The mood is set the instant A Hard Day’s Night begins.
From the soundtrack, we hear that single isolated guitar chord – the signal that kicks one of the Beatles’ most familiar and endearing hits into gear.
From the screen, we see Beatlemania in all its 1964 splendor with the boys from Liverpool racing down a backstreet pursued by the screams and cheers of teen hysteria. It’s a staged scene of a very real pop phenomenon. But within this segment there is a moment of priceless spontaneity. Within seven seconds of the opening frame, down goes George Harrison. It’s a moment worthy of Monty Python, not because the guitarist stumbled on the sidewalk but because director Richard Lester – presumably with Harrison’s approval – left the shot in.
Thus begins the remarkable moment-in-time that is A Hard Day’s Night, which celebrates its 50th anniversary with a fully restored version that will be screened Wednesday as part of the Kentucky Theater’s Summer Classics Movies series.
A Hard Day’s Night isn’t a documentary, but it might as well be. With the Beatles’ global popularity having just spread to America, the film follows the band on a supposed day of promotional activity and improvised mischief. That’s it. There is no real plot and no conflict to speak of other than the brief disappearance of a hapless Ringo Starr before a TV performance and the innocuous sideline exploits of Paul McCartney’s “very clean” grandfather.
The obvious intent at the time was to capitalize on what was already a boundless pop enterprise. But what the film translates into today is a remarkable time capsule of the Beatles at perhaps the most seemingly innocent point of their career. American audiences already saw how the four, especially John Lennon, won over the media during press conferences marking their Stateside TV debut the previous winter. That charm plays into the seemingly unscripted remarks and asides that pepper A Hard Day’s Night. A personal favorite comes offscreen from Lennon as Starr gathers his cash winnings from a card game: “That will never buy you happiness, my son.”
In the end, A Hard Day’s Night revolves around its presentation of the Beatles’ still spectacular music – the railway storage car setting for I Should Have Known Better, the swinging social club backdrop for All My Loving, Lennon’s playful rehearsal serenading of Starr for If I Fell and the gloriously dated outdoor foolery (“Sorry we hurt your field, Mister”) for Can’t Buy Me Love that reminds us this was, indeed, 1964.
For better or worse, A Hard Day’s Night stands as the template for countless teen pop and boy bands over the generations as they created their own commercial profiles. But it’s also more than mere nostalgia. Viewing it today is like looking at any snapshot of youth. Captured by Lester and crew in brilliant black and white, A Hard Day’s Night is a chronicle of promise. Within it, we witness up close the vigorous, playful personalities of four pop soldiers merrily conquering the world.
‘A Hard Day’s Night’ will be shown at 1:30 and 7:15 p.m. July 16 as part of the Summer Classics Movies Series at the Kentucky Theater, 214 East Main. Admission is $6. Call (859) 231-6997 or go to www.kentuckytheater.com.