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Vol 106 / Issue 33 - 34

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The Mix M O V I E S . M U S I C . T V . B O O K S . C U LT U R E . T R E N D S By Peter Rainer / Film critic "A Hard Day's Night" is one of the very few movies that looks every bit as good now as the day it was made. I frst saw it as a preteen on vacation with my parents in Ireland. The atmosphere inside the theater – a gleeful pandemonium – was, I imagined, pretty much like the atmosphere at a live Beatles concert. The joyful rush of that experience was brought back to me several months ago during a flm festival screening in Los An- geles premièring the new digital black-and- white restoration of "A Hard Day's Night," which is opening theatrically simultaneous- ly with a marvelous DVD/Blu-ray package loaded with extras from Criterion. Although it has been 50 years since the flm's world première in London on July 6, 1964, with Princess Margaret in attendance, the au- dience's response to the flm that night in L.A. could best be described as blissful. I doubt there was a single unsmiling face in that sold-out movie palace. I've now seen the flm yet again, and it remains a nonstop high. Throughout these various rescreenings I was afraid that all I knew of what became of the Beatles – the psychedelia, the band's split, the murder of John Lennon – might darken the enjoy- ment for me. Nope. The movie is such an exhilarating ride that it knocked all those worries right out of my head. It's not only the best rock 'n' roll movie ever made, it's also maybe the happiest of all movies. The Beatles were already sensations when the movie premièred. They had turned down numerous offers to appear in movies because they didn't want to make the same insipid stuff that had neutered the likes of Elvis Presley. The lure, according to pro- ducer Walter Shenson, was director Richard Lester, an American expat who knew mu- sic and had directed TV shows starring the Goons, a British comedy troupe. The Beatles loved the Goons and so they immediately hit it off with Lester. Alun Owen, a TV writer with a sly sense of Liverpudlian humor, was hired as the screenwriter, and he and Lester hung out briefy with the Beatles on tour, soaking up material. The decision was made to flm basically a day in the life of the Fab Four. Because John, Paul, George, and Ringo were nonactors, Owen peppered their dialogue with one-lin - ers. Contrary to popular belief, there was very little improvisation or ad-libbing. The Beatles love being the Beatles, and when they play together, their ecstasy looks gen - uine. Certainly the raptures of their young audience in the flm's fnale is real. Through- out the flm, in fact, the screaming of teen girls functions as a kind of comic motif. The derangements of being so famous that you can never appear in public with- out causing a stampede is played mostly for laughs. The reality was somewhat different. Lester, in an interview in the Criterion pack- age, talks about meeting the Beatles for the frst time and asking John how he enjoyed Sweden, where the band had recently per- formed. His answer: "Yes, very much. It was a room and a car and a car and a room and a concert...." And yet, I don't think there has ever been a movie less cynical about stardom. After the mad rush of the opening scene, with the Beatles racing to make a train just ahead of a pack of screeching fans, the movie ini - tially emphasizes the boys' penned-in lives. But Lester, who idolized Buster Keaton and the other silent-flm comics, keeps it light. When, later on, the boys fee the gilded cage and romp and tumble in an open feld, or when, in the flm's most lyrical interlude, Ringo wanders off by himself, we are wit - nessing the sheer exuberance of physical release. There is no pathos in this flm. The Beatles, in equal measure, love their star- dom and their freedom from stardom. "A Hard Day's Night," with its rapid-fre editing, hand-held cameras, and swoony cut-to-the-beat and against-the-beat faux documentary visuals, is often cited as the template for rock videos. Certainly, in its free-form pyrotechnics and pop absurdism and its arrant disregard for the staid tra - ditions of theater-bound cinema, it's one of the most infuential movies of all time – although most of what it subsequently infuenced is a severe diminution of what Lester originally wrought. Lester himself, in "Help!," his inventively scattershot fol - low-up, couldn't manage a double miracle. What feels so right about "A Hard Day's Night" is that its wiggy form and its wiggy content are twinned. The flm is all about the Beatles and all about itself. The Beatles are caught in a maelstrom of their own making, and the movie is both an expression of that maelstrom and its celebration. Lester has said about the making of this flm: "We met each other at the right time in our lives." Thanks to this movie, that time is forever, and for all of us. r Rated G. JaNUS FILMS on Film The Fab Four, in a happy romp 'A HArd dAy's NigHt,' iN A rereleAse At 50, loses NoNe of its uNbridled joy. Paul, George, Ringo, and John fnd their way to fame in a rerelease of 1964's 'A Hard Day's Night.' 38 THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR WEEKLY | JuLY 7 & 14, 2014

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