A hard day's half century

Sarah Morgan talks to Richard lester, 50 years after he directed The Beatles in their film debut

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The Beatles in a scene from A Hard Day's Night in 1964
The Beatles in a scene from A Hard Day's Night in 1964

Sarah Morgan talks to Richard lester, 50 years after he directed The Beatles in their film debut

IT'S amazing to think that it's 50 years since you made A Hard Day's Night

I can remember it like it was yesterday. I can't remember anything else - I can vaguely remember my wife's name, but that's about it!

I think it's amazing that 50 years on, a film with an ephemeral subject has the audacity to turn up again.

IN 1964, when you made the film, you couldn't possibly have imagined you'd still be talking about it 50 years later

I didn't expect to be asked to talk about in 1965 - because it wasn't that sort of film.

When it came out, someone said it was the Citizen Kane of rock musicals, but we didn't plan it to be. We tried to do the best we could with four people and the way we put it together seemed the only way to make it work.

HOW did you get involved initially?

I had made films for United Artists and it was their music department who had the idea to make a cheap, quick, black and white film.

They wanted it in the cinemas by July because they thought that by September, The Beatles would be a spent force. After the deal was set, they went off and did The Ed Sullivan Show in America, and all hell broke loose.

DO you think the fact you'd already directed the musical film It's Trad Dad! helped you get this job?

The fact that it was a musical that had good reviews as a film helped, not just because they thought Helen Shapiro was a good singer or whatever.

But the key was I'd made The Running, Jumping & Standing Still Film and I used to direct The Goons on television, and both things were sufficiently impressive to John Lennon I think.

THE supporting cast of A Hard Day's Night is full of great british character actors. were you instrumental in casting them?

Sure. I don't know any director who doesn't get fairly heavily involved in casting. But there are so many people who you can count on.

I've always tried to have people around that I know time and again because there's a sort of shorthand that takes over.

You can throw actors, especially comic actors, a little bone, and say, "Go off and do something stupid in that corner," and you know what they do will work. That's why quite a few people appear from film to film for me.

YOU end up having a kind of repertory theatre of actors

It's true. In fact, there have been times when I've actually gone to a repertory theatre, like the Second City comics from Chicago.

There was a group in San Francisco too who were improvisation specialists. I'd call them up, say, "Could three or four of you come along today?"

Then suddenly, if you're doing a sequence and an idea comes, they would be there, they would be paid for whatever they do, and you just throw them an idea.

It worked wonderfully, I'm thinking particularly of the film Petulia. You throw them an idea and it then becomes a part of that scene and it's a lovely way to work.

WHAT brought you to Britain in the first place?

I was working for CBS in the USA and I was quite young and I had a car and a girlfriend and a flat and quite a nice job.

But I knew nothing about the world, about everything that was out there.

I thought, if I don't go now, all these things that I have are going to mean that I never see it. So I said, "I must go," and I never went back.

IT seems to have worked out ok

It worked wonderfully!

YOU'VE been retired from film-making for more than 20 years. is there a project that might have tempted you back?

No. I think that the way films are made, the change to digital was such that where I thought I had an edge, because I knew technically what I was doing, disappeared.

There are a lot of things with digital film-making that I don't like very much, so I thought it was as good a time as any to stop. And physically I'm probably a lot better off having done so.

A lot less stress?

Oh, I think so, yes!

l A Hard Day's Night 50th Anniversary Restoration is available on DVD and Blu-ray from July 21on Second Sight Films (secondsightfilms.co.uk)

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