"Stop Worrying! Help Is On The Way!"
That line, or catch phrase if you will — from one of two trailers (both included here as extras) for the American release of the Beatles' 1965 film Help! — is just one of the many great things about it that I had completely forgotten about when I sat down to watch this great film tonight for the first time in at least a decade or two.
For me, the Beatles second movie, Help!, represents a unique snapshot in time. And as I watched it tonight on the newly restored version they finally made available on DVD, the memories came flooding back.
Thank God, that whatever hurdles which kept this release from the public for so many years have finally been cleared. For me, Help! holds personal significance.
If there are moments in your life you forever remember — things like 9/11 or when Kennedy was shot — for me, the first of these moments was seeing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show when I was a seven-year-old boy. Even at that young age, I knew in my heart, that what I was witnessing was something that would alter history – a fact which has since certainly proven true, and then some.
But as that same seven-year-old boy who sat transfixed in front of my parents' television set on that night in 1964, there is absolutely no doubt that what I saw forever altered the course of my own life.
What I can also say, is that the first movie I saw in a theater that I remember having a deep — and as profound as it gets at that age — effect on me was Help! I had also seen the first Beatles movie A Hard Day's Night in the theater the year prior. My grandma — who was as ultra-cool as grandmas get — had taken me. But outside of the music, I didn't really get the movie. At seven, I was probably too young.
Help! on the other hand, held me glued to my seat, with its mix of great Beatles tunes, and way cool plot which (at the far more mature age of eight) reminded me of the great secret agent shows like The Man From U.N.C.L.E. I liked to watch on TV. Even some of the non-Beatles music on the soundtrack had that sort of secret agent thing about it. By the time I saw my first James Bond movie as a pre-teen, I was finally able to fully connect those dots.
Anyway, after I saw Help!, when the rest of my boyhood chums wanted to play "Army" or something, all I wanted to do was play Help!.
Which involved running around on the grass in my parents' yard like we we're being chased by a religious cult and a mad scientist, and then going down into my parents' basement and bashing away at my toy drum set. In retrospect, I guess I can see why I wasn't able to drum up much interest amongst my boyhood chums.
So let's get the quibbles out of the way first about this new DVD release.
Unlike some of my fellow Blogcritics, I have to say for starters, that I am perfectly satisfied with the standard release. The main thing that separates it from the much pricier deluxe version — outside of things like a bigger and nicer box, a bigger book, a poster, and director Richard Lester's original annotated script — is that the deluxe version comes in the original 1:75 aspect ratio.
Personally, I'm completely satisfied with the 1:33 (fullscreen) ratio offered here. And like I said, watching this DVD tonight, the memories came flooding back. What also comes from the benefit of a few decades of life experience, is the realization of just how smart a movie Help! really was.
There are the obvious things of course. Like the way this movie, made in 1965, pretty much wrote the original book for the way MTV-styled videos would be made two decades later. There are also the less obvious references you pick up on in the actual dialog when you see Help! today.
There are all kinds of weird little things you pick up on watching Help! today. Like the references to things like the Freemasons in the original script (and who would have ever pegged the then ever-innocent moptops as conspiracy theorists?).
But I would have never made the obvious connection for example, to the scene where the recording engineer asks "who is buzzing?" in one scene. The culprit in the movie is of course the cultists chainsawing a hole under Ringo's drum kit – but the inside joke becomes more obvious today given what we know now about the Beatles' fondness for pot at the time.
I also really like the extras on the standard release. The booklet is modest, but really, really informative. It goes into detail for example about how they arrived on the final title of Help!, after rejecting Ringo's suggestion of "Eight Arms To Hold You" – effectively blowing my ace-in-the-hole on rock trivia night at my local bar. I also like the way that the book explains how and why the exclamation point was added to the eventual title of Help!.
Seeing the original trailers for the film (one of which I referenced above) is also really cool. Likewise, I found the present day interviews with everyone from director Richard Lester, to actors like Victor Spinetti and Eleanor Bron (one of my earliest childhood fantasies as the ultra sexy cult babe Ahme in the film) to be highly informative.
And then there is of course the music.
As a kid, when I bought the soundtrack for Help!, I always used to skip past the orchestral score, just to get to the Beatles tunes. I never got the point of all that orchestra music back then. But it actually makes sense now. In addition to the James Bond sort of feel of those songs, you also hear how they were incorporating things like sitar into the mix – no doubt due to the George Harrison influence.
And to this day, "The Night Before," which is only available on this soundtrack, remains one of my favorite Beatles songs.
Correction. Help! is here.