Welcome to a weekly classic movies column here on Nerdist.com. Each week focuses on a different film considered to be essential to the cinema’s golden age. Sit back, grab some snacks, and expand your film knowledge with old Hollywood cinema.
In the early 1960s, a pop group hailing from Liverpool, England changed the face of music forever. The Beatles raced to the top of the pop charts and stayed there for most of the decade. With 17 number-one singles and 15 albums hitting the top of the charts, the group propelled themselves into a new class of music royalty. Their catchy, intricate songs and impeccable musicianship pushed the boundaries of what pop music could do. What many may not know, though, is that they also influenced cinema (in particular music movies) as well.
Previously, “musical” films (besides actual musicals, an entirely different genre) were most well known for being star vehicles for musicians such as Elvis Presley’s Jailhouse Rock films. These movies were usually very low-budget, with next to no narrative for musicians who had little to no acting experience. In short, this style of film was a cash grab, an effort to make money on an artist while they were popular. It came as no surprise then when the world’s biggest band had Hollywood knocking at their door.
United Artists came to the band wanting to cash in at the height of “Beatlemania.” Alun Owen, a playwright at the time, was chosen to script a film revolving around the members of the band. He followed the band around for a few days, who remarked their lives were “a train and a room and a car and a room and a room and a room.” Owen wrote the script from the band’s point of view, a group shut in by their own fame. The band were impressed by his talent for writing Liverpudlian dialogue and the script was approved. A seven week shooting schedule began for a low-budget ($500,000) film entitled A Hard Day’s Night.
A Hard Day’s Night follows the band at the peak of “Beatlemania” as they prepare for a big television appearance in London. Along the way they encounter hoardes of screaming fans, the law, and Paul’s conniving grandfather up to no good. The film is a heightened reality, but also a self-aware and clever commentary on stardom. The well-written, clever script was eventually bestowed with a Best Screenplay nomination at that year’s Academy Awards.
The director, Richard Lester, borrowed heavily from the French New Wave style of filmmaking seen in movies like Breathless. He incorporated jump cuts, nonsensical humor, and had his actors address the camera directly at points – all key elements seen in movies by New Wave directors such as Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut. By adding these techniques to a rock film starring the most well-known group on the planet, Lester changed the way movies were shot. He brought what were then experimental or avant-garde filming techniques into the mainstream.
Lester also inadvertently invented a new genre while filming A Hard Day’s Night: the music video. The musical scenes intercut amongst the narrative of the film hold their own as mini-movies within the film itself. Each song performance had its own style and narrative. In particular, the “Can’t Buy Me Love” sequence in the field and the television concert sequence are hugely influential. Lester shot the concert scene with multiple cameras and allowed the cameramen to capture whatever they wanted with their zoom lenses – from random angles and close-ups to small stolen moments in the crowd. Going forward, this style was utilized in filming concert footage for movies, including Woodstock and Bob Dylan’s famous 1965 concert tour immortalized in the film Don’t Look Back.
Released in the summer of 1964, the film set records. It grossed nearly $20,000 in the first week at the London Pavilion cinema. At one point, it was so popular that around 1,600 prints of the film were in circulation. Prominent film critic Andrew Sarris proclaimed A Hard Day’s Night to be “the Citizen Kane of jukebox musicals.” The movie went on to gross $14 million worldwide.
Many of the lines of dialogue in the film are taken from actual interviews with The Beatles. The famous “I’m a mocker” line is taken from a joke Ringo Starr made on a popular British music show at the time.
Contrary to most film productions, A Hard Day’s Night was filmed almost entirely in sequential order.
George Harrison met his future wife on the set of the film. Patricia Boyd, then a 19-year old model, has an uncredited role as one of the schoolgirls on the train. Harrison asked her out that day and she turned him down. When he asked her out again several days later, she reconsidered. They eventually married 18 months later.
In the big concert scene at the end of the film, Phil Collins appears as one of the extras in the screaming crowd. A huge Beatles fan, Collins was only 12 years old at the time of filming.
A Hard Day’s Night is available to stream on Hulu as part of The Criterion Collection.
What’s your favorite Beatles song? What other classic movies would you like to see in a future column? Drop us your thoughts in the comments below!
Michelle Buchman is the social media manager at Nerdist Industries. She’s also a huge cinephile. Feel free to follow and chat movies with her on Twitter, @michelledeidre.