A Hard Day’s Night

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A movie for every day of the year – a good one

19 September

Brian Epstein born, 1934

On this day in 1934, Brian Epstein was born. Dead by the age of 32, the Liverpudlian who became famous as the manager of The Beatles first heard of the band while working in his father’s Liverpool record shop, NEMS. Having seen them, liked them and discovered that they weren’t really being managed, Epstein took them on and proceeeded to turn them into the publicly acceptable face of Merseybeat – nice suits, nice hair and a nice co-ordinated bow to end their set instead of jeans, leather jackets, scruffy hair and messing about on stage. Epstein made them stars, hawking demo tapes of them round the London record companies until EMI finally, grudgingly, took them on. If Epstein made the Beatles, then the Beatles reciprocated, albeit unwittingly, since Epstein was on a generous 25 per cent of their royalties. A lover of the high life, in every respect, Epstein liked to drink and gamble and got heavily into drugs. In fact he spent large chunks of 1967 in rehab at the famous London clinic The Priory, leaving only to attend the Sergeant Pepper launch party before checking back in. He died by accident as a result of the cumulative effect of Carbitral sleeping pills. Epstein seems to have genuinely loved the Beatles, and they him – he foolishly gave away much of their merchandising rights, made a mess of their songwriting royalties and rewarded himself more than was customary. But he was probably more honest than most rock managers and he inspired fierce loyalty from the band. “If anyone was the fifth Beatle,” Paul McCartney once said, “it was Brian.”

A Hard Day’s Night (1964, dir: Richard Lester)

Here they are, the Beatles, laying down the template for every boy band since in their debut film, directed like a cross between a documentary and a runaway train by Dick Lester – all quick cuts, handheld camera, behind the scenes reveals, verbal quips, moments of thoughtful repose (all staged). Unlike most bands, the Beatles can act and they can deliver a line. Initially the film relied on them to be musicians, but their naturalness in front of the camera inspired Alun Owen to rewrite his script and bulk out the “in between” bits – chatting on a train, running away from screaming fans, just enjoying the first wave of huge success – to create something like a hip French New Wave film with songs. She Loves You, All My Loving, I Should Have Known Better. The Beatles knew they were good, it’s oozing out of every snappy comeback – “What would you call that hairstyle you’re wearing” asks one of the square reporters that seemed to bedevil every band back then. “Arthur,” deadpans George Harrison. Some of the repartee is a bit of a hangover from the Goons, a lot of it seems a touch arch these days. But there is a lively look in the eye, a jousting intelligence to everything they say which explains why people took to them so instantly. Yes, they were groomed, literally, by Brian Epstein, but when the Beatles got in front of a microphone, especially if there was a camera attached, they were entirely their own men.

Why Watch?

  • Modern popular music – they write the songs, they sing the songs – starts here
  • Look out for Patti Boyd, the future wife of George Harrison (and Eric Clapton)
  • United Artists wanted to dub the Beatles’ voices to make them more universally intelligible
  • The movie that kicked off the 1960s

A Hard Day’s Night – at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2013

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