Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Fishing in the Discount Bin - A Hard Day's Night

Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, what started as a feature on my podcast and has become a rambling series of blog entries.  Today, we get to one of the greatest films in rock and roll, the Beatles classic A Hard Day's Night.  This entry is originally dated August 20, 2011.

Another one of those films I kind of anticipated doing for this column, but then I drifted away.  But I seem to be drifting back.

So, throughout the 1950s and the 1960s, it was quite common for pop stars to do movies.  Hey, with only three TV channels, movies was the best way to actually get to see your favourite artists performing the hits.  So, when Beatlemania hit in the early 60s, it was only natural that the Beatles would eventually make a movie.  However, the Beatles, already getting artistic, didn't want to do the standard rock star film.  The standard rock star film tends to be a highly contrived romantic comedy, in which the girl is a surrogate for the fans, and our hero, played by the rock star, winds up in several situations that thrust him up on stage where he starts singing.  To get the full effect of this formula, just check out any Elvis movie...Elvis's management had the formula honed down to a science.

So director Richard Lester was assigned to direct this Beatles movie, and he was having a devil of a time coming up with a premise that the Fab Four would agree to.  One day, the Beatles returned from a whirlwind tour of Germany.  Lester, having never been, asked, "So, how was Germany?"  John Lennon, with his famous sardonic wit, replied, "It was a car and a hotel room and a hotel room and a car and a cheese sandwich."  And the light bulb went off over Lester's head.  THIS would be their movie!  A day in the life of the Beatles.  Just kind of follow them around and chronicle all this rushing about that they tend to do.  The Beatles agreed, and the biggest band in the world at the time was about to begin their journey to the big screen.

The title, A Hard Day's Night, is apparently just something silly that Ringo said one day.  According to legend, the Beatles had just finished an all-night recording session.  As they were walking out of the studio, Ringo said, "Well that was a hard day's..." and when he saw that it was morning, he blurted out "night."  While they all agree Ringo came up with it, there's varying stories over how they chose it to be the title of the film.

I was always aware of the Beatles, but I didn't become a fan until my time in Japan.  Their early stuff -- the stuff from the A Hard Day's Night era -- I found to be the easiest and most fun to sing at karaoke.  And then, with the much-hyped digitally remastered re-releases of all their albums a couple years back, I couldn't help but pick up a couple...the A Hard Day's Night album being one of them.  I finally first saw A Hard Day's Night shortly after my return from Japan, when it was a Saturday evening movie on MuchMoreMusic.  I really liked it.  So much so, that when I saw it in HMV's 2/$30 bin, I couldn't help but pick it up.

A Hard Day's Night was unlike most other movies when it was first released.  As I mentioned, they tried to ditch the traditional "rock star movie" formula.  It was filmed in black and white to cut costs.  It was filmed with a lot of hand held cameras, and had a gritty realism that was unexpected.  And the way that Lester staged and filmed the musical numbers has long been accredited with writing the book on how to make music videos. 

So the film opens with its legendary set piece of the Beatles running from a horde of crazed fans as they try to make it to their train on time.  They make it to the train, and we're introduced to the other characters of the film.  There's Norm, their manager, Shake, their road manager, and out film's antagonist, Paul McCartney's grandfather.  For lack of a better term, Paul's grandpa is a shit disturber, always getting others around him to fight and bicker, while he just sits back and giggles. 

So the Beatles' time on the train kind of establishes what the whole movie is going to be like.  The Beatles try to have fun and just be the young 20-somethings they are, only to find themselves trapped by their fame and having to do their duties.  We also fully see the full scope of Paul's grandpa's evil, as he gets Norm and Shake bickering and tries to swindle an old widow.  The Beatles eventually find a quiet moment, and keep Paul's grandpa out of trouble, by hiding out in the baggage car. 

They arrive at a hotel, where their manager hopes to keep the boys out of trouble by answering fan mail.  They sneak out to a club, while Paul's grandpa sneaks out to a casino.  But, the Beatles are eventually busted and sent back to the hotel, and they have to go get grandpa from the casino.  Luckily, grandpa's winnings are enough to cover his tab. 

The next morning the Beatles are scheduled to perform on a TV variety show, and this where most of the film takes place, as the Beatles are trapped at a TV studio, and occasionally try to sneak out once in a while and have a little fun.  Things come to a head when Ringo is left alone with Paul's grandpa.  Throughout the film, Ringo has been the butt of jokes from Paul, John, and George, and this gives Paul's grandpa an opening.  Paul's grandpa gets Ringo all wound up, and Ringo just takes off.  Goes on walkabout, as the Australians would say.  Sadly, while out and about, Ringo has a series of comedic mishaps that wind up getting him hauled downtown by the cops.

Naturally, with Ringo missing, the rest of the Beatles have a mild panic, as they can't go on without Ringo.  Meanwhile, Paul's grandpa inadvertently incites a riot trying to sell autographed photos of the Beatles to the crowds outside the TV studio.  This gets Paul's grandpa hauled down to the police station, where he finds Ringo.  Paul's grandpa sneaks away, tells Paul and the boys where Ringo is, they go rescue Ringo and they make the show just in time.  Once their performance is done, they're ushered into a helicopter and whisked away to their next appearance.

This is just a very fun movie.  The stars are having fun.  The music is fun.  It's very funny...it's just so much fun!  I never get tired of watching it, and it always cheers me up when I'm feeling down.

No comments: