A Hard Day's Night
dir. Richard Lester
Opens Fri Dec 8 at the Varsity.

OF COURSE YOU'RE going to go see A Hard Day's Night, the wonderful movie about the Beatles made by Richard Lester in 1964 and rereleased in a glorious new print, as crisp and tasty as fresh lettuce--you'd be daft not to. If that's settled, let me see whether I can add to your enjoyment.

The Boer Wars, intermittent from 1880 to 1902, were fought between the English and their descendants and the Dutch and their descendants, called the Boers, over the governance of South Africa; more than that I cannot tell you, and besides, this is supposed to be about the Beatles, right?

For English historians, the date May 18, 1900 is of signal note. Robert Baden-Powell, who later founded the Boy Scouts (let's not get started on the Boy Scouts), commanded an English garrison in a little hole of a town called Mafeking in the Cape of South Africa. The Boers wanted this hole. Baden-Powell and his forces held them off for some preposterous amount of time and finally were relieved by a larger English force. News of the relief reached England on May 18, 1900, and there was a riotous all-night celebration in the streets.

So what? Well, for the English, the Boer War was the first modern war, as the Civil War was for us--a war in which ordinary citizens, civilians, had access to information previously held close to the generals' bosoms. The folk in the street were madly in favor of their brave boys, but that was not the point. It was not what opinion they held but rather that they felt entitled to have any opinion at all. And the upper classes recognized almost instantly that a monster had been let loose, a new and terrifying force unleashed on Mafeking Night, May 18, 1900. Thus, "maffick": verb, to celebrate boisterously. An American dictionary of mine mistakenly describes maffick as a "playful coinage." Not playful at all at the time of its coining--chilling.

Fast-forward to December 24, 1964. ("At last!" you're thinking.) My first husband, Al, and I were looking for a movie. We knew two things about A Hard Day's Night: (a) It had reached Chicago in record time, having premiered in London only six months before; (b) the director, Richard Lester, had gotten his start directing television commercials.

I had never heard of the musical group in the movie, but Al knew their name. We thought it was probably a reference to the little German car, the Beetle. As luck would have it, there was a Beatles song on the juke box. We put a nickel in and listened. I would give more than a nickel today to be able to tell you which song it was, but no matter. We thought it was pleasant enough, not really our kind of thing, but not harmful. We went to the movie.

I wish I could pretend to have been prescient on these historic occasions, but of course I wasn't. I didn't follow the singers' subsequent careers, I followed Richard Lester's. When one of the Beatles married the artist Yoko Ono, I knew her name and not his. What imp of perversity kept me from buying just one of their early records--just one?

But that day, the element I missed was not on the screen but in the audience. A matinee on Christmas Eve, and who was there? Al and I were the only grownups. Everyone else in the audience--the theater was packed--was 15, 14, 13, 12, 11. Whenever the boys onscreen would start to run, everybody in the audience would start to scream. (I desperately hope this convention will be observed at the Varsity, at all showings.) They screamed, they squealed, they jumped up and down, they tore their hair, they walloped the seat in front of them, they turned to each other and hugged each other and wept and screamed.

I thought they were children. I thought they were a little out of hand. I didn't understand that they were, in the fullest sense of the word, mafficking. Like the English crowd on Mafeking Night, they were a terrible force let loose upon a world that I, like the English upper classes, had thought was mine to keep. I didn't understand that they were my first encounter, the first of the rest of my life, with... Baby Boomers.

Barley Blair is the pseudonym of a little old lady who has seen The Beatles Something New for sale for $3,800.