The week’s best musical is 50 years old. Welcome back, The Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night, newly restored and reissued. In merciless early July only the Fab Four stand much chance against Messrs Messi, Djokovic and Co.
Richard Lester was the man born to direct this kinetic, kaleidoscopic comedy-with-songs, starring a quartet still fresh from the first gusts of chart-topping fame. The “plot” is 36 hours in the life of The Beatles, playing themselves: from gig to gig and giggle to giggle. Lester’s previous collaborations were with Spike Milligan and the Goons. Weirdly, effectively, he combines that DNA with seeming genes from Godard. (Add bits of Fellini, Keaton and the Marx brothers.) In Gilbert Taylor’s wonderful black and white photography the film skips between staccato episodes – caméra-stylo (handwriting cinema) Godard would call it after the cine-philosopher Astruc – with the only token subplot cohering around a fictional Paul grandfather (Wilfrid “Steptoe” Brambell).
Rushed through in seven weeks’ shooting with a mini-budget of £200,000, the movie was a smash hit. Lester and The Beatles assembled more money and pomp – and colour photography – for the sequel Help!, which relatively flopped. It just proves: freshness is the ingredient no one can bankroll. It helps, too, to be able to call on the Beatles album that keeps just on giving: the one that starts with the title song and goes onward and upward.