Has it really been 50 years since I strong-armed my mother into taking me to the Varsity Theatre in Evanston, IL, for a Saturday afternoon matinee of A Hard Day’s Night? The place was packed to the rafters with screaming fans so eager and demonstrative you’d have thought the boys were putting in a personal appearance.
Even though my parents were more inclined to turn the car radio (my main source of musical enlightenment during the first eight years of my life) to a station favoring Steve & Eydie or Jerry Vale, it was impossible to escape the infusion of musical energy that hit American shores the day The Beatles crash-landed.
Where was I on the evening of Sunday, February 9, 1964? In the dining room of my Aunt Gen and Uncle Sam’s apartment watching The Beatle's first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. My then-teenage cousin Ruthie and three of her friends had commandeered the big set in the living room. Even with two doors separating us, the quartet’s squeals and shrieks were enough to “wake the dead” as Sam — who had a bit of an Alan Arkin going on — proceeded to shout at them over the din. The gals didn’t give in, nor did my desire to see The Beatles first film when it opened later that summer.
Ruthie was my ticket in. Anything she said left Mom no choice but to cart me all the way to Evanston. (A stop at Marshall Fields before the picture was the main reason we went to the northern suburb.) Ruthie went on to play a big role in my rock upbringing, turning me on to American Bandstand and Lloyd Thaxton. If nothing else, I was going to get to the bottom of what all this screaming was about.
The Beatles: A Hard Days Night Original Film Trailers
It was a revelation. Prior to this, the closest my seven-year-old gaze had come to documentary realism was Disney’s nature short The Hound That Thought He Was a Raccoon. The camera seemed to all but disappear. AHDN was like anything I had ever experienced — 87 minutes worth of unmediated glimpses into the lives of four surrogate friends, each one as good-humoredly malleable as Bugs or Jerry Lewis and as skilled at leeringly adroit sarcasm as Groucho. And these boys could sing, too! Little did I know at the time, AHDN is no more a documentary than is Buñuel’s L’age d’Or.
Every year brings another video visit and each subsequent viewing affirms (at least) two running beliefs: It deserves its spot as one of my ten favorite musicals, and it was the closest movies had come to capturing the spirit of the Marx Bros. since the boys parted company with Paramount in 1934. Unlike the Marxes during their long, slow, post-Thalberg slide at MGM, the thought of scanning through one of the Beatles numbers has never crossed my mind. (A little Kenny Baker goes a long way. For every spirited “Tattooed Lady” Groucho gave us, the ear-splitting falsetto variations on Two Blind Loves that romantic leads were assigned numbered close to a dozen.)
A Hard Day's Night
The film was directed by Richard Lester, a giant, a titan, who for personal reasons hasn’t stepped behind a camera since 1989. Like the songs themselves, Lester’s coverage of the numbers gives each a warmth and personality all its own. If you have never seen it with an audience, look upon this as one of the monumental experiences of your cinematic life. The film screens twice — July 10 at 7 pm and July 13 at 11 am — at two locations: Reading Cinemas Gaslamp and Grossmont Theatres. And allow me one giant step out of character when I encourage you to sing along.
Note to my bestest pal, Jo Brantferger at Reading Cinemas: please…please, have it shown in either the #1 or #10 Grossmont. If not, I’ll cry instead in #5.