A Hard Day’s Night: over the heads of Generation Z

The re-release of Richard Lester's classic Beatles film reminds us of everything that was great about the Fab Four.

Christian Butler

Topics Culture

After a certain left-handed bass player delivered a triumphant Abbey Road medley at the 2012 Grammy Awards, the words ‘Who is Paul McCartney?’ were plastered across Twitter. Seemingly, the new generation are oblivious to the supposedly greatest band in the history of popular music.

It’s easy to scoff and decry that ‘kids only listen to modern crap’, but the band’s surviving members have not helped the situation. They refused to let their music be sold on iTunes until very recently, and they rarely give permission to use their songs in film and television shows. And besides, pop music has, in some ways, moved on. Even the most numbskulled Belieber would be too sophisticated to fall for a coy conceit like ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’. Like guitar music itself – once at the height of popular music, now a relic – The Beatles have ceased to remain vital to the mainstream.

It in these pitiable circumstances that A Hard Day’s Night celebrates its fiftieth anniversary, with a re-release in cinemas and on DVD. And, while it is certain to be ignored by Generation Z, the rest of us can enjoy a masterpiece of cinema.

A Hard Day’s Night is a behind-the-scenes look at The Beatles preparing for a television appearance. But this barely does justice to what remains one of the greatest exercises in sustained joy ever to be put to film. It’s full of scripted gags, sticking it to The Man, and the constant presence of fans achieving nirvana at the sight of their heroes. The film has a kinetic energy like no other, with the camera constantly running to catch up with the band as they rattle around being the world’s biggest band.

And then, of course, there are the songs. The album which accompanied the film, bolstered by hits like ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ and the title track, was the first Beatles’ LP to consist entirely of Lennon/McCartney compositions. It was their greatest achievement in the studio to date.

But it’s not just the quality of the songs that makes the movie a triumph; it’s the unforgettable way that director Richard Lester captures them. The film’s most iconic sequences, from the opening sequence where The Beatles run from their adoring fans to the performance of ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ where the band run around a field for the sheer fun of it, contain all the elements of the music video 17 years before the launch of MTV.

And despite being copied to death, the sequences in A Hard Day’s Night remain timeless and unique. They’re the perfect extension of everything that was great about The Beatles: their youthful energy, their anti-establishment streak, their sense of humour and their surreal flights of fancy. It’s these qualities that also defined their peerless run of albums in the late Sixties. At the end of that unmatched run, The Beatles, and the decade that produced them, called it quits against a backdrop of Vietnam, the Manson family and Gimme Shelter, another film starring another rock band, which proved to be the horrific antithesis of A Hard Day’s Night.

After Wings, the All-Starr Band and the death of two Beatles, we can look back to 1964 with a sincere fondness and yearning nostalgia. And whether the new generation cares or not, we will always have this magnificent movie.

Christian Butler is a writer and musician based in London.

Watch the trailer for A Hard Day’s Night:

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