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Everything you wanted to know about A Hard Day's Night in just about 100 pages

Book Review: A Hard Day’s Night: Music on Film Series by Ray Morton

Limelight’s Music on Film series attempts to pack most everything an interested reader would like to know about a single film associated with music into a convenient pocket sized book. The little books are not aimed at scholars. They do include bibliographical information, but they do not document sources either in the text or in end notes. They are equally interested in the celebrity gossip and the facts about the production. This is a series by and large meant for the general audience.

Joining his earlier study of Amadeus is author Ray Morton’s look at the 1964 Beatles classic A Hard Day’s Night. Essentially, the book’s main point seems to be that director Richard Lester and the Beatles managed to produce a masterpiece despite low expectations from the studio and the business people who greenlighted the project. United Artists decided to back a film with the band on the theory that they could profit from a cast album even though they thought the band wasn’t successful enough to make the actual film profitable. They engaged Lester as director and Walter Shenson to produce with the understanding that they come up with a film that was cheap and quick. They wanted to make sure it came to theaters before the band’s novelty flamed out.

What screenwriter Alun Owen, Lester, and the team he and Shenson assembled came up with was an innovative film that in many ways changed the whole concept of the rock-music-movie model forever and had a lasting effect on the way those films are still done today. The fact that the Beatles were now going to make their American splash with their appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show more than likely would have made whatever they came up with a success; that they came up with a work of genius was gravy.

Morton talks about the band’s beginnings and the early personnel changes. He deals with the early successes and then he gets to the actual film. There is a chapter about the initial idea for a movie and its implementation. He explains how the idea of a fictionalized documentary based on the Beatles’ actual claustrophobic life escaping from the teenage mobs that haunted their every move came about. He describes the creative team and how they came on board. He talks about the music, how it was chosen, and how it was used in the film. Then he gives a blow by blow analysis of the nearly two months of shooting, some insight into the post production, and a short discussion of its critical reception.

Of course he throws in any interesting little tidbit about the shooting that he can dig up. For example, a 13-year old Phil Collins turns up as an extra in the movie’s concert scene. The noise was so loud that a recent filling in the tooth of a cinematographer throbbed so violently that the tooth suffered nerve damage and had to be pulled. Paul had a scene in which he popped in on an actress rehearsing, which was eventually cut from the film in part at least because his acting was too stiff. For the most part the boys were at their best when they were being themselves. They had winning personalities which came across on the screen.

Morton explains Lester’s feelings about each of the four. Paul was trying too hard to be a “good” actor. Ringo was the most natural. John, he felt, had the most electrifying personality, and George was “the most accurate performer.” In general their TV experience must have helped in making them comfortable in front of the camera, and though their inexperience necessitated some accommodations, their natural effervescence made up for any technical problems. In the end Richard Lester and the Beatles were able to create a film that was so good it transformed its genre and Ray Morton was able to create a nice little book to explain how they did it.


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