I hope you’re not all heart-throbbed out after Cliff Richard and Dirk Bogarde, because this week BEATLEMANIA hits Reel Ale FIlm Club. Prepare for The Railway Tavern Ale House to look like this (with slightly less of a police presence, but no less frantic excitement):
These images capture something of the fan presence that accompanied the Beatles throughout the filming of a A Hard Day’s Night (1964). Ironically, or perhaps appropriately, scenes filmed at Marylebone Station which attracted throngs of admirers involved John, Paul, George and Ringo running from hordes of Beatles fanatics. Indeed, the film is a mock-documentary about a band who travel to London to find themselves besieged by fans at every turn. BFI Screenonline notes that “The film’s French title (translated as Four Guys Caught in the Wind) sums it up perfectly.” I’m inclined to agree.
Despite the obvious popularity of the band, Roger Ebert argues that on the release of the film The Beatles were not yet the cultural icons they were to become and were, by some, considered merely a publicity phenomenon. The soundtrack to A Hard Day’s Night, released in July 1964, was only The Beatles third UK release. Following the huge record sales of their first two albums, Beatlemania was arguably born with an appearance on US television which was watched by a record-setting 73 million people – roughly 23% of the American population. See their full performance on The Ed Sullivan Show below.
The Beatles’ fandom was made up predominantly of teenagers and as such many critics attended A Hard Day’s Night “prepared to condescend” (Ebert). One such critic was Andrew Sarris who, writing for Village Voice in 1964, admitted “I kept looking for openings to put down the Beatles.” But, finding few, decreed the film to be:
the Citizen Kane of juxebox musicals, the brilliant crystallization of such diverse cultural practises as the pop movie, rock ‘n’ roll, cinema verite, the nouvelle vague, free cinema, the affectedly hand-held camera, frenzied cutting, the cult of the sexless sub-adolescent, the semi-documentary and studied spontaneity.
Wow, pretty significant then. The film’s spontaneity was due in part to its hurried production and release, timed to capitalise on beatlemania. Moreover, legend has it that the film’s producers only realised halfway through shooting that the film needed a title track. Having named the film after something said by Ringo after a long day and night’s work, John Lennon wrote the song in one night.
A second film directed by Richard Lester and starring the band was released in 1965. Help! was a different film entirely and altogether more extravagant; with a bigger budget Lester was able to shoot in colour, in exotic locations and to pursue a convoluted narrative. Gone was the freshness and fun of A Hard Day’s Night and the band were not pleased with the end result. John Lennon later said that “Dick Lester didn’t tell us what it was all about…The movie was out of our control. With A Hard Day’s Night, we had a lot of input, and it was semi-realistic.”
The band’s influence on A Hard Day’s Night, the energy of the film and the timing of its release all contributed to its huge success and its rightful accolade as one of Britain’s best-loved films. So don’t miss it at The Railway Tavern Ale House on 13 June.
London on Film – 25th April – 19th September:
25/4 - Silent London - Piccadilly (E.A. Dupont, 1929)
2/5 - Wartime London: Part 1 - Waterloo Bridge (Mervyn LeRoy, 1940)
9/5 - Wartime London: Part 2 - I Was a Fireman (Humphrey Jennings, 1943) + London Can Take It (Humphrey Jennings, 1940)
16/5 - Larceny in London: Part 1 - The Ladykillers (Alexander McKendrick, 1955)
23/5 - British New Wave - We Are The Lambeth Boys (Karel Reisz, 1959) + Momma Don’t Allow (Karel Reisz and Tony Richardson, 1956)
30/5 – ‘Its’s Wonderful to be Young’ - The Young Ones (Sidney J. Furie, 1961)
6/6 - Queer London: Part 1 - Victim (Basil Dearden, 1961)
13/6 - British Bands: Part 1 - A Hard Day’s Night (Richard Lester, 1965)
20/6 - Art House - Blow Up (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966)
27/6 - Terror on the Tube - Quartermass and The Pit (Roy Ward Baker, 1967)
4/7 - Hitchcock’s London - Frenzy (Alfred Hitchcock, 1972)
11/7 - DINOSAURS in London - One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing (Robert Stevenson, 1975)
18/7 - Gangster’s Paradise: Part 1 - The Long Good Friday (John Mackenzie, 1980)
25/7 - Horror - An American Werewolf in London (John Landis, 1981)
1/8 - Queer London: Part 2 - Prick Up Your Ears (Stephen Frears, 1987)
8/8 - Larceny in London: Part 2 - A Fish Called Wanda (Charles Crichton & John Cleese, 1988)
15/8 - Romantic Comedy - The Tall Guy (Mel Smith & Richard Curtis, 1989)
22/8 - Gangster’s Paradise: Part 2 - The Krays (Peter Medak, 1990)
29/8 - London Soul - Young Soul Rebels (Issac Julien, 1991)
5/9 - British Bands: Part 2 - SpiceWorld (Bob Spiers, 1997)
12/9 - Big Guns in the Big Smoke - Harry Brown (Daniel Barber, 2009)
19/9- Docu-dreams - Dreams of a Life (Carol Morley, 2012)