The opening sequence to A Hard Day's Night is one of the most iconic in movie history.
In media res, the four fresh-faced members of The Beatles; John Lennon, George Harrison, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, run for their lives away from a horde of hysterical teenage fans indefatigably chasing after them. Alternating between shaky handheld close-ups of the fervent pursuing fans, and the bewildered grins on the faces of the fleeing fab four, throughout the two minute sequence the title song blares over the soundtrack:
"It's been a hard day's night
And I've been working like a dog
It's been a hard day's night
I should be sleeping like a log"
The birth of the music video? Yes, but A Hard Day's Night is so much more than that, managing within its 87 minutes to capture the liberating sixties zeitgeist and giddy, corybantic whirlwind that was Beatlemania. To celebrate its 50th anniversary, the film has received a new 4k digital restoration, approved by director Richard Lester and sound producer Giles Martin.
Restored. Remastered. Remixed. Revolutionary.
And what a joy it is to see this new version. "Restored. Remastered. Remixed. Revolutionary," are the words which pop up on the trailer for the DVD and Blu-ray release of this special edition, and the film certainly looks and sounds terrific, with the four bandmates captured in crisp black and white over the plethora of pulsating numbers that punctuate the film.
But revolutionary is the word that best describes what when viewed today appears a dizzyingly modern movie. The film's director, the American Richard Lester, was handpicked by The Beatles after seeing his surreal short comedy, The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film, with Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan.
It proved an inspired choice, as Lester's anarchic spirit and stylistic imprint turn what was always planned by United Artists to be a cheap promo ahead of the stateside release of the film's soundtrack (it was shot on a measly £189,000 budget over just seven weeks) into a milestone of the swinging sixties and the genesis of today's MTV generation.
His visual invention is used throughout many of the musical segments. In one dazzling moment the four Beatles play cards in a train carriage, only for it to cut to the Beatles playing their instruments as the baggage car has become a concert venue. When it comes to the actual studio concert at the end, Lester employed the now standard multi-camera set-up during the performance, cutting between shots of John, Paul, George and Ringo, and close-ups of the chorus of shrieking fans in the audience.
But the standout sequence is when the band members, escaping the drudgery of rehearsals, burst out of their cramped studio space and sing Can't Buy Me Love in a nearby field. During the punchy rock 'n roll number the film frenetically cuts between overhead aerial shots, sped up and slow-mo dancing, and McCartney staring straight down the lens as he wrestles the camera to the ground.
Away from the musical numbers, the faux-documentary follows The Beatles as they make their way down to London to perform in a TV variety performance. On the surface its cinéma vérité style allows viewers unprecedented access to the band, but Lester is much more interested in showing the disruptive force of the youthquake on post-war British society.
The generational conflict is signalled immediately when the four band members find themselves sharing a train compartment with a fusty old establishment type, his stiff upper lip twitching at their irreverent musings. "I fought the war for your sort," he cries with indignity, to which Ringo drolly responds, "I bet you're sorry you won".
This recalcitrance to a buttoned-up, class-minded British society continues throughout the film. From Lennon singing Britannia Rules the Waves with a comically high-pitched voice in the bathtub, to George being quizzed by a fashion company over what young people these days are wearing, we see a youth movement not scarred by the worldwide bloodshed of the past, and an older generation who are desperately trying to keep their heads afloat in a sea of change. As Ringo himself later adds when interviewed by a journalist, he's not a mod or a rocker, but a "mocker".
More than just an inside look at the then emerging musical phenomenon that was The Beatles, or a visually stylistic take on their catchy songs, A Hard Day's Night reveals what the four were like before the drugs, rows and spiritual tours to India: a bunch of incredibly talented but down to earth Liverpudlians riding the crest of a countercultural wave that would change the world forever.
The 4k digital restoration of A Hard Day's Night will be released in UK cinemas and available to download from 4 July, followed by a special edition DVD and Blu-ray release on 21 July 2014.