A Hard Day’s Night: An experimental masterpiece

European Films, Reviews

One of the indisputable truths in life is that The Beatles never go out of fashion. This was especially proved last year when the documentary The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years grossed over $12 million at the box office worldwide, which means that despite splitting over 40 years ago, people of all generations still love the Fab Four. It would then be no surprise that the 1964 comedy “mockumentary” A Hard Day’s Night is still wildly popular amongst Beatlemaniacs and just about anyone who likes the Beatles (myself included), but has it stood the test of time?

A Hard Day’s Night is one of the forgotten gems of 60’s comedy. Leaving aside the film doesn’t have a plot (at all, it’s just a series of sketches), Richard Lester’s film is a wonderful experimental piece. Despite being created solely for exploitation purposes, responding to the prayers of millions of Beatlemaniacs for whom this was the closest to being in a Beatles concert, A Hard Day’s Night is a lesson of filmmaking.

Presented as a mockumentary, the movie is a satire of the hysteria that surrounded the Beatles when they were the most famous band in the world and portrays John, George, Paul and Ringo as some boys who just want to have fun but are usually put down by adults: this may or may not be true, but it is believable. Most importantly, it is a depiction of the generation gap in a decade dominated by the youth. In fact, A Hard Day’s Night is reminiscent of the Nouvelle Vague’s cinema: it conveys a sense of freedom and youth, like anything is possible. Adults are authority figures, managers, policemen, landlords, bourgeois, whereas the younger generation means fun and freedom.

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A Hard Day’s Night is also a great piece of surrealist comedy: built around sketches, it seems like Lester is trying to make things crazier as the film goes on. In fact, nothing really makes sense, but combined with a Cinema Vérité style, the result is incredible. Though similar to Jerry Lewis’ comedies, the movie, mixing it with an apparently realistic camera style makes the humor perhaps more natural, real and therefore understandable, despite its craziness. I think this is why one of the reasons the movie has stood the test of time: the surrealism of the decade, despite being depicted in a hallucinatory way, transmits the true feeling of joy. It is not meant to be true, and yet it makes the audience feel like this is what the 60’s and Beatlemania were like (some of the sketches are based on real situations). Beatlemania itself was surreal, so why not portray it hyperbolically?  

The visual style is definitely my favorite part of the film. A Hard Day’s Night has inspired many trends in cinema, television and music videos. Richard Lester’s film is a collage of documentary camera work (shaky hand, images that seem to have been captured on the move, accidentally), Nouvell Vage trends (unusual camera angles, dramatic transitions) and even music video style (which had not been invented at the time). The movie itself reflects on its fakeness and makes the audience realize that what they are watching is fake, a construction.

The result, a patchwork of both visual and narrative trends that make this film, perhaps unbeknown to Richard Lester at the time, much more than an exploitation film. It is an experimental masterpiece that mirrors the craziness and sense of possibility of a new generation and that conveys the irreverence of the Beatles and the youth of the 1960’s.

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