Sunday, September 20, 2015

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

The Scene: They tried to tell us what it was like—to be in the eye of the hurricane that was "Beatlemania." It looked like fun to us: the performing, the cheering, the adulation. But for The Beatles, it was life under a microscope, the world looking in on you like a zoo exhibition, its collective noses smashed flat against the windows like aliens, pounding on the glass. And performing—what good was that? You couldn't hear yourself play over the screams, the crying, the hysteria.

What's a cultural phenom' to do?

The answer is clear in A Hard Day's Night: any mean necessary.

And A Hard Day's Night is two days in the life, shot documentary-style by Richard Lester and a handful of crewmen using the real Beatles in real locations. They were all natural performers—they were basically kids, well-schooled in what would please audiences from their hundreds of stage performances, but each individually as to their personalities. Paul played to the camera, as if watching himself in the monitor. John, needy and arrogant, was always vying for attention. Ringo, though limited, still had a presence the others didn't have—the camera loved him.

And then there was George.

George was out-front with John and Paul, but always overshadowed by them. A singer-songwriter himself (and more aggressive in their early days than Paul), as success crashed over them, he found himself struggling to compete with the Lennon-McCartney juggernaut for album space. His resentment at having to always "sell" his work to the others left a chip on his shoulder that he would passive-aggressively exploit in interviews, and he would openly rebel in the studio. The "Let It Be" sessions were particularly contentious, with one of the Paul-George arguments caught on-camera in hissing whispering tones. George left for awhile, and came back with Billy Preston to help out on keyboards (because as he said people always act better around strangers).

There is more than a little bittersweet irony at Frank Sinatra's opinion that the Harrison composition "Something" was the best song Lennon-McCartney ever wrote.

But, when pressed, director Richard Lester said that of all the Beatles, the best actor was George Harrison. In both, Help! and A Hard Day's Night, Lester gives him special little scenes where he's allowed to shine (and throughout Help! his understated inserts and asides are some of the funniest things in the movie).

So here is George Harrison's big scene in A Hard Day's Night, the best one in the movie, really: smart, satirical, deftly played, and amusingly derisive of manufactured fame and fads—something The Beatles were determined not to be.

The Set-Up: It is a typical day for The Beatles, "four young lads from Liverpool" (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr). Hotel room/Limo Drive/Rehearsal/Press Conference/Rehearsal—captives of their own success, they are herded like cattle from one appointment to the next. Today, they're stuck in a studio, awaiting yet another rehearsal for a live televised performance in the evening. Though their managers try to keep things tightly scheduled, there's just enough time for the boys to get into trouble, left to their own devices.


**This scene appears in what would be Scene 46 of the movie**
Announcement over P.A.: "There will be a full rehearsal in ten minutes time."
GEORGE comes round the corner, looking for RINGO, then grins and walks past a sign saying "Canteen and Production Office Opposite."
He comes to the exit door crosses to a modern building across from the theatre. He enters building. EXTERIOR, YARD IN THE THEATRE AREA GEORGE crosses the yard and goes to the Nissen hut. He opens the door and peeps in, then goes inside.

It is the reception room that leads to an inner office. Behind a desk sits a smart young woman typing busily as GEORGE enters. He is surprised when he sees the girl; she looks up and speaks to him at once.
SECRETARY: Oh, there you are!
GEORGE: Oh, I'm sorry, I must have made a mistake.
SECRETARY: (tartly) No you haven't, you're just late. (She rises and crossing over to him examines him critically.)
GEORGE: Oh I am?
SECRETARY: Actually, I think he's going to be very pleased with you.
GEORGE: Is he? Really?
SECRETARY: Yes, you're quite a feather in the cap. (She crosses to the desk and picks up the interoffice phone.)
SECRETARY: Hello, I've got one . . .
SECRETARY: Oh, I think so . . .
SECRETARY: Yes, he can talk . . .
SECRETARY: Well . . . I think you ought to see him.
SECRETARY: (She smiles.) Yes, alright Of course, right away.
She crosses to the interoffice door. On the door is written SIMON MARSHAL . . . she opens it.
SECRETARY: Well . . . come on.
GEORGE: Sorry.
GEORGE: (looking at a piece of sculpture) You don't see many of these nowadays, do you?
He follows her quickly in.


A large room, part production office with models and sets, drawing board with ground plans, the other part of the room a mixture of Pop and Queens' magazine decor. Behind a large desk sits SIMON MARSHAL, a bland but slightly irritable young man of about thirty-five. He is wearing the ultimate in the current smart set fashion. He is attended by a couple of underlings ADRIAN and TONY and behind him on the wall is a poster of a girl. Across the poster is printed, "Way out, your own T.V. Special with Susan Campey." Director, Simon Marshal.
SECRETARY: (proudly) Will this do, Simon? Simon, will this do?
SIMON: (looking at George) Not bad, dolly, not really bad. (he motions to George.) Turn around, chicky baby.
SIMON: (George does so.) Oh yes, a definite poss. He'll look good alongside Susan. (he indicates the girl on the poster.)
SIMON: Alright, Sunny Jim, this is all going to be quite painless. Don't breathe on me, Adrian.
ADRIAN has recognised GEORGE and is trying to stop SIMON.
GEORGE: Look, I'm terribly sorry...
GEORGE: ...but I'm afraid there's been some sort of a misunderstanding.
SIMON: (sharply) Oh, you can come off it with us. You don't have to do the old adenoidal glottal stop and carry on for our benefit.
GEORGE: I'm afraid I don't understand.
SIMON: Oh, my God, he's a natural.
SECRETARY: (anxiously) Well, I did tell them not to send us any more real ones.
SIMON: They ought to know by now the phonies are much easier to handle. Still he's a good type.
He now speaks to GEORGE in the loud voice that the English reserve for foreigners and village idiots.
SIMON: We'd like you to give us your opinion on some clothes for teenagers.
GEORGE: Oh, by all means, I'd be quite prepared for that eventuality.
SIMON: Well, not your real opinion, naturally. It'll be written out and you'll learn it. (to secretary) Can he read?
GEORGE: Of course I can.
SIMON: I mean lines, ducky, can you handle lines?
GEORGE: Well, I'll have a bash.
SIMON: Good. Hart, Give him whatever it is they drink, a cokearama?
SIMON: Well, at least he's polite. Show him the shirts, Adrian.
A collection of shirts are produced and GEORGE looks at them. While he is doing this Simon briefs him.
SIMON: Now, you'll like these. You really "dig" them. They're "fab" and all the other pimply hyperboles.
GEORGE: I wouldn't be seen dead in them.
GEORGE: They're dead grotty.
SIMON: Grotty?
GEORGE: Yeah, grotesque.
SIMON: (to secretary) Make a note of that word and give it to Susan.
SIMON: I think It's rather touching, really.
SIMON: Here's this kid trying to give me his utterly valueless opinion when I know for a fact within four weeks, a month he'll be suffering from a violent inferiority complex and loss of status because he isn't wearing one of these nasty things.
SIMON: Of course, they're grotty, you wretched nit, that's why they were designed, but that's what you'll want.
GEORGE: But I won't.
SIMON: You can be replaced you know, chicky baby.
GEORGE: I don't care.
SIMON: And that pose is out too, Sunny Jim. The new thing is to care passionately, and be right-wing. Anyway, if you don't cooperate you won't meet Susan..
GEORGE: And who's this Susan when she's at home?
SIMON: (playing his ace) Only Susan Campey, our resident teenager. You'll have to love her. She's your symbol.
GEORGE: Oh, you mean that posh bird...
GEORGE: ...who gets everything wrong?
SIMON: I beg your pardon?
GEORGE: Oh, yes, the lads frequently gather 'round the T.V. set to watch her for a giggle. Once, we even all sat down and wrote these letters saying how gear she was and all that rubbish.
SIMON: She's a trend setter. It's her profession!
GEORGE: She's a drag. A well-known drag. We turn the sound down on her and say rude things.
SIMON: Get him out of here!!
GEORGE: (genuinely surprised) Have I said something amiss?
SIMON: Get him out of here. He's knocking the programme's image!
The underlings hustle GEORGE to the door.
GEORGE: (smiling) Sorry about the shirts.
He is ejected through the door.
SIMON: Get him out. (He stops in mid shout.) You don't think he's a new phenomenon, do you?
SECRETARY: You mean an early clue to the new direction?
SIMON: (rummaging in his desk) Where's the calendar?
(He finds it.)
SIMON: No, he's just a trouble maker. The change isn't due for three weeks. All the same, make a note not to extend Susan's contract. Let's not take any unnecessary chances!

A Hard Day's Night

Words by Alun Owen

Pictures by Gilbert Taylor and Richard Lester

A Hard Day's Night is available on Criterion and Miramax Home Video.

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