Last week we discussed the first rock festival. This week we discuss the first rock film. Well, the first consequential rock film. (Even if it didn’t seem to take itself too seriously.)
A Hard Day’s Night, released 50 years ago this weekend, was ostensibly a fun and energetic romp through a typical day in the life of the new pop phenoms, The Beatles.
Because it was the beneficiary of early Beatlemania, the movie was a box office smash. So much so that people forget what an artistic triumph it was. Time magazine has declared it one of the all-time great 100 films.
It didn’t hurt that the sound track served up a fresh batch of soon-to-be-memorable Beatles' songs, including “A Hard Day’s Night,” “I Should Have Known Better,” “And I Love Her,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” and “If I Fell.”
Of course I need to point out some business lessons here.
First of all, A Hard Day’s Night was a cinematic game changer, with its combination of smart dialogue, slapstick humor, occasional ad libs, and inspired pop/rock performances—perfectly capturing the cheeky independence and cheerful defiance of this new breed of rock & roll. Also, the use of hand-held cameras contributed to a compelling faux documentary look and its creative editing foreshadowed the contemporary rock video. Innovation wasn’t a buzzword then, but nearly everything The Beatles touched had the look, sound, and feel of ingenuity and inventiveness. They would soon revolutionize the pop song, revamp record production, transform albums into art form, and even give product packaging a makeover. But A Hard Day’s Night gave us the first hints that The Beatles, like many great business teams, were bent on creative destruction.
Secondly, A Hard Day’s Night was put together on the fly and filmed quickly, owing to the production deadline and the Beatles’ overburdened schedule. This revives the debate about whether innovation is best achieved on a tight or loose timetable (i.e. with or without “constraints”). For more on this, check here. Chalk one up for constraints.
Rock Around the Clock starring Bill Haley & His Comets, released in 1956, was technically the first rock film, but an eminently forgettable one. (It swung but it didn’t rock—and it didn’t break new ground.) But Haley should get his props for helping to popularize the term “rock & roll.” Often a simple semantic distinction is all that’s needed to turn a trend into a movement. There’s another business lesson for ya'.
A Hard Day's Night is being re-released in the coming week, digitally restored with a remixed and remastered sound track.
7/7/14 update: Just watched it at my local theater. I appreciated the total cast—especially Wilfrid Brambell who played Paul's grandfather—more than ever. I was delighted to see as many Gen Xers (and almost as many Millennials) as Boomers in the audience. Lots of cheering and clapping after the songs, but no screaming! The question many were asking after the show: "That wasn't really 50 years ago, was it?"