Live by Night
The key question behind Live by Night isn’t so much “Why did they bother?” as “What went wrong?”
When it opened in September, 1964, "A Hard Day's Night" was a problematic entry in a disreputable form, the rock 'n' roll musical. The Beatles were already a publicity phenomenon (70 million viewers watched them on "The Ed Sullivan Show"), but they were not yet cultural icons. Many critics attended the movie and prepared to condescend, but the movie could not be dismissed: It was so joyous and original that even the early reviews acknowledged it as something special. After more than three decades, it has not aged and is not dated; it stands outside its time, its genre and even rock. It is one of the great life-affirming landmarks of the movies.
In 1964, what we think of as "The '60s” had not yet really emerged from the embers of the 1950s. Perhaps this was the movie that sounded the first note of the new decade--the opening chord on George Harrison's new 12-string guitar. The film was so influential in its androgynous imagery that untold thousands of young men walked into the theater with short haircuts, and their hair started growing during the movie and didn't get cut again until the 1970s.
It was clear from the outset that "A Hard Day's Night" was in a different category from the rock musicals that had starred Elvis and his imitators. It was smart, it was irreverent, it didn't take itself seriously, and it was shot and edited by Richard Lester in an electrifying black-and-white, semi-documentary style that seemed to follow the boys during a day in their lives. And it was charged with the personalities of the Beatles, whose one-liners dismissed the very process of stardom they were undergoing. “Are you a mod or a rocker?” Ringo is asked at a press conference. “I'm a mocker,” he says.
Musically, the Beatles represented a liberating breakthrough just when the original rock impetus from the 1950s was growing thin. The film is wall to wall with great songs, including "I Should Have Known Better," "Can't Buy Me Love," "I Wanna Be Your Man," "All My Loving," "Happy Just to Dance With You," "She Loves You," and others, including the title song, inspired by a remark dropped by Starr and written overnight by Lennon and McCartney.