1965 • 96 minutes • United Artists
In college, my friend Kathryn and I came up with a completely objective list of the Beatles rated from best to worst. It goes as follows: George (whatta saint!), Ringo (whatta cutie!), Paul (whatta ham!), and John (whattan a-hole!). Kathryn grew up with the Beatles, whereas I had just finished listening to their discography for the first time. I have this feeling that mainstream (Western, English-speaking, and white) pop culture can be understood through the dual lens of James Bond and the Beatles. I, personally, know that they have given me a better grasp on the last fifty years of pop culture in two dedicated but still manageable Big Gulps. (Television’s the hard one to get through, although my attention span is infamously shot.)
Of course, I’m hardly done with the Beatles—I’ve got to finish Beatles Anthology, Shout!, and, of course, their cinematic output. I’m endlessly fascinated by the narratives created by, developed for, and assigned to the boys, undoubtedly influenced by my nascent interest in star studies. How do all the various incarnations of the Beatles—scream-worthy mop tops, stoners, and psychedelic searchers—fit together? I still feel like I’m only at the beginning, and Help!, didn’t, well, help. A Hard Day’s Night is such an effervescent and almost pure expression of that first (to American eyes, at least) incarnation of the Beatles that anything was going to fall short of it, if only because the boys had discovered marijuana and could no longer be coaxed into doing much of anything that wasn’t music.