A Hard Day's Night. (London Pavilion, 'LP certificate.)
WHEN everything's been said it's time to keep quiet, as the Chinese proverb says, or if it doesn't it should; which is rather how I feel about the Beatles.
Until today they had hardly made a ripple in my backwater life. I had neither seen nor, as far as I know, heard them, and never even knew that what's written 'YEAH YEAH YEAH' sounds nearer 'HEY HEY HEY* when they sing it. Of course, they could hardly fail to impinge, if that's the word for it, on my everyday life: from muddy boot to spattered windscreen my car was covered in finger-scrawled letters the other day that, ex- amined carefully, turned out to be John, George, Paul and Ringo several dozen times over. But I could no more have told Ringo from the rest than I could have named Babar in an identity parade of elephants.
All this, after the first half-hour of A Hard Day's Night, during which I seemed to be gazing at indistinguishable quadruplets, trying to disen- tangle which nose was whose and where eight almost fringe-concealed eyes belonged, is over. They now look like separate people, as identi- fiable as anyone else in uniform. Having once established their differences, I kept trying to see them, as it were, out of uniform: without the hair. It was hopeless: like trying to imagine a nun without her veil, a walrus without whiskers, Shaw without his beard. Hair-styles are alarm- ingly powerful, anyway: a photograph of the last Tsar's four dajighters with their heads shaved shows they looked just as indistinguish- able, at first glance, as the Beatles.
But everything's been said about the Beatles' hair, and the Beatles' charm, and the acutely symptomatic quality of everything the Beatles do or say; and Richard Lester's fast, funny film confirms it all in the most engaging way; adding, of course, the pinch of pathos that close-ups can give better than anything—in the young pale faces in repose, in the audiences of girls, pre- sumably filmed 'live,' shrieking, sobbing and writhing. The story's simple to an almost docu- mentary degree: no pretence that they're anyone but themselves, on the sort of tour they keep making. But a thread of plot gives an excuse for self-questioning of a kind that gives the flimsy tale a kind of denseness. 'A train and a room, a car and a room, a room and another room, that's all I've seen,' says the grandfather brought along for the ride (Wilfrid Brambell, brilliantly sly and tough, a foil for the Beatles' amiability), who finally needles one of them into bursting out (into a world he finds he can't manage).
The situation of these young men in a cage is shown without sentimentality: the cage is shown from all angles, without much gilding of the bars, and their moments of freedom have the unstrung-elastic exuberance of the school playground. And their whole style, not just of singing, but of behaving, of sitting, of relaxing and becoming alert, of raising an eyebrow higher into the hair, of taking things quizzically and giving as good as they get, makes Cliff Richard last week seem like a cream-fed domestic cat compared with a litter of perfectly groomed jaguars.