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Old Dec 06, 2000, 08:32 PM   #1
bearkat77
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Default AHDN Review

Here's a review from one movie critic about A Hard Day's Night. It's rather long, but what do you all think?

The Fifth Beatle
Revisiting the antic music Richard Lester made with A Hard Day's Night.

By David Edelstein

Watching the opening of A Hard Day's Night (1964) is like getting a direct injection of happiness. There's that exuberantly discordant first chord; and then John, George, and Ringo are dashing toward the camera with a mob of women at their heels. Then George stumbles and Ringo falls over him and both bound to their feet and John laughs and George laughs, too, as they get closer and closer and the camera seems on the verge of being trampled. There's a fast shot of the three Beatles sprinting across the road, and then a horizontal streak as the crowd surges from left to right and into the doors of a railroad station. What follows is a blur: torsos, legs, shrieking faces - whip-pans into chaos. Then, suddenly, order: The camera moves from George talking into a telephone to Ringo talking into a telephone to John talking into a telephone; then a symmetrical shot reveals the three of them in side-by-side phone booths as the last of the females race past. On Ringo's signal, they hang up in unison and stroll out nonchalantly: Another day in the life of the 20th century's most protean pop idols.

The occasion for reliving this most exhilarating of all opening sequences is the Miramax rerelease of the film with an enhanced (and much louder) soundtrack. But other factors make the movie timely: the death in October of its producer, Walter Shenson; and the American distribution of the book Getting Away With It, which is Steven Soderbergh's exhibitionistic tribute (part interview transcript, part journal of discombobulation) to the director Richard Lester.

The picture was initiated, of course, as a way to extract a soundtrack from the Beatles for less than their going rate; and, thanks to album sales, it was in the black before it even premièred. That gave Lester - an American living in London who'd made a batch of commercials, some Goon Show episodes, and a 1961 feature It's Trad, Dad! (aka Ring-a-Ding Rhythm) - the enviable freedom to let the Beatles phenomenon dictate the picture's form - or formlessness. What he and his screenwriter, Alun Owen, devised was a day in the life of near-prisoners (of an authoritarian society, capitalism, their own fame) who succeed in remaining free - attaining, by virtue of their wit, talent, and integrity, a sort of cheeky state of grace.

Beyond that frenzied opening, three sequences capture the forces that gnaw at the Beatles from without. In the first, the lads' already-confining train compartment is invaded by a stuffy Englishman who shuts the window and asserts, headmasterlike, his supreme authority. ("And we'll have that thing off as well," he decrees, when Ringo switches on a radio.) The insolently pansexual Lennon leans in and says, "Give us a kiss." When the old gent sputters, "I fought the war for your sort," Ringo responds, not without sympathy, "I bet you're sorry you won." The Fab Four vacate the car, but a second later they're running alongside the train (George is on a bicycle), pounding on the window and yelling like hooligans: "Mister?! Can we have our ball back?!" In one shot, Lester has given the Beatles not simply the last word, but control of the movie's language - its very reality.

But the Beatles are probably less suffocated by disapprovers than by fawners. In one famous sequence (which had been scripted but was hastily shot ahead of schedule after police halted filming on a public street), the four find themselves trapped at a cocktail reception by press and media types. Their absurdist responses to straightforward questions ("What do you call your hairstyle?" "Arthur") have made the sequence a classic of pert one-upmanship, and Lester devises a skippy syntax (in which several answers are cut to the wrong questions) as a means of declaring his own mischievous energies. Later, the filmmakers pull back for an even wider perspective: George wanders into the office of a teen marketer (Kenneth Haigh), a huckster with sharp instincts for making even would-be nonconformists anxious about subscribing to sundry trends. George blithely informs him that "the lads" see through his ploys and sneer at his manufactured teen queen - a rather optimistic assertion, given how poised kids always are to succumb to teen-idol clones.

In the end, the Beatles stay free primarily through making music, and Lester designs the numbers in A Hard Day's Night to seem genuinely liberating. Some of the performances, set against a blank white canvas, have existential overtones. Consider this composition, in which the camera sits slightly below ground level to reveal the entire stage of bodies milling around. When a technician strikes Ringo's drums, it really does seem a violation; but in the number that follows, "If I Fell in Love," the group manages to create a bubble of sanctity. As the techies plug in and test the equipment, the four make music casually, with tender intimacy. This is one of the most effortlessly graceful rock numbers ever put on film: It's no wonder that when Lester was presented with an award from MTV in the early '90s as the "father of music videos," he impishly asked for a blood test. There is even better to come. A Hard Day's Night builds to a Dionysian climax of the Beatles' best-known early song, "She Loves You": The lights flare into the lens, the camera zooms in and out on female faces whispering or screaming or sobbing the name of each Beatle, the yeah yeah yeahs become orgasmic. Who said you can't get no satisfaction?

A lot of people think A Hard Day's Night depicts the Beatles at their most ingenuous and open, before they turned sour and cynical and came to loathe one another. But the movie isn't - and doesn't aim to be - terribly penetrating. The Beatles weren't actors, and what comes through of their personalities is heavily filtered. Lennon is probably the least revealing: He didn't love the camera (he thought it was unmanly to expose oneself to it), and his whole performance is arch and in quotation marks. (The script paints him as a bully boy, but it suggests he's happy making irreverent interjections - it gives no hint that he wanted the last word, too.) Paul, trying hardest to please, doesn't seem much more than a cherubic sweetie, and Ringo's appealing hangdog presence just barely compensates for his wooden line readings. In Soderbergh's book, he and Lester agree that George is the best actor: the guy who's wry and offhand, going with the flow - the final arbiter of cool.

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