Sunday, July 06, 2014

A Hard Day's Journey Into Night

"It's been a hard day's night
And I've been working like a dog
It's been a hard day's night
I should be sleeping like a log
But when I get home to you
I find the things that you do
Will make me feel all right"

John Lennon and Paul McCartney

The Beatles made four movies.

The first one, "A Hard Day's Night," made its debut on this date in 1964. The soundtrack album was released a few days later, racing to the top of the charts and staying there for 14 weeks.

If you're planning to watch the movie for the first time, though, here's my advice: Don't look for much of a plot.

The movie refused to take itself seriously, which was a good thing, really, because the Beatles never seemed to take themselves seriously. They seemed to be amused by how seriously the rest of us took them.

The world took everything they said or did as a pearl of ancient wisdom — which may have accounted for the enthusiastic response to "A Hard Day's Night." It was fun. It was cheeky.

The movie always reminds me of a group of kids playing with their father's video camera. They had adventurous spirits, and they liked to try new things, never knowing if the outcome of their experimentation would be good or bad. (That doesn't change the fact that the music in "A Hard Day's Night" was very good.)

The Beatles just seemed to shrug things off.

"It was clear from the outset that 'A Hard Day's Night' was in a different category from the rock musicals that had starred Elvis and his imitators," wrote film critic Roger Ebert. "It was smart, it was irreverent, it didn't take itself seriously, and it was shot and edited by Richard Lester in an electrifying black–and–white, semi–documentary style that seemed to follow the boys during a day in their lives. And it was charged with the personalities of the Beatles."

For example ...
Reporter: How did you find America?

John: Turned left at Greenland.

And ...
Reporter: Are you a mod or a rocker?

Ringo: Um, no. I'm a mocker.

And, of course ...
Reporter: Do you often see your father?

Paul: No, actually, we're just good friends.

I've been listening to the Beatles all my life. I've seen all their movies more than once, and I think I have discovered the secret (if that is what it is) of the Beatles' remarkable success.

The mere act of creating something — music, a movie, a book, whatever — was liberating, fulfilling for them. If it was commercially successful, so much the better — but that wasn't their primary concern. Like everyone else, they appreciated what money could do for them, but it wasn't what motivated them. The main thing was to create — and leave it to others to decide whether it was good or not.

"A Hard Day's Night" was a success both commercially and critically. Credit for the title was usually given to Ringo Starr, who said, "We went to do a job, and we'd worked all day and we happened to work all night. I came up still thinking it was day, I suppose, and I said, 'It's been a hard day...' and I looked around and saw it was dark so I said, '...night!' So we came to A Hard Day's Night."

Thus, a song/movie title that so many have treated as inspired actually came into being in an almost casual way — and from the most unlikely of the Beatles.

I am always fascinated by how something simple can evolve into something extraordinary — and, in hindsight, take on a kind of preordained aura. That's how "A Hard Day's Night," both the album and the movie, has always seemed to me.

It was nominated for two Oscars — Best Original Screenplay and Best Adaptation or Treatment Score — and lost both.