ones. Here, as so often, the Beatles saw the trend approaching, smiled, and slipped in ahead of it.”
“The last thing A Hard Day’s Night has on its mind is respectability,” writes Jake Cole in Slant. It “bucks the trend of rock movies cleaning up sex symbols for teens to introduce to their mothers. If anything, its manic energy feels like a regression from Ed Sullivan back to the band’s drunken, prellie-fueled apprenticeship in Hamburg clubs.”
The Voice‘s Stephanie Zacharek wants to ” talk about joy, and about wistfulness, because one so often trails the other, and both are woven into the DNA of A Hard Day’s Night. To read it as a movie that the future proved wrong—a movie that’s somehow ‘about’ our collective, historic innocence, a set of hopes that were dashed by Vietnam, or by Nixon’s betrayal, or by anything—is to miss the glorious reality that A Hard Day’s Night lives so fully in its particular present…. For a 50-year-old movie, it still looks impossibly youthful, especially in this restored version: In all its satiny black-and-white splendor, it feels more like today than yesterday.”
BFI programmer Geoff Andrew looks back on his own Beatlemania and the many times he’s seen the film; and back in February, A Hard Day’s Night was the Dissolve‘s “Movie of the Week.” More reviews? Head to Critics Round Up.
Updates, 7/4: It’s tough to get an interview with Richard Lester, but Sam Kashner‘s done it for Vanity Fair. Here we learn why, at the age of 57, he stopped making movies in 1989. Also in VF, Mark Rozzo talks with Giles Martin. For Rolling Stone, David Fear talks with Martin, too, and also with Ryan Hullings, audio supervisor for Criterion.
At Film Comment, Jonathan Romney writes that “if there was ever a film in which spontaneity was manifestly manufactured, it’s this one—and the manufacture of spontaneity is what this idiosyncratically cynical masterpiece is all about.”
Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir: “There’s really no way to list all the things that come out of A Hard Day’s Night, beginning with the public personas of Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones (D.A. Pennebaker’s 1967 Dylan documentary Don’t Look Back is pretty much a sequel with an American star) and the celebrity fixation of Andy Warhol, and moving through the entire history of MTV and VH1 to, I don’t know, the latest commercial starring One Direction and whatever the former members of Wu-Tang Clan are up to. In playing themselves as a quartet of smartasses who deride old people and take nothing seriously, John, Paul, George and Ringo delivered a primer on how to be famous in the era of commodity capitalism that endures to this day.”
And from Nathalie Morris: “To celebrate the anniversary, a new exhibition at BFI Southbank looks at both A Hard Day’s Night and Lester’s second Beatles film, Help! (1965), exploring them in the context of the pop music film as well as Lester’s own filmmaking career. Scripts, photographs, posters and production paperwork donated by Lester to the BFI in 2010 are on show, as well as costume designs by Oscar-winning designer Julie Harris.” She shows us a few highlights.
Update, 7/5: David D’Arcy‘s noticed “a fleeting clip of a saxophone playing the tune of A Hard Day’s Night. The song, just written and recorded, is muzak avant la lettre, already part of the recycled grist that replays, reconstitutes and rewarms so much pop culture—the self-expanding value that is cultural capital…. Soon The Beatles would be on to Rubber Soul, Sergeant Pepper, Revolver, the haunting White Album, heroin and Yoko Ono, and lots of grim events that we know too well. You can see A Hard Day’s Night like you see the World’s Fair of 1964 (see the show at the Queens Museum), a time capsule of another era featuring so many new elements that would help bring that era to a close.”
“Lester and screenwriter Alun Owen effectively pre-invent the modern pop video while simultaneously offering an achingly astute portrait of black-and-white Britain as it teeters on the edge of a colorful cultural revolution,” writes Mark Kermode in the Observer, where Vanessa Thorpe talks with Lester about each of the four Beatles:
John Lennon, the director said, remains one of “two or three people to have shaped my character,” adding: “John did not suffer fools gladly, and I probably fell into that category. He always wanted to skewer any pomposity around him, and there can’t be any more pompous person on a film set than the director. But I could take all his criticism.”
Paul McCartney was more difficult to handle because he was so enthusiastic, recalled Lester. “He tried harder than he should have.” Ringo, who has a key solo sequence in the film, proved himself more than capable of projecting his sympathetic persona for Lester’s camera, but it was George Harrison who was the easiest to direct. “George was the most effective actor. He attempted less, but he always hit it in the middle, so I knew what I would be getting.”
“No band, maybe no artists ever, had a greater capacity for displaying and inducing wonder,” writes Colin Fleming for the Atlantic. “And here we have that wonder made visual.”
“The Beatles did two world-historical things: they turned rock music into the near-universal core popular music, and they created a new mode of male sexual allure, of masculinity—and they did those two things together.” The New Yorker‘s Richard Brody adds that “unlike the Marxes, the Beatles’ absurdist anarchy was essentially constructive: they didn’t leave a wreck; they didn’t tear down the institutions of the arrogant and the presumptuous. They became new and bigger institutions.”
Updates, 7/8: David Cairns gets Lester talking not only about A Hard Day’s Night but also the films he made in the 70s and 80s:
And here’s Lester talking for around an hour about his life and career at Il Cinema Ritrovato on Saturday:
From Criterion, the press conference scene from A Hard Day’s Night:
Update, 7/10: For Little White Lies‘ David Jenkins, “there are so many remarkable things about this movie. Its depiction of toadying entertainment industry phoneys is perhaps more apposite than ever… The use of editing to enhance a script, leaving that perfect beat between the final syllable and the hard cut to wring the comic best out of every punchline. And just the Beatles themselves, that unique aligning of megastars where each member holds equal weighting, and yet brings something new and exciting to the brew.”