A Hard Day’s Night: Music on Film Series
by Ray Morton
Reviewed by Jef Burnham
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In 1963, the Beatles had an exclusive contract for the release of original singles and LPs with Parlophone and EMI. But motion picture studio United Artists discovered a loophole in the Fab Four’s contract, in which Parlophone neglected to secure the rights to any motion picture soundtracks released by the band. Thus, UA determined to release three pictures starring the Beatles, with the profits from soundtrack albums compensating for any losses they might incur as a result of poor box office returns. Little did UA know, the Beatles’ first cinematic outing in Richard Lester’s Nouvelle Vague-influenced comedy, A Hard Day’s Night, would be considered by many the greatest rock-and-roll movie in history, and prove to be successful both artistically and financially.
This book, by film historian and script consultant Ray Morton, offers readers a behind-the-scenes look at how A Hard Day’s Night came to be. (Morton is a senior writer and columnist for Script magazine, and his previous works of film history include the wonderful King Kong: The History of a Movie Icon from Fay Wray to Peter Jackson, as well as Amadeus, another installment of the Music on Film series.) Morton takes us all the way back to the beginnings of the Beatles, as well as Lester himself, providing us with a brief but thorough look at the paths that led the men to this collaboration, before tackling the making of the film proper. From the film’s hectic production schedule to the success of both film and soundtrack album, Morton provides fascinating stories and insights into the film’s production and lasting influence. Among other topics, Morton addresses the now iconic formal qualities Lester employed to depict the Beatles’ comic adventure (including the fast-paced pixellation so commonly associated with the Beatles) and how the film established the diverse public personas of the individual band members, when in reality, they were not all that different from one another.
Morton’s writing style is succinct and bereft of the sort of flowery prose employed in this very sentence that has the tendency to beleaguer the reader’s smooth progress through a text. And although its 128 pages are absolutely jam-packed with information and anecdotes, you could easily pour through this book in a single sitting, propelled forward by Morton’s fast-paced approach to this real life narrative. The book also includes a glossy, eight-page insert featuring images of the film’s major players, the Beatles behind the scenes in the studio and on set, as well as A Hard Day’s Night posters, album covers, and even a novelization of Alun Owen’s screenplay.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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