Sunday, May 24, 2015

Help!

 
The Beatles' second feature, 1966's HELP! is again helmed by mad cinematacist Richard Lester, a proven maven with all things slapstick. You might also call him the grandfather of the musical promo clip. His influence on the later popularity of music videos was recognized by MTV with awards back in the days when "music" was still integral to its programming.  The wellspring of ingenious gaggery and overlapping dialogue is even more pronounced in HELP!, though perhaps that is why I found it less satisfying than A HARD DAY'S NIGHT, which for all of its mayhem was a lesson in elegant economy by comparison.

This time out, there is something resembling an actual plot: an Eastern religious cult goes to outrageous lengths to retrieve a ring that is integral to their human sacrifice rituals. The very ring on drummer Ringo Starr's digit. How it got there is of no importance. Neither is what ultimately happens by the finale, when most of the cast is seen frolicking on a beach. The production leapfrogs from London to Austria to the Bahamas.

HELP! seems created with the intent of outdoing the earlier movie.  Classic case of the sophomore jinx. It feels as if Lester and company were concerned that they may not get the opportunity to shoot another film and crammed every wacky thought that popped into their heads. And what about our boys? Interviews reveal that they felt left behind in this enterprise of extremity. Was it all that ganja that Lennon reported was being smoked for breakfast? They do seem adrift a good deal of the time.  Up to the physical challenges but clearly disengaged and maybe even disinterested?  Lennon (or was it McCartney?) stated that he felt like an extra in his own movie! Perhaps the film's title summed up the feelings of more than one cast member. 

For all of the energy (and music), it's a bit odd that nothing in HELP!, unlike within its predecessor, struck me as iconic. Even that scene when Paul plays a woman like a guitar. The film bursts with far more ideas than I can recall at this moment. It is full tilt goonery, if you will, a breathless kaleidoscope of activity that never pauses to consider if any of the gags actually gel. It is a burlesque of color and costume design. Expertly designed scenes all wiggly and in search of a coherent whole, if such a thing is even possible with this collection.  It is not an exaggeration to say that its end credits were a relief to see; I was exhausted.  Perhaps some ruthlessness in the editing room might've been just the ticket to ride.

No comments: