Today in Movie History: August 11

It’s kind of amazing watching A Hard Day’s Night with the benefit of hindsight. It was originally intended to catch a rapidly fleeting pop culture phenomenon: raking in a few bucks on the backs of those four lads from Liverpool before the bubble burst and they vanished into obscurity. It was the From Justin to Kelly of its time: a piece of dross to entertain the teeny-boppers before they found something new.

Except that… well except that they were the freaking Beatles, and what was intended as the fluffiest of popcorn somehow captured the essence of their youth, their energy and their excitement. Director Richard Lester caught lightning in a bottle, thanks in part to the extraordinary nature of his subjects whose true value was not yet seen. And even if they had been just another flash in the pan, the film’s open acknowledgement of the fact (as evinced by one truly marvelous scene featuring George Harrison) already set it head and shoulders above similar fare. A Hard Day’s Night opened in the U.S. today in 1964.

Elsewhere, amid the ballyhoo over director George Lucas’s little space opera, many people forget that the man had a major hit before that which made it all possible. American Graffiti was the first effort to cash in on the Baby Boomers’ nostalgia for the 1950s, an open ended cruise through an Americana on the cusp of profound and permanent change. It highlights Lucas’s affiliation with cars, speed and the possibilities of youth, and the staggering amounts of money it made allowed him to finance a science fiction film that looked for all the world like a disaster. Looking at it now, one wonders what kind of filmmaker Lucas would have become had that galaxy far, far away not become what it became, and while Star Wars is the kind of gift to all of us that comes along once in a lifetime, there was a cost which Lucas the director-who-might-have-been ended up paying. American Graffiti opened today in 1973.


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