Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A HARD DAY'S NIGHT (Richard Lester, 1964, UK) Two fictional days in the life of the Fab Four, prisoners of their own success, confined to a life of crowded rooms, cars, and trains, singing the twelve bar blues while their youth passes them by, their catharsis the creative synergy of powerful vocal harmonies and chord progressions where all the world is a stage. Director Richard Lester’s cinema verite style brings the now legendary Beatles into sharp focus while developing a sentimental intimacy with our young protagonists: John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Lester’s use of hand-held cameras effects a frenetic visual motion where nothing ever stands still, placing the audience into the frame as accomplice to the cheeky humor and snarky personalities of the band. The mundane plot is transcended by the beautiful melodies and frantic energy, capturing the Beatles independent of their surroundings in sublime private moments of self-reflection then cutting to the rhythms of classics such as can’t By Me Love, utilizing non-sequiturs and slapstick whose aftermath is life affirming cheerfulness. The film opens with ripchord tempo, as the band rushes from adoring fans stumbling and laughing, the title track’s immediacy book-ending the conjunctive narrative. We are introduced to Paul’s fictitious Irish grandfather, a clean old man (an in-joke contradicting a catch-phrase from a BBC sitcom starring actor Wilfrid Brambell), a “mixer” who leads the emotionally serene Ringo into all sorts of trouble. There are inspiring moments of performance including Lennon’s I Should Have Known Better while packed in a caboose, and the iconic stage production where Lester films in extreme close-up and gazes through video monitors before cutting to reaction shots of the adoring audience. More importantly, Richard Lester is able to capture the very essence of the Beatles as young men with a sense of humor, and for two hours we begin to experience the world through their eyes. We feel their desperation as inane reporters ask vapid questions, not about their musical passion but about culture and fashion. One reporter asks Ringo if he’s a Mod or Rocker and the reply, of course, is a straight-faced “I’m a Mocker”. Another questions George about the name of his style of haircut and he answers “Arthur”. In one antagonistic scene the faux manager is at odds with Lennon and vows to “murder him”…and I was terribly saddened by the sudden realization of a world without his wonderful music. This is an important film as both a glimpse into fame and history, as entertaining as Buster Keaton and lyrical as Rimbaud. (A)

2 comments:

Alex DeLarge said...

Watching these young musicians it is incredible to relflect that they were only 3 years away from writng SGT. PEPPER'S ...arguably the greatest fucking rock'n roll album ever produced! Watching this film once again, I peered into their boyish visages and tried to see this creative spark that would produce a conflagration of absolute pitch perfect tunes like PENNY LANE, the angry chant of REVOLUTION or the sublime SOMETHING.

And don't forget to buy the newly remastered MONO set:) Hearing SGT. PEPPER'S in mono is a revelation and only possible if you owned an import UK vinyl pressing. The discs are beautifully reproduced and an essential part of any collection. Enjoy.

Alex DeLarge said...

Addendum: I watched this on the import Canadian Blu-ray and though it is encoded at 1080i it still looks exceptional at times, a bit murky at others. Not sure if this is the fault of the master but I saw no signs of DNR or other tampering: we get a grainy and detailed B&W image that exposes exceptional depth at times. A few speckles here and there but not distracting, and an upgrade from DVD. The lossless soundtrack is front heavy and very clear: for the first time I could understand their sometimes thick accents. And of course the music sounds wonderful, but not as good as the new remasters on CD! I was not totally disappointed viewing this on a large screen and would recommend the upgrade...but I do hope a complete remaster (Criterion maybe?) will be completed someday.