There’s really no way to list all the things that come out of “A Hard Day’s Night,” beginning with the public personas of Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones (D.A. Pennebaker’s 1967 Dylan documentary “Dont Look Back” is pretty much a sequel with an American star) and the celebrity fixation of Andy Warhol, and moving through the entire history of MTV and VH1 to, I don’t know, the latest commercial starring One Direction and whatever the former members of Wu-Tang Clan are up to. In playing themselves as a quartet of smartasses who deride old people and take nothing seriously, John, Paul, George and Ringo delivered a primer on how to be famous in the era of commodity capitalism that endures to this day. There’s a scene in the film where George Harrison accidentally winds up in the office of a supercilious marketing consultant – a guy who’s packaging and selling youthful rebellion – that has as much self-awareness as anything in “House of Lies” or “Entourage” or whatever meta-celebrity reality show you care to name.
As strange as this appears at first glance, the generational rupture represented by the Beatles in “A Hard Day’s Night” remains the template for all succeeding generational ruptures. However much millennials may complain about Gen-Xers or boomers or whomever, the cultural divisions between those groups is more a question of microclimate, of specific markers and events, than of an unbridgeable gulf. Sure, the business-suit wardrobes worn by the Fab Four in the movie’s awkward early train scenes look antique – but the form-fitting lightweight suits they wear for the closing performance of “She Loves You” would be a smash on the streets of London right now. More to the point, the Beatles had crossed the invisible line drawn in the cultural sand sometime around 1955, the one dividing modernism from postmodernism. Paul McCartney was born roughly three decades after Frank Sinatra and three decades before Eminem, but those distances are not equivalent. Slim Shady and the Beatles both belong to what Casey Kasem called the “Pop Era,” while Ol’ Blue Eyes stood for the old order it had overthrown.