by Cynthia C. Scott
Released in 1964, A Hard Day's Night came along on a wave of Beatlemania that swept through both Europe and the United States.
The film itself lacked a plot, though this does not make for an incoherency in the viewing experience. Rather, the movie takes a day in the life of the Fab Four as they rehearse for a television appearance. In between that simple story outline is room for the charming hijinks and musical performances of the Beatles themselves, providing an answer to the world that might have questioned why this mop top of Liverpudlians were so popular in the first place.
The music, until the mid-sixties when The Beatles began experimenting in the studio, seemed almost inconsequential. During their early performances, the screaming from thousands of teeny-bopper fans drowned out their playing. It came to the point where they could miss a cue, hit a bad note, sing off-key and no one would notice or care. They were the Beatles. They could do no wrong.
By 1966, The Beatles retired from touring. The did so for a number of reasons: the abovementioned lack of interest in their music, the rigors of being on the road, bad publicity run-ins in the Philippines, where they snubbed then First Lady Imelda Marcos, and John Lennon's infamous and misquoted statement that the Beatles were more important than Jesus, eliciting a firestorm of controversy in America's Bible belt. By then, the price of fame seemed almost too much to handle.
But when A Hard Day's Night was released, the innocence and the joy of making it big was still present. The glee in which all four performed in the movie was evident. They were still in love with the possibility of being in a band, an important one at that, and with being famous. Many of the film's dialogue was ad-libbed by the Fab Four and the movie's title came from one of Ringo Starr's well-known malapropisms.
The opening shot of Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Starr being chased by a horde of screaming and adoring fans seems more like innocent horseplay between the band and the young girls, a game of catch-me-if-you-can that the fans were never meant to actually win but were given the illusion that they could, teasing them just long enough to make the chase all that more thrilling and tantalizing. The Beatles were letting the fans in on the fun, a wink-and-a-nod to the fact they themselves were chasing after something as equally elusive---the privacy they lost in the spotlight of fame and the sheer boyish innocence of simply being in a band.
The fandom which the Beatles ignited, though not a first (in an earlier era Elvis achieved the same level of fandom), was perfected in merchandising possibilities. Believing that the fans would buy every thing Beatles-related, companies merchandised their images in fan magazines, bobble heads, lunch boxes, bubblegum cards, and the like. It was a perfect marriage of art and merchandising, to be replicated years later with films and TV shows. A Hard Day's Night was simply another tentacle with which to exploit the Beatles' popularity.
United Artist financed A Hard Day's Night on a shoestring budget (hence the black and white footage) and a tight shooting schedule in order to capitalize on the band's popularity. They feared Beatlemania was a flash in the pan and didn't want to end up holding the bag. Ironically, the movie further fed Beatlemania, placing the Beatles in a pantheon all its own. The movie crystallized our impressions of the Fab Four, their Liverpudlian charm, their silliness. Aside from being in one of the hottest bands of its time, each member, with a distinctness in personality unlike any pop band members up to that point, didn't take himself too seriously.
In England, which had seen its empire set after WWII, and in the United States, still reeling from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the Beatles became an antidote to either country's moroseness and frightening self-importance. They arrived on the scene as if to say: "Cheer up, it only gets worse from here." Eventually, the Beatles would sing "All You Need Is Love" as a global message in a time of war, civil rights disturbances, and social unrest. The message was still as innocent, naive even, as "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," but The Beatles were always about love, whether romantic or global. In the case of A Hard Day's Night, they were about the love between a band and its fans. A Hard Day's Night was a valentine to the world.
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