Retro Review: The Plaza Theatre Celebrates 50 Years of The Beatles’ A HARD DAY’S NIGHT With a Gorgeous New Restoration!

Posted on: Jul 2nd, 2014 By:

A HARD DAY’S NIGHT (1964); Dir. Richard Lester; Starring The Beatles (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr); Runs Friday, July 4 – Thursday, July 10 (see Plaza Theatre website for times and ticket prices); Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Has it been 50 years already? Hard to tell when it comes to something timeless, and there are few films as timeless as The Beatles’ motion picture debut, A HARD DAY’S NIGHT. Chock full of great music, wild comedy, groundbreaking direction and a witty, snappy script, it’s enjoyable enough on any occasion. But with a beautiful, newly-minted restoration, there’s no better way to commemorate the movie’s half-centenary than spending an evening at the Plaza Theatre with the “Fab Four”.

When it comes to rock & roll movies, there are generally three camps. There are straight-up documentaries and concert films, like The Band’s THE LAST WALTZ, ELVIS: THAT’S THE WAY IT IS, WOODSTOCK or Dylan’s DON’T LOOK BACK. Then there are the films where a rock star gets shunted into some generally cockamamie scenario which has musical performances conveniently hanging off of it, such as most Elvis movies or Herman’s HermitsMRS. BROWN YOU’VE GOT A LOVELY DAUGHTER. Then there are those films where you’ve got a plot and actors that serve chiefly to prop up a handful of showcase musical numbers, featuring musicians that you don’t really see outside of those isolated performances, aside from maybe five minutes of acting to establish their presence in the film. This is typical of most 1950s rock & roll movies (Elvis vehicles excluded) like THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT, ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK and—in later years—the Ramones’ tribute to these flicks, ROCK ‘N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL.

Then, there are the exceptions, and A HARD DAY’S NIGHT is one of the most striking. It’s not a documentary, though it probably gets closer to the true spirit of The Beatles and Beatlemania than any documentary could. It’s not tied up in some convoluted plot that exists to just fill time between songs (that would be their follow-up movie, the winkingly self-conscious HELP!). And with The Beatles starring as themselves, it breaks away from the ‘50s template. At the time, it was truly revolutionary. There really wasn’t much else like it.

And it remains the single greatest rock and roll movie ever made.

Like Joe Bob Briggs used to say, it doesn’t have any plot to get in the way of the story. The Beatles have to make it to a TV studio for a live broadcast, putting up with Paul’s troublemaking grandfather (“He’s very clean.”) and the trappings of superstardom along the way. That’s it. But that threadbare plot allows plenty of time for the lads’ personalities to shine through and firmly establish each of them as distinct characters. It also allows ample opportunity to present The Beatles’ music organically: not only as score, but as source—in staged rehearsals and run-throughs leading up to their on-air performance.

The script is incredibly clever, providing constant tangential episodes within the film that deliver small moments of energy, so we never hit a dead spell in the journey. As a result, it plays as something of a sketch film, with the consistent forward dynamic of the band’s race to the TV studio maintaining an overarching momentum. In addition, screenwriter Alun Owen spent several days with the foursome and drew dialogue from interviews with the band to deliver Beatles “characters” that were true to each individual member of the group.

Director Richard Lester was a left-field candidate for helming the film, personally chosen by The Beatles on the basis of his work with Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan on TV and in the 1960 theatrical short THE RUNNING JUMPING & STANDING STILL FILM. Visually inventive and wildly imaginative, he not only innovatively captured live music performances, but also delivered crazed comic sequences (such as the opening chase scene, a rapid-fire interview segment and the wild “We’re out!”/”Can’t Buy Me Love” romp). It all comes across as pure giddy exuberance in cinematic form. And even though it depicts The Beatles as prisoners of their own fame, it’s also early enough that we’re still seeing them enjoying the view from between the bars. (As Orson Welles said, “if you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.”)

Acting-wise, The Beatles are surprisingly confident on-screen. Paul comes across as level-headed and charming, George as dryly droll, John as sardonic and anarchic and Ringo as sensitive and compassionate. It’s Ringo in particular that shines during a sequence in which he escapes from the TV studio to anonymously wander about town and winds up palling around with a young kid. The keen script, Lester’s deft direction and Ringo’s performance join forces to create one of the film’s most memorable chapters.

And then there’s the music. Rather than use the film to push already-existing product, aside from the previously-released “Can’t Buy Me Love” and a quick medley of hits as the basis for their TV performance, the film uses newly-composed, original material by the band. And the resulting LP, their first to not feature any cover songs, is perhaps The Beatles’ first great album. With all songs written by Lennon and McCartney, it firmly established The Beatles as a truly self-contained unit—and one that sounded uniquely like themselves, rather than a large derivative of artists that came before.

I could write for forever and never be able to capture what strange magic this film conjures. It’s pure electricity on film. It’s full of the joy of life and the living of it. Like I said before, it’s the greatest rock & roll film ever made. And what the hell, one of the greatest films, full stop. And hey! If you need more convincing to see this after all of the superlatives I’ve been piling on, it has been newly digitally restored for the film’s 50th anniversary, with a new 5.1 sound mix created at Apple Studios, and word on the street is that the end result is a marvel.

So drop what you’re doing and see this at your earliest convenience. Even if you don’t know it, you need a reminder of why The Beatles were one of the biggest phenomena of the 20th century, and there’s no more entertaining way to get that reminder than with this film.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Marx Brothers Political Uprising: DUCK SOUP Serves Up a Perfect Bowl of Comedy and International Relations at the Movie Tavern!

Posted on: Aug 6th, 2013 By:

DUCK SOUP (1933); Dir. Leo McCarey; Starring the Marx Brothers (Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo) and Margaret Dumont; Tuesday, Aug. 6 and Thursday, Aug. 9 @ 7:30 p.m.; Wednesday, Aug. 8 @ 11:30 a.m.; Movie Tavern; Tickets here; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

The Movie Tavern’s Retro Cinema series is devoting the entire month of August to classic comedies! And it’s hard to think of a more classic comedy than the Marx Brothers masterpiece DUCK SOUP!

Growing up, I had two obsessions: horror movies and Groucho Marx. In the small town of Lanett, Alabama, we were able to get a handful of Atlanta UHF stations (kids, ask your folks what UHF stations were). WTCG 17—later to become WTBS—had the horror movie front covered. And WHAE 46 had Groucho, with reruns of YOU BET YOUR LIFE that I’d watch every night before bed. That’s where I first discovered the waggling eyebrows, sardonic humor and unmatched wordplay of the mustachioed Marx. I thought he was the funniest human being to ever walk the face of this puny planet. And from there, I worked backwards. When I couldn’t see a Marx Brothers movie, I’d pore over the Richard J. Anobile-edited stills-and-dialogue collection WHY A DUCK? and learn the quips by heart.

All of this is prelude to why I’m tempted to just say “DUCK SOUP is perfect,” drop the mic and walk off stage. What else need be said? It’s perfect, it’s playing, go see it.

But that wouldn’t be a review, now would it? It’s barely an opinion. It’s just this side of being a sentence.

Now, there will be those who will claim that other Marx Brothers movies, particularly their films made at MGM, are better. There will be those who’ll sing the praises of A NIGHT AT THE OPERA or trot out A DAY AT THE RACES. These people are, how do you say, wrong. Sure, those may be more accomplished films. They did pull off the feat of placing the Brothers’ anarchic humor in a traditional Hollywood movie framework. But like Joe Bob Briggs would say, there’s too much plot getting in the way of the story. Too much romantic frou-frou between Allan Jones and whatever leading lady had to be subjected to his bland appeal. And these movies do the unspeakable: they make the Brothers nice. The Marxes are interested in helping people by, say, keeping two love-struck opera singers together or by saving a sanitarium from being foreclosed upon.

DUCK SOUP—like the Brothers’ other, earlier Paramount pictures—has no interest in making the Brothers likeable. All the Brothers want to do is cause disorder and discord. Every Marx Brothers character in the film is either ineffectual or irresponsible, or both. None of them actually want to do what their characters are assigned to do. Groucho plays Rufus T. Firefly, the newly-appointed head of the bankrupt nation of Freedonia. He, of course, has no interest in governing. All he has an interest in is the compound interest in the bank accounts of Mrs. Gloria Teasdale (Margaret Dumont, at her Margaret Dumont-iest), whom he is determined to marry. He’s being spied upon by Chicolini (Chico Marx) and Pinky (Harpo Marx) from the neighboring country of Sylvania. They, of course, have no interest in spying on Firefly. They don’t really have much interest in doing anything except pestering the local lemonade vendor (Edgar Kennedy) or going to baseball games on their employer’s dime. Then there’s the forever-to-be-underrated Zeppo Marx, who—as Firefly’s secretary Bob Roland—is mostly there to provide the “straight man” role for Groucho to lob jokes at. He’s the only person there who seemingly wants to do the job he’s assigned (though Firefly sees him as being incompetent), but that’s Zeppo for you. Say what you will, though, the Marxes never had a better straight man than Zeppo.

There’s so much to love in this movie. There’s the break-in scene, where Chico and Harpo don greasepaint and pajamas and are virtually indistinguishable from Groucho. (There’s no need in referring to them by character name—they’re playing the Marx Brothers here, as they always do.) There’s the Groucho/Harpo mirror scene. The war, in which every character’s costume changes between edits. The “We’re Going to War!” musical number. Groucho’s constant failure to leave the capitol building by motorcycle. The glorious back-and-forth that occurs whenever Groucho and Chico share a scene. The reality-shattering existence of Harpo Marx, who is presented as an almost supernatural agent of chaos (how else does a live, barking dog emerge from the doghouse tattooed on his chest?). I could go on and on all night. Get to know me for longer than a week, and I probably will.

Like most great pieces of art, it wasn’t well-received in its time. During the Depression, filmgoers were put off by the mean-spirited and anti-authoritarian tone of the movie. And critics felt the story too disjointed and harsh, too sour and unpleasant. Pure, uncut Marxism was too much for many to deal with in those dark days. Even Groucho thought little of the movie (but he was, you have to remember, a grouch). But in ensuing years, it’s been reappraised, and for good reason. Its ridicule of war and the Powers That Be helped it gain a foothold in the minds of rebellious youth in the decades since, and appealed to the steadily growing cynicism of the American psyche. It’s now considered a masterpiece and one of the most influential film comedies of all time.

When Woody Allen’s character Mickey, in his 1986 film HANNAH AND HER SISTERS, searches for meaning after an unsuccessful suicide attempt, he walks into a chance screening of DUCK SOUP during the “We’re Going to War” sequence. He recounts:

“I just needed a moment to gather my thoughts and be logical and put the world back into rational perspective. And I went upstairs to the balcony, and I sat down, and the movie was a film that I’d seen many times in my life since I was a kid, and I always loved it. I’m watching these people up on the screen and I started getting hooked on the film. I started to feel, how can you even think of killing yourself? I mean, isn’t it so stupid? Look at all the people up there on the screen. They’re real funny, and what if the worst is true? What if there is no God and you only go around once and that’s it? Well, ya know, don’t you wanna be part of the experience? You know, what the hell? It’s not all a drag. And I’m thinking to myself, ‘Jeez, I should stop ruining my life searching for answers I’m never gonna get, and just enjoy it while it lasts.’ And after, who knows? I mean maybe there is something. Nobody really knows. I know ‘maybe’ is a very slim reed to hang your whole life on, but that’s the best we have. And then I started to sit back, and I actually began to enjoy myself.”

DUCK SOUP, ladies and gentlemen. It’s one of those things that make life worth living.

Because it’s perfect.

*Drops mic, walks off stage.*

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

© 2019 ATLRetro. All Rights Reserved. This blog is powered by Wordpress