Jonas Mekas vs. the Beatles

“Neither good acting nor good photography can make a good movie”


In the September 10, 1964, issue of the Village Voice, Jonas Mekas looked in vain for a touch of madness in a new movie staring the Fab Four:

“A Hard Day’s Night” took our movie reviewers by surprise. Reviewers liked it. The Beatle fans liked it. Crowther liked it. Sarris said it shook his film aesthetics. The movie will make millions. The Beatles sing sweetly. They behave like nuts. There is something beat about the Beatles.

The movie is beautifully photographed. It uses “underground” cinema techniques, it swings. It’s not locked to one spot, it moves freely.

But neither good acting nor good photography can make a good movie. There must be an artist behind it. There must be a madness of a different kind. Two or three inspired shots remain two or three inspired shots. There is no movie. “A Hard Day’s Night” is a sufficiently well-made melodrama about the Beatles.

The Maysles brothers made a film about the Beatles. You have to see the Maysles film to realize what really good photography is, or what cinema is, or what really the Beatles are.…

Only one who is completely ignorant of the work of the “new American cinema” film-makers during the past three years can call “A Hard Day’s Night,” even jokingly, the “Citizen Kane” of the hand-held cinema (Sarris did it).

But why should I argue about it. There are so many people who like “A Hard Day’s Night” for so many different reasons. I have said often enough that art is not the only thing in life.

But I haven’t said strongly enough, and I may as well say it right now, that art exists. Aesthetic experience exists. “A Hard Day’s Night” has nothing to do with it. At best, it is fun. But “fun” is not an aesthetic experience: fun remains on the surface. I have nothing against the surface. But it belongs where it is and shouldn’t be taken for anything else.