4. THE BEATLES MOVIES: A HARD DAY’S NIGHT and HELP!
(1964 & 1965) Both directed by Richard Lester, A Hard Day’s Night written by Alun Owen and Help! written by Charles Wood and Marc Behm)
Much of the greatest art is about duality, or twinning, showing the mutual co-existence of apparent opposites – tragedy and comedy, hope and despair, seriousness and frivolity – in a way that is more attuned to traditional Eastern philosophy, particularly the Chinese idea of the twin life-forces of yin and yang, than most traditional Western thought.
Shakespeare is the classic example. He was the father of twins himself – one boy (who died young, probably through plague) and one girl (who lived) – which must have been incredibly rare in the 16th century, when so many children died in childbirth. And from that privileged viewpoint, he saw the dual nature of existence, combining comedy and tragedy in his very finest writing, for example, the appearance of the drunken porter in Macbeth immediately after Macbeth’s bloody slaughter of Duncan and his servants.
The same is true of The Beatles, who, like Shakespeare, are among the few truly great “universal” artists who are adored both by the critics and the masses. Their basic twin energy was the dual songwriting partnership of Lennon and McCartney; although they usually wrote separately, Lennon’s wordplay and cynicism perfectly complemented McCartney’s essentially sunny disposition and ability to create an unforgettable tune. And of course, the “Fab Four” also had another set of “twins,” as it were, in George and Ringo, the less-famous but no-less fascinating “other half” of the band.
Similarly, Beatles albums can be conceived of as pairs: Rubber Soul and Revolver (George Harrison famously said that Revolver was really the second part of Rubber Soul); Sergeant Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour, twin psychedelic peaks; The White Album, which was literally a double album; and finally, Abbey Road and Let It Be, the twin epitaphs of a band so good that one farewell album was not enough.
And the same is true of the Fab Four’s fabulous films, A Hard Day’s Night and Help! They are ultimately impossible to separate because they are two halves of the same whole, combining the most magical of music with surrealist wit and cinematography, to document forever the phenomenon of Beatlemania and set the musical and visual template for so much of the music and cinema that followed.