Sunday, December 14, 2014

Don't Make a Scene: A Hard Day's Night

The Story: In the press conference sequence of A Hard Day's Night, it is scripted that Ringo is asked: "Are you a "mod" or a "rocker?" And his reply is "I'm more of a mocker.." Truer words...

That was part of the charm of The Beatles (in order of joining: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr) they mocked everything. Oh, they took the music seriously, and their jobs. But, everything else was material for lampooning.  The questions from the Press, the Press itself, the fan's reactions, their hair, their life-styles, their "talent"—they made more fun of themselves (and each other) than anything. And, as a consequence, they became more fun to watch, too, apart from their songs.

A Hard Day's Night has them as themselves (to a point), in their London, in their circumstances, dealing with their notoriety and all the complications that entails, from logistics, to travel, to exploitation, to loneliness, to "cabin fever." It examines the price of fame and the cost of living in a Beatle bubble.

But, contrarily, it's hysterical. I was at the premiere when it opened in Seattle (thanks for getting the tickets, Dad, and for being amused, rather than alarmed, at Beatlemania), and it was a mob scene—you couldn't hear half the dialogue over the screams in the audience.* But, I always remembered this scene, and have memories of actually seeing it and being amazed by it. It zapped my head when I was 9 years old.

I loved comedy as a child, and always pestered adults with jokes to test "what was funny." But, this was different. This was absurd. Abstract. This was play. This was a discussion that centered around nothing, that kept building and building to the perfect punch-line (dubbed in later).

We assume the discussion centers around whether John Lennon resembles John of The Beatles, but it's never stated outright, and, in point of fact, it is never even mentioned, and avoided. Who Millie mistakes him for could be Winston Churchill, for all we know. That's the comedy aspect, like the drunk who asks the celebrity: "Do you know who you are?" ** They both know who they're talking about ( they?), and that absurd void is danced around, like Charlie Chaplin roller-skating around a man-hole, and comes to a conclusion without any resolution.  And that all stems from the mutual Beatles/Richard Lester/Beatles producer George Martin association with The Goons (Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe, et al.), the British comedy troupe much beloved for their embrace of the absurd and the bizarre, part and parcel of the strange jitterbug in A Hard Day's Night, that catalogs two Days in the Life of The Beatles.

The Set-Up:  The Beatles have just had a momentary burst of freedom, playing in a field before being summarily kicked off of it.  Now, they must return to the dungeon-like studio where they await another rehearsal, another show.  But, even there, The Beatles can't escape attention, and the weird price of Fame.


Ad-Libbed sections are in YELLOW

JOHN is behind them. JOHN, BOYS and MILLIE are walking towards each other.
MILLIE (as all pass) Hello.
JOHN (stopping... the boys carry on past, not noticing her) Hello.
MILLIE Oh, wait a minute, don't tell me you're ...
JOHN No, not me.
MILLIE (insistently) Oh you are, I know you are.
JOHN No, I'm not.
MILLIE You are.
JOHN I'm not, no.
MILLIE Well, you look like him.
JOHN Oh do I?
JOHN You're the first one who ever said that.
MILLIE Oh you do, look.
JOHN looks at himself in the mirror.
JOHN examines himself in the mirror carefully.
JOHN My eyes are lighter.
EXTRA: Excuse me...
JOHN: All right, noddy...
MILLIE (agreeing) Oh yes.
JOHN And my nose...
MILLIE Well, yes your nose is. Very.
JOHN Is it? 
MILLIE I would have said so.
JOHN Aye, but you know him well.
MILLIE (indignantly) No I don't, he's only a casual acquaintance.
JOHN (knowingly) That's what you tell me.
MILLIE (suspiciously) What have you heard?
JOHN (blandly) It's all over the place, everyone knows.
MILLIE Is it? Is it really?
JOHN Mind you, I stood up for you, I mean I wouldn't have it.
MILLIE I knew I could rely on you.
JOHN (modestly) Thanks.
MILLIE touches his arm then walks away. After a moment she turns.
MILLIE You don't look like him at all.
JOHN walks away, indignantly
JOHN (to himself) She looks more like him than I do...

A Hard Day's Night

Words by Alun Owen

Pictures by Gilbert Taylor and Richard Lester

A Hard Day's Night is available on DVD from Criterion Home Video.

* Yes, the "youngsters" were screaming at the Beatles' image on the movie screen.  As George Harrison has pithily remarked, "We gave them an excuse to go insane."

** I've actually seen this happen in real life.  All you can do is be amazed.  Celebrity turns a lot of us to babbling goo.

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