When watching Jailhouse Rock and A Hard Day’s Night, I got the impression that more than the state of music changed when these films came out. What I felt changed was the way that the youth of the society in America and England began to have power. They were not taken seriously as a cultural and economical force that drove these two nations to grow faster than they were already growing in a Post WW II world. The youth are the record customer courted and the ticket buyer feared. They are the fans that letters make or break careers.
With Elvis, he helped articulate the growing middle/upper middle class in America of the 1950’s Baby Boom. He was caught between hillbilly country music and jazz that was funky but very lyrically challenged. We see a young man search for control via a red convertible, a career by owing his 51% of his record company and eventually notoriety. But that poisons him into becoming an elitist snob brought down to earth but his best friend and true love. This mirrors Americas 1950’s high to its 1960’s low.
The cultural insights that you receive from watching Jailhouse Rock are an immense reflection of America. With his performance focused as tent poles for a legitimate story, Jailhouse Rock becomes one of the seminal films of how music is brought into motion pictures. The script played out on screen is Elvis’s story – obscurity, groundbreaking music, adoring fans, and movie stardom. Actors are his friends, foes and female companions. All done to sections of concert like performances.
The Beatles articulate the working class in their music by personifying the youth culture caught between the Mods and the Rockers of 1960’s Britain. There society is still slowly rebuilding from WW II. Hard Days Night is a film that mirrors their life, four young men with granddad’s living with their families, the elite having control over their space, chasing girls and in search of time and space for a good cup of tea. They want to play music, have fun, meet girls and look past the cares of a nation pushing socialist policies to lift it self up from a war torn past.
Their songs are focused on as performances but not very tied to specific scenes in the film. The film is vehicle to showcase the Beatles talents in a fun way. They are a comical troupe of mischief-makers. But there is one big difference between the films. The Beatles plays them selves. They interact with society but the cast is all actors in what can be called the first mockumentary.
The films honestly articulate the 1950’s and 1960’s culture by kicking back at the burgeoning sexual revolution. The female is equally put on a pedestal and considered an acquisition. Elvis defends a woman from an abusive husband/boyfriend so violently he goes to jail for it. But he spends the rest of the film treating his record partner, the girl he truly loves, like an after thought until almost too late. He treats his costar with such disdain that his ignoring her turns into aggressive passion. The wardrobe has a flaunty sexuality for the ladies and the lexicon of men discussing them makes them sound like pasties – “delicious” and “scrumptious”.
The Beatles show women as a toy to be played with and controlled. They chase girls by sneaking out to nightclubs to find them. They pretend to be elite to persuade them to come along. They fane interest in their make-up careers, to make the ladies follow them back to their dressing rooms. The female wardrobe is very form fitting and short shirtish to titillate while lexicon refers to them as thing on display – “talent” and “birds”.
A Hard Days Night mocks TV business and uptight directors similar to way that Jailhouse Rock mocks film executives and flacks. Yet they both use the media as a device to help tell their story while having a comic foil or predatory villain. The oxymoron here is both products of the media business (film) uses the media business (TV/movies) as a tool drive the power, popularity and polarization of their young talent who want to just play music, they way they want to do it. Both Col. Tom Parker and George Martin made sure that happened. They sheltered their artists from the fray, kept them out of trouble and drove them to the top. Parkers and Martin’s participation in and promotion of Elvis and Beatles film projects helped their artists create something groundbreaking. All while helping them use the medium of film as a vehicle to just sell records.