I was 13 years old. The Beatles were everywhere. I had a poster
on my wall. I liked John the best. There were trading cards with gum in them,
magazines, Beatles' shirts, boots, pants, wigs... It was a Beatles' world.
Then the movie came out. We had all seen the Elvis movies, the Cliff Richard
movies... They were crummy but they had rock 'n' roll in them...sort of. The
stars were removed from their roles as rock 'n' rollers and turned into students
on vacation, or roustabouts, or happy-go-lucky kids who just happened to sing.
So, when they burst into song at the drop of a hat... it was just part of
a long tradition of the musical.
That's the way Hollywood deals with something new... it puts it into a comfortable box with a new coat of paint. The Beatles were different. The Hollywood producers figured they only had a short life-span, so when it came time to make a movie they said, "Get it out fast! Make it different! And make sure you get a soundtrack!" What geniuses Walter Shenson and United Artists proved to be!
First they hired an unknown director (Richard Lester) who was American but had worked with legendary British funny-men the Goons. Then they commissioned a script by a Welsh Liverpudlian (Alun Owen) who understood life in Liverpool, and knew the dialect and the rhythms of Beatles' speech. They let the Beatles write their own songs. They kept the budget tight, so they could only afford to shoot in black & white. And they allowed the Beatles to be... the Beatles. Four lads from Liverpool, who were going to London to appear on a show on the tellie. It was perfect.
Until the Beatles broke in North America, I have no memory of the radio at all. My parents listened to it. My grandparents. Okay, Friday night we might gather 'round to hear the Floyd Patterson/Ingmar Johansen fight. Or the World Series...sure we'd listen to that! But music? Not much, except some guys named Bobbie or Frankie singing boring songs. On television it was Westerns and variety shows with dancing bears. The Beatles changed all that. When A Hard Day's Night came out...they changed movies too.
I remember lining up with dozens of other teenagers at the Palace Theater. It was one of those big rococo places with a huge balcony and chandeliers that had been a burlesque house. It was beautiful. We swarmed the place. The management, to appease the youngsters, had made it a double bill. Lonely Boy, a National Film Board documentary about Paul Anka, was on first. It was clear that they just didn't have a clue. We laughed, heckled and jeered poor adolescent Paul. Finally the lights went down again, the screen was black... CHANG!!! "It's been a Hard Day's Night and I've been working like a dog..." Actual Beatles running down the street...falling...chased by teenaged girls...just like the girls who were screaming at the top of their lungs in the Palace Theater. Wait a minute! These weren't real Beatles...they were shadows of Beatles, images of Beatles. It was a movie. And yet they were screaming just as loud, on the edge of their seats, every bit as eager to see this film as they would have been had the boys themselves been on the stage. It was incredible.
I had to sit through the film twice to hear all the dialogue. The supper show was a bit quieter, but only a bit. I'll never forget this experience, and as I speak with people my age, I discover that many of them have exactly the same memory. They were different times.
Almost 40 years later, A Hard Day's Night has been released on DVD, on a 2-disc set complete with interviews and featurettes, and color pictures...but the excitement is not in hearing George Martin discuss the recording of the soundtrack, or Lionel Blair telling how he choreographed the dance, or poor sad Alun Owen discussing the script. The excitement is still there, captured in fleeting shadows, of four young men who changed the way we would hear music, how we would look at movies, forever.
I found myself counting down the days to the release of the DVD. I had an old VHS copy that was mastered from a poor print and left much to be desired. When they first announced the DVD, it was to have been for March 2002. Then the expected date vanished, and hopes faded. After all, Let It Be has never been released officially except on a laserdisc copy of a scratched working print. Finally they started saying August, September, end of September...then October 1st. I bought it on the day of release, before lunch. I told my family I was using the TV Tuesday night - not to make any plans! I was not disappointed.
Remastered from a pristine print, with DVD quality sound, this is a tribute to the collaborative art that is film-making. Lester's avant-garde angles and quick cuts, Owens' witty script, fabulously droll performances by Victor Spinelli and Wilfred Brambell... And the Beatles! John, Paul, Ringo and George are extraordinary. So young, fresh-faced, ready to take on the world. Then there's the music! I felt like a teenager again.
Then I started noticing things. Little things like George Harrison with a cigarette in many scenes. Things like John Lennon looking so vital. Ringo walking the streets, all by himself. Of course, Paul "ever young" McCartney. I felt a small tear in my eye. In Canada, the packaging has both English and French language. The French title is translated "Four Boys in the Wind". How appropriate!
I am 51 years old. The Beatles are everywhere. John Lennon's Mind Games was re-issued on CD this week. George Harrison's last new recordings are due to be released in November. Two weeks after that, Paul McCartney will release a DVD and CD of the "Driving USA Tour", and he's still out there touring today! Ringo Starr is walking the streets, all by himself, somewhere. You can recapture the excitement, you can see the beginning of the myth...on this stunning new version of A Hard Day's Night, and it's very funny to boot!