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Richard Lester Talks The Beatles in Newly Restored Mod Classic 'A Hard Day's Night'

Thompson on Hollywood By Joe Leydon | Thompson on Hollywood June 27, 2014 at 4:11PM

If "A Hard Day's Night" didn't exist, someone at MTV might have tried to invent it by now. But it does exist, thank heaven, and it remains as vibrantly fresh as ever, more inventive and exhilarating than 99.9 percent of the music clips introduced by cable VJs.
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'A Hard Day's Night'
'A Hard Day's Night'

Back in October 1985, director Richard Lester came to Houston for a retrospective of his films at the Rice University Media Center. I had the pleasure of interviewing him before he arrived in H-Town -- and the privilege of conducting a Q&A with him after the Media Center screening of "A Hard Day's Night." We talked a lot about that seminal cinematic treat -- and its influence on a then-trendy phenomenon known as MTV. Starting July 4, several venues nationwide (including the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and Nashville's Belcourt Theatre) will celebrate the 50th anniversary of "A Hard Day's Night" by screening a newly spiffed-up version of Lester's merry masterwork. So I thought it might be a good time to recycle my 1985 feature story about the man behind the merriment. 

If "A Hard Day's Night" didn't exist, someone at MTV might have tried to invent it by now. But it does exist, thank heaven, and it remains as vibrantly fresh as ever, more inventive and exhilarating than 99.9 percent of the music clips introduced by cable VJs. The larky musical-comedy showcasing The Beatles was on view at the Rice Media Center as part of a two-week retrospective tribute to its director, Richard Lester, at the time of this interview.

Earlier that week, Lester laughed politely at the suggestion he created the world's first, and longest, music video when he directed "A Hard Day's Night."

"Fortunately," he said, "I didn't know I was doing that. I plead total innocence. But I must say, it was very kind of the MTV people: Apparently, I was their first inaugural Hall of Fame member.

"Of course, I didn't really know there was a Hall of Fame for MTV."

Lester, a Philadelphia native, had only two features to his credit when producer Walter Shenson tapped him to direct "A Hard Day's Night" in 1963. At that point, The Beatles were only slightly less obscure than Lester in the United States. By the time the film opened, however, the boys from Liverpool had already launched their first assault on America. Most film critics of the time expected the worst from "A Hard Day's Night," which threatened to be just another quickie rock-music exploitation film. But the reviewers were pleasantly surprised. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called the movie ''a whale of a comedy... much more sophisticated in theme and technique than its seemingly frivolous matter promises.''

Much of the credit for the film's success went to Lester, whom Crowther praised for directing the musical madness ''at such a brisk clip that it seems to come spontaneously.''

Almost overnight, Lester established himself as one of his generation's most innovative filmmakers, a wildly eclectic virtuoso who merged the gracefully zany farce of silent-movie comedy with state-of-the-art editing and cinematography techniques. Just as important, Lester -- who began his career as a director of live television programs, then worked his way into the quick-cut, hard-sell world of TV advertising -- somehow had devised the perfect visual style to accommodate the flashy, frantic ambiance of what was then being hyped as the era of Swinging England.

Read the rest of the story hereThe new restoration of "A Hard Day's Night" opens nationwide on July 4.

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