Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Beatles' HELP! Now Out On DVD

HELP! (Dir. Richard Lester, 1965)

Superintendent (Patrick Cargill): "So this is the famous Beatles?" 
John (John Lennon): "So this is the famous Scotland Yard, ay?" Superintendent: "How long do you think you'll last?"
John: "Can't say fairer than that. Great Train Robbery, ay? How's that going?"

A seminal film that I saw many times in my youth has been reissued yet again, this time in a 2 disc DVD edition in fancier packaging than before * and it's a great thing. Though the extras are inessential (the 30 min. documentary is fine, but who's going to watch a featurette about the film's restoration process more than once?), the movie itself looks better than I've ever seen it - sharper with much more vivid color. Colour (British spelling) was pretty much its only original gimmick - The Beatles now in full colour!

The Beatles' first feature, black and white of course, 1964's A HARD DAY'S NIGHT (also directed by Lester) is widely regarded as a classic, one of the best rock 'n roll movies ever, blah blah blah while HELP! has been almost lovingly dismissed.

I'll say this - A HARD DAY'S NIGHT may be the better and more important film but HELP! is a lot more fun. It captures the group right before they discarded their cuddly mop-top image and became another entity all together and it makes a strong case for their oft overlooked mid-period music as well.

* It is available also in a collector's edition with book of the screenplay, lobby card reproductions, and a poster that all retails at $134.99! 
The plot? Oh yeah, some ancient mystic religion hunts down laconic but wacky drummer Ringo Starr and his mates because he happens to be wearing their sacrificial ring. They hunt him across the globe with locations in Austria and the Bahamas (simply because the Beatles wanted to go there so it was written in). Along the way they play (or more accurately lip-synch to) a bevy of great songs - the title track, the Dylan influenced "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away", "Ticket To Ride", and George Harrison's unjustly underrated "I Need You" among them.

Watching it again I remembered why I loved it so much as a kid - it displayed a fantasy version of the Beatles' lives in which they all lived together in a groovy connected townhouse flat that had grass as carpet in one section and a neat bed compartment sunken floor that John slept in, it has moments of comic surrealism like when Paul McCartney is shrunken to cigarette size ("The Adventures Of Paul On The Floor" the subtitle calls it), and has a silly James Bond spoofing plot that doesn't matter at all.

If you haven't seen HELP! it's one to put in your Netflix queue or on your Amazon wish list - if you have seen it before you should really re-discover it now because of how splendid this new remaster looks and how funny it still is. Or you could wait a few years 'til the next reissue or whatever the new format's version of it will be.

Post Note: Another bonus that this new DVD set has is an essay in its booklet by Martin Scorsese. He writes "Everyone was experimenting around this time. Antonioni with BLOWUP, Truffaut with FAHRENHEIT 451, Fellini and Godard with every movie - and HELP! was just as exciting." I would've never thought to put Richard Lester's work on HELP! in that class but if Marty says it is - it is.

More later...

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