'Hard Day's Night' rocks again - Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!

One way to greet the reissue of "A Hard Day's Night," made in 1964 and arguably the greatest rock 'n' roll movie ever, is to remember an often-forgotten fact. Yes, kiddies, it's true: At the time of their first big splash almost 40 years ago, not everyone liked The Beatles or their music.

Pop enthusiasts gave them a warm welcome, of course, praising the wit of their lyrics, the energy of their playing, and the joy of their singing. But faultfinders also chimed in, using the group's instant popularity as a club to bash the fickleness and superficiality of the rock scene in general and "fab four" fans in particular.

"Their noise is to music what their 'yeah yeah yeah' is to language," wrote one curmudgeonly critic, summing up a view held by a surprising number of parents, teachers, and other Grinchy grown-ups.

But even that curmudgeon found himself enjoying "A Hard Day's Night," as did countless others who couldn't believe the smiles on their own faces.

Calling the movie an "exception" to the group's usual mediocre output, more and more Beatles skeptics jumped on the movie's bandwagon, enhancing its reputation - and box-office profits - all the more.

What these reluctant admirers missed, ironically, was the fact that the movie's best qualities grew directly from the group's own artistic personality. Wit, energy, and joy were as integral to their first film as to the recordings and TV appearances that were making them the most popular phenomenon in the history of mass culture. If you enjoyed this movie, you'd probably enjoy everything The Beatles did if you just gave yourself a chance.

Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!

Not that the Beatles were the sole "auteurs" of the picture. True, its plot is based on their experiences, taking a slyly fictionalized look at their encounter with a skyrocketing fame that discombobulated the normal lives they'd enjoyed as obscure rockers in lowbrow Liverpool clubs.

But the picture was written by Alun Owen and directed by Richard Lester, who packed it with so many offbeat techniques - from jittery camera work and discontinuous editing to imagery that mixes realism and surrealism - that it remains forward-looking and influential to this day.

Lester's high-octane filmmaking was a perfect match for the group's persona, especially in the musical numbers, directed with such nonstop inventiveness that today's fashionable music videos are hard-pressed to outdo them.

Perhaps the fit between Lester and The Beatles was too ideal for its own good, since neither side of the partnership managed to equal the glowing cinematic qualities of "A Hard Day's Night" in years to come. Their follow-up film - "Help!" - was less vigorous in its comic ideas.

Working with less-noted directors, the Beatles went on to less-inspired projects like the playful "Magical Mystery Tour" and the uneven "Let It Be," achieving real excellence only in "Yellow Submarine."

Lester's eclectic career has ranged from failed experiments like "How I Won the War" and "The Bed-Sitting Room" to ambitious hits like "Petulia" and "The Knack ... and How To Get It," never quite regaining the glory of his first Beatles feature.

Today's pop scene is more crowded than the one the British invasion revolutionized in the '60s, and some connoisseurs find other talents from that era - Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, the early Bob Dylan - as important as the Beatles in shaping the contours of modern rock.

But when all is said and done, no other group combined a zest for bold innovation and a sheer love of music as brilliantly and heartily as the Beatles did. "A Hard Day's Night" remains the most exuberant tribute to their extraordinary early years.

Rated G; contains no objectionable material.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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