Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Beatlemania 1970 style

Forty years ago this afternoon, A Hard Day's Night was broadcast on British TV for the first time. It's not an exaggeration to say that this screening changed my life.

If my memory serves me well, the film began at just after four o'clock. I was thirteen years old, and had to beg special permission to be allowed to watch it through to the climax, as we would normally have begun our afternoon sandwiches and cakes at five pm. After six years of barely being aware of the Beatles' existence, I had recently stumbled across a copy of the With The Beatles album (full story to follow), and had started to look longingly at the racks of Beatles LPs in my local branches of Smith's and Woolworth's. That Christmas, my parents had allowed me to move their enormous radiogram - about the size of a two-seater sofa - from the sitting-room to my bedroom. But as yet I didn't own any Beatles records.

So the screening of A Hard Day's Night would have been a landmark under any circumstances - a rare opportunity to hear the Beatles' music. What I wasn't prepared for was the emotional impact of the film. As it finished, I felt tears filling my eyes, for reasons that I couldn't understand. With decades of hindsight, I can only imagine that the film conjured up the vision of a world - and a band - so magical that it was painful to watch it vanish. In 1970, I didn't realise that I would be able to access that world whenever I wanted to.

My other main memory of the film from this original screening was that I was absolutely captivated by John Lennon - by his deadpan humour, his unshakeable cool, even the perfect way in which his hair shadowed his face. It was a teenage crush, I suppose, never sexual, but utterly transforming. Before long, I had adopted his crushing sarcasm and his (1964) haircut as my own, and for the next decade, my view of the universe and his were difficult to separate. Which is why, as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, his death had such an impact on me.

Those ten years between A Hard Day's Night and the gunshots at the Dakota seem, in retrospect, to have lasted about ten times longer than the three decades since. More next time about how I came to hear With The Beatles in 1970, and then slowly immersed myself in the world of the Beatles over the next few months. But for now, I'd like to raise my metaphorical hat to A Hard Day's Night, and 100 minutes that signposted the path to my future.

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