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[whitespace] 'A Hard Day's Night'
Mop Tops: The Beatles benefited from director Richard Lester's comic tartness in 'A Hard Day's Night.'

Beatle Position

The rerelease of 'A Hard Day's Night' confirms the greatness of the Beatles

By Richard von Busack

ROCK CRITIC R. Meltzer put it best: unlike the other bands that started out as something wonderful and immediately went downhill, the Beatles were clearly the greatest thing in the world and stayed that way for years. The Beatles' recent greatest-hits collection, One, doesn't seem like a redundancy. Such collections do stint the less-popular but just-as-priceless material, though. Most rock bands will never even reach the comparatively low level of a Beatles trifle like "I Dig a Pony" from Let It Be. And what charms even that obscure song possesses: the burring electric piano, the laddering vocals in the first line, the unexpectedly angry chorus of the phrase "All I want is you."

The Beatles proved in time to be drastically less in their individual parts than as a summed-up whole, and yet the cinematic introduction of the Fab Four explains their tremendous appeal instantly. The first film about the Beatles, Richard Lester's A Hard Day's Night (1964), might seem artificially stylized by today's standards. It's been copied so feverishly that the original has lost some of its impact. The plot scarcely exists: during a British tour, the band is attacked by fans and pestered by journalists, TV personalities and authorities. The band is on the run, and the camera flies along to keep up with them. Here the Beatles give you a chance to be in their shoes, to see the onslaught as they see it. That all-important reverse angle is what makes A Hard Day's Night different from all rock films before it.

Lester's comic tartness really helps the Beatles look like the insulted parties and not spoiled children. The film was scripted, yet it gives the impression, deepened by time, that this was a documentary. (So, years before This Is Spinal Tap, A Hard Day's Night was a kind of mockumentary). In A Hard Day's Night, Lester created the modern style of the music video in stunt-film techniques designed for TV commercials: speeded-up footage and slow-motion, ultra-close-ups juxtaposed with helicopter shots. It seems as if he was trying to make rock music itself visual, trying to show on screen the tension between shout and murmur, chorus and verse: the call of the singer, the screaming response of the crowd.

It's a disorienting film, then, and thus one seizes a favorite image from the mix. Many prefer the glimpse of the plain blonde girl weeping her poor heart out over George. I'll trade her for the canal scene. In the quiet moment, Ringo walks off a Sunday-morning hangover by the unclean banks of a canal. Bemused and thwarted, Starr's ordinarily soulful face has that saintly look a hangover gives you. The schoolyard game was, in those days, to pick one Beatle to be your friend for life. Ringo was my choice and still is. Youth won't endure, but chronic Beatlemania never dies.

A Hard Day's Night (Unrated; 85 min.), directed by Richard Lester, written by Alun Owen, photographed by Gilbert Taylor and starring the Beatles, opens Friday at the Nickelodeon in Santa Cruz.

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From the January 3-10, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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