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Hard Day’s Night. A Little Light in the Darkness.

October 10, 2016

harddaysnight

A correct response to the insane and vicious political maelstrom is to cherish things that you truly love.  That’s part of a correct response at least.  While raging against the dying of the light, you need to sort of remind yourself of what “light” consists of.

A few days ago, I bathed in the light somewhat by watching Hard Days Night (Lester, 1964) again.  What a remarkable film it is, though I prefer its French title Quartre Garçons Dans Le Vent.  It sort of invents the pop video – but it’s far more than that.  It is an engrossing film about the trivial aspects of celebrity and the claustrophobia of living in a bubble.  The four boys are fond of being around girls, but (unlike any other youth orientated film of its era), there is no romantic subplot whatsoever.  These four boys in the wind (perhaps four boys in a wind tunnel) cherish every bit of freedom they can extract from a punishing schedule, but they return to the stage (even Ringo, who demonstrates the liberating simplicity of the pleasure of wandering about near Hammersmith Bridge), because they actually like making others happy.  They know that they are good at what they do, and when they’re doing it, others experience joy.  That’s enough for them, enough for them (for now) to be prepared to sacrifice freedom for.

The film actually succeeds in capturing the characters of John, Paul, George and Ringo pretty well.  Paul is shrewd, tough minded, but unfailingly charming.  George is sardonic, brooding and thoughtful.  Ringo is vulnerable and yearns for the sheer freedom of the “ordinariness” that he has lost.  And John is mischievous, shameless, but very tender and generous when it counts.

The scene where John sings “If I Fell” to Ringo essentially to cheer him up is my favorite song segment in the film.  As the others join in the song, we’re reminded of the delicious John and Paul harmonies on the song and the peculiar togetherness they feel when they are each contributing to something lovely.

Of course, it’s a work of fiction.  Paul never had an Irish grandfather remotely like Wilfred Brambell.   And the threat to “tell your mother” issued to John would not have been made, given that his mother had been hit by a car and killed seven years previously.

Brian Epstein is not a character in the film.  Norman Rossington plays something like a manager, with John Junkin as his underling, but the pair of them are far more like the band’s regular helpers out Neil and Mal.  Neither of them has Epstein’s suave authority.  There are no bad guys in this film, which is given its necessary chastening edge by the presence of that extraordinary actor Wilfred Brambell. He’s a mixer, as Paul explains (more than once).  This Grandad exists only to cause unexplicable and often unmotivated trouble.  He’s a very clean old man (a sitcom joke that is told over and over again), but this very cleanness is itself sinister.  His is the fastidiousness of a serial killer.  His is the neatness and precision of a man seemingly with no boundaries.  When being interviewed in a police station by the incomparable Deryck Guyler,  Brambell suddenly plays the Irish republican card, suggesting that he (and Ringo) are about to suffer brutal interrogation at the hands of the thin blue line of British constabularial imperialism.  This kind of utterly cynical appropriation of real politics and real history creates a very sour impression.

This film is unlike other Richard Lester movies in a  critical formal respect.  Lester is a very much a Pieter Bruegel sort of film-maker (as was the far more critically lauded Robert Altman) in that he had an recurring concern for the little people who get caught up in larger events.  In films like A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Robin and Marian, and the Three Musketeers movies, the screen is decorated with hapless people trying to make a living, people you find yourself caring about.  You can watch Lester movies over and over again and always see something new.  In Hard Day’s Night, the ordinary people caught up in the madness are the Beatles themselves, or John, Paul, George and Ringo – since the group name is never used in the film.   The name appears on Ringo’s drumkit, but nobody actually uses the term “Beatles”.  The effect of this is to both humanise the boys who are the Beatles while mystifying Beatlemania to the point where it becomes a strangeness that resists definition.

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