Richard Lester Geoffrey Nowell-Smith - Essay

Geoffrey Nowell-Smith

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[A Hard Day's Night] is a shining illustration of the often untenable maxim about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. In the first place the Beatles themselves collectively, as a group and governing ungrammatically the singular verb, is (or are) clearly much more than simple Paul, John, George and Ringo. The same principle holds good for the film, which, broken down into its individual components, is pretty poor and insipid stuff. It is not in the conventional sense well written, having no construction to speak of and dialogues which no American director of musicals would look at and which are for the most part a lot less lively than the Beatles' own spontaneous repartee. It can hardly be called well directed, unless you believe that the rapid gyrations of a hand-held camera are intrinsically more exciting or cinematic than more usual methods, which is patently not true. (p. 196)

And yet it works. And it works, or so it seems to me, on a level at which most British films, particularly the bigger and more pretentious, don't manage to get going at all…. A Hard Day's Night, though not exactly a film d'auteur, is in all other respects exactly the opposite. It is utterly slapdash, but it is consistent with itself. It works as a whole. It is coherent and has a sense of direction to it and a point.

The key to it lies in the personality, or non-personality, of the protagonists. They are not simply romantic idols, nor are they exactly comedians. They exist to a certain degree as individuals, but even more they function as a group. What they are presumably like as people in real life is not quite the same as the public image they cannot help projecting to the fans....

(The entire section is 712 words.)