I’ll never forget the day I realized that Professor Glenn Gass’s class on the history of rock in the 1960s (now called History of Rock Music II: Rock’s Classic Era) was going to be one of my favorites at IU. Professor Gass, who recently retired, was making an argument that people should appreciate the early work of The Beatles more. He started to analyze the lyrics of “She Loves You” and began to sing the song. He encouraged those of us to sing the chorus if we knew it, and sure enough a nice portion of the class sang it from memory. Professor Gass’s gift for making his students share his passion for whatever artist he was talking about, whether it was the early work of The Beatles or Booker T. and the MGs, let me know that I was going to have a wonderful experience learning about rock music from him.
Professor Gass is right, by the way, about The Beatles. While their later, revolutionary innovations changed rock music forever and for the better, there is something charming about their early music. Songs such as “She Loves You” and “Can’t Buy Me Love” have a vigor and zest that, at their best, remind you of the pure, exhilarating pleasure of being alive. It’s why The Beatles became the international phenomenon that they were, and why they endure as the most famous and one of the best rock bands of all time.
The defining energy of their early music courses through every frame of their first feature film, A Hard Day’s Night. Greenlit by studio executive David Picker when he was head of production at United Artists (who also suggested Richard Lester to direct), A Hard Day’s Night features The Beatles (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr) as comic versions of themselves. They run from screaming fans, get into shenanigans due to McCartney’s grandfather (really actor Wilfrid Brambell), and perform their delightful songs whenever they get a chance as they get ready to appear on television. Their television appearance is a success, by the way. They are The Beatles, after all.
Lester and his collaborators create a visual style that is an ideal complement to The Beatles music from this period. The nimble camerawork of director of photography Gilbert Taylor, with its rapid tracking shots and smooth pans, gives you the visual equivalent of the fast tempos of many Beatles songs. The innovative editing by John Jympson uses fast cuts and slow motion to create a new way to show musical numbers in cinema that is reflective of how The Beatles changed rock music. The editing also makes the film’s sense of reality feel heightened. Even simple editing techniques — such as when Jympson cuts to The Beatles magically appearing outside of a train to bother a rude man or when Lennon seems to disappear from a bath — convey a sense of magical realism and the impression that there is something so special about The Beatles that it warps the fabric of reality.
I know the myriad ways that The Beatles changed the fabric of reality in real life — the musical and cultural innovations they fostered, the history they made — largely because of Professor Gass. He taught so many people about why The Beatles matter, why their earlier music should be appreciated more, and why their work deserves to be remembered for as long as there will be people. His knowledge and passion for teaching young people about the great music that has come before them, as well as the films that launched rock groups such as The Beatles to even higher heights of rock stardom, will be remembered fondly by many long after his time teaching at Indiana University.
This Thursday, June 4, IU Cinema Founding Director Jon Vickers, Jacobs School of Music Professor Glenn Gass, and music theorist Gabriel Lubell will participate in an interactive conversation and Q&A about A Hard Day’s Night and The Beatles at 7 pm. Visit our website for more details.
A Hard Day’s Night was previously screened at the IU Cinema in 2014. Another Beatles film, Yellow Submarine, was screened in 2018 as part of the International Arthouse Series and the CINEkids International Children’s Film Series.
Jesse Pasternack is a graduate of Indiana University. During his time at IU, Jesse was the co-president of the Indiana Student Cinema Guild. He also wrote about film, television, and pop culture for the Indiana Daily Student. Jesse has been a moderator at Michael Moore’s Traverse City Film Festival and is a friend of the Doug Loves Movies podcast. An aspiring professional writer-director, his own film work has appeared at Campus Movie Fest and the Anthology Film Archives in New York City.