You can buy a DVD of The Beatles' debut film, "A Hard Day's Night," and it's probably worth it. The Criterion Collection's new home-video edition includes commentary tracks, extras and a feature on the underrated director, Richard Lester. If you're any kind of Beatles fan, however, you'd be a fool not to go see this joyous rock and roll movie on the big screen.
Digitally restored with a soundtrack remastered by Giles Martin (son of George Martin, The Beatles' producer), "A Hard Day's Night" still jumps with the energy and rhythm it had upon its release in 1964. Though that time was long ago, and Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney are the only Beatles still with us, the movie never feels like a nostalgia trip. It moves, breathes and sings with life.
Shot in a crisp black-and-white that somehow feels jazzy rather than classical, "A Hard Day's Night" looks as prescient as ever, a touchstone for everyone from Bob Dylan, whose news conferences were even more flippant than the one staged here, to Monty Python, whose young members were surely paying close attention to John Lennon's surreal routine in a bathtub. The Monkees built an entire career on the semi-animated closing credit sequence. MTV still plays videos that look like the Beatles' out-of-nowhere rendition of "I Should Have Known Better." And is that Justin Bieber on guitar? No, it's a 21-year-old George Harrison, tempting the girls with his lustrous eyebrows and high-volume hair.
Though it's easy to get hypnotized by the Fab Four's abundant charisma, take some time to notice Lester's direction, a marvelous mix of documentary-style camerawork, oddball comedy (Wilfrid Brambell plays McCartney's fictional grandfather) and anti-establishment satire. Back in 1964, few thought that this disposable teen film -- or its subject -- would become such a classic.
PLOT A rising British pop band called The Beatles must travel to London to play an important show.
CAST Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison
BOTTOM LINE Few time capsules feel as fresh as this one from 1964. Digitally restored, with a remastered soundtrack.