Fifty Years Ago


In mid-August, 1964, a modest-budget, British black-and-white comedy movie hit the theatres. And instantly exploded to being the most popular film of the year. It was the Richard Lester flick, A Hard Day’s Night, starring the young Beatles in their debut on the silver screen. It was a paradigm changer in so many ways.
Hard Day's Night

It was a madcap, faux-autobiographical/mockumentary story – a style of filmmaking not previously seen on the big screen – punctuated by the Beatles’ music, including several new songs not yet released on vinyl. They would soon be, though and the soundtrack album would rise to number four on the charts.

The whole thing cost about $500,000 to make, but netted $12 million. Professor Witney Seibold writes:

The film is most certainly a classic, not only capturing the energy and obsession and youthful humor of the band members themselves, but also displaying a new kind of New Wave filmmaking that was part musical, part comedy, and part documentary. A Hard Day’s Night is a great film… perhaps the best rock film ever made.

But of course the biggest result was to introduce the world to Beatlemania, then still a nascent movement about to become a cultural tsunami. If anyone before the film was unsure what it meant, what all the excitement was about, who these guys were, they didn’t have any uncertainty after watching it. The film not only showed the world what Beatlemania was,, it swept up everyone in its wake and drew us unprotesting into the madcap movement.

People in the audience laughed and wept and screamed along with the audience in the film. Teens in the USA, in Canada and elsewhere were united in a virtual onscreen world with the British teens shown in the movie. It internationalized us.

I remember that year; I remember sitting in the darkened theatre on many a Saturday afternoon to watch the movie again and again. I saw it, I recall, a dozen times that summer. Beatlemania was an early meme and it was infectious as hell. We surrendered to it without a whimper.

The summer of 1964. A different world, a changing world. A world of fluctuating culture and politics. Tensions and creativity. A chrysalis of the past and the older world order being torn open. A dividing line drawn between generations.

The height of the Cold War. The time of the desegregationist Freedom Summer that was met with violence, the Tokyo Olympics, of the space race, the opening of the Viet Nam War, open-air nuclear testing by the USA, USSR and China, Malcolm X and Cassius Clay, on TV: The Munsters and The Man From Uncle, the first Star Trek pilot, the first James Bond film – From Russia With Love, President Lyndon B Johnson’s “War on Poverty” and his “Great Society”, Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr Strangelove,” the war between Greek and Turks in Cyprus, Jimmy Hoffa convicted of jury tampering, the World’s Fair in Flushing Meadow, NY), the US Civil Rights Act, Ranger 7 taking 4,308 pictures of the Moon, Prime Minister Lester Pearson and the Great Canadian Flag Debate, Fiddler on the Roof opened on Broadway, Nikita Khrushchev ousted from power and replaced by Leonid Brezhnev.

So much going on, so much of it forgotten today. Who today worries about the bomb?

I was a young teenager. I remember sitting with mates around the pool deck – the local swimming pool was one of our summer hangouts as we fumbled at trying to be cool and impress the girls. We had battery powered transistor radios back then, the size of a hefty paperback book, sometimes bigger, and everyone would gather round to hear the music, especially when a new song was being played.

The music was great in 1964. The Beach Boys were at the top of the charts, the British Invasion saw  songs by Chad and Jeremy, Peter & Gordon, Dusty Springfield, The Dave Clark Five, The Animals, the Searchers , Manfred Mann, The Rolling Stones and others on the charts. But for all the great bands and singers that came out of the UK, everyone’s eyes were on the Beatles. They led the charge.

The Beatles’ song, I Want to Hold Your Hand had been released in the USA in January and rocketed to number one within two weeks, holding that spot for seven weeks until being bumped by the American release of their somewhat older hit, She Loves You. Ironically, the opposite happened in Britain: She Loves You was number one first. North America was trying to play catch up and the record industry still didn’t get it. Nor would they for a few more years.

But we kids did. It’s music I still play on guitar and ukulele, music I still listen to with a combination of nostalgia and awe. Over the next five or six years we would see an upsurge in creative talent, in remarkable music, unlike any cultural upheaval seen before or since. In 1964, the wave was just rising. In less than a year from the movie’s premiere, I would have my own guitar and start learning to play, not just listen to, the music.

It’s hard to think that it was so long ago. Sometimes it seems so fresh in my memory – when I listen to the music especially. Ah, the potency of nostalgia.

Fifty years later, A Hard Day’s Night is coming back in a remastered version: both on Blu-Ray and in theatres again. According to Variety, we will see both within the next few weeks:

A new restoration of the Beatles’ 1964 film “A Hard Day’s Night” has been set to play in more than 50 cities nationwide over July 4 weekend.

A Hard Day's NightThe DVD/Blu-Ray versions will be released on June 24. The Blu-Ray is a three-disk collection with the DVD included (also available as a separate purchase). According to The Music Universe, the set contains many extras, including:

  • Audio commentary featuring various members of the film’s cast and crew (dual-format only);
  • In Their Own Voices, a new piece combining interviews with the Beatles from 1964 with behind-the-scenes footage and photos;
  • You Can’t Do That: The Making of “A Hard Day’s Night,” a 1994 documentary program by producer Walter Shenson;
  • Things They Said Today, a 2002 documentary about the film featuring Lester, music producer George Martin, writer Alun Owen & cinematographer Gilbert Taylor (dual-format only);
  • New piece about Lester’s early work, featuring a new audio interview with the director (dual-format only);
  • The Running Jumping and Standing Still Film (1959), Lester’s Oscar-nominated short featuring Peter Sellers & Spike Milligan (dual-format only);
  • Anatomy of a Style, a new piece on Lester’s approach to editing (dual-format only);
  • New interview with Mark Lewisohn, author of Tune In: The Beatles: All These Years (dual-format only)
  • Deleted scene (dual-format only)
  • Trailers

As you might expect, I have mine pre-ordered. I am looking forward to an evening of entertainment and, yes, more nostalgia reliving, for a few hours, those heady, happy days of 1964.

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One comment

  1. Damn. Had this DVD pre-ordered through Amazon and this week I got a message saying it won’t ship until mid-July – weeks after its release. I’ll buy it from another source. Probably Costco.

    I’ve found that in the past, too, with Amazon, especially Acorn/BBC releases. The Doc Martin series 6 was in stores a month or two before Amazon got it.

    And it was the second Amazon fail this week: first was sending me the French edition of Ethan Marcotte’s Responsive Web Design and having to refund my payment because Amazon Canada doesn’t stock the original English edition. I’m increasingly discomfited with Amazon’s inability to stock goods or provide them in a timely manner.

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