At the movies, this is the summer of the ‘60s.
The Clint Eastwood–directed version of the Broadway musical “Jersey Boys” is celebrating the 60s a la Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. The first of two films about designer Yves Saint Laurent is currently playing at indie houses across the country. And now there’s the re-release of the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night.” The film stars the Beatles—John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, as well as British character actor Wilfrid Brambell.
The limited re-release of “A Hard Day’s Night” from July 4-14 in almost 100 cities across the country is to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the release of the film (July 6, 1964 in England; August 11, 1964 in the US). A newly restored version of the classic 1964 black and white film that includes a surround-sound mix is now in theaters and a Blu-Ray version of “A Hard Day’s Night” has also been issued and is now in stores.
So far, “A Hard Day’s Night” has been playing to full theaters (okay, so they’re small indie houses) like the screening I attended on the 4th of July. While a packed indie house is nothing like the rapturous reception the film received 50 years ago when fans not only packed movie theaters but stayed to watch the movie over and over again, the re-release is still generating plenty of buzz.
Why the excitement? Music historian Robert Santelli, who is executive director of the GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles, said it’s not just a matter of nostalgia. “A Hard Day’s Night’ is considered to be one of the greatest rock and roll movies of all time. It elevated what was then known as the rock and roll teen flicks,” Santelli said.
Santelli noted that up until 1964, there had been a number of rock and roll movies made in the 1950s and early ‘60s, most notably the string of movies starring Elvis Presley and the beach-themed movies which featured rather corny rock and roll as a backdrop. “But none of those could compare to the quality and cleverness and genius of what director Richard Lester put together,” Santelli insisted. “It was a film that beautifully married music and the Beatles’ personalities and this thing called Beatlemania. And it showed Beatlemania up front and personal.”
While the movie was scripted, it was based largely on the realities of Beatlemania. The inane questions the Beatles faced and their clever retorts during press gatherings were recreated for the movie (Journalist: What do you call your hair? George: Arthur; Journalist: Are you a mod or a rocker? Ringo: I’m a mocker!). Unfortunately, a legendary real life incident in which a journalist cut off a piece of Ringo’s hair when he had his back turned, was not recreated for the film. Also recreated straight from reality was the group’s daily routine of being isolated in hotel rooms while on the road.
There is also, in hindsight, freshness to this version of the Beatles. This was the 1964 Beatles—fresh-faced, before the acid trips and the bitter bickering that would lead to the group’s breakup by 1970.
And then there were the songs. In addition to the title song—which was written in one night after the group decided they liked the line (an offhand joke made by Ringo), the hits included “Tell Me Why,” “I Should Have Known Better,” “She Loves You,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” And I Love Her,” and “If I Fell.”
“I remember sitting in the theater watching the movie when it first came out. I sat through the movie with my father and we watched it I think three times in a row,” Santelli recalled. “Now, I see other things about it and can appreciate it, the little jokes and bits. But back then it was just the Beatles talking and singing and being themselves. It was magic, pure magic.”
—Karyn D. Collins