Help! Richard Lester

In 1965, television was an infant form of communication, touring had become a logistical nightmare and the cult of the Beatles was growing bigger every single second around the world. In order to feed the appetite for their mop-topped good times, the Beatles were encouraged to make another movie. Their first, A Hard Day’s Night, was a fictionalised documentary about the craziness in their lives. Since a real documentary would have been too intimate and personal, and a proper fictional narrative would have challenged their non-existent acting skills, director Richard Lester (Superman II) took a surreal approach. The resulting Help! loosely follows a ridiculous (and culturally insensitive) plot about an Indian cult that needs a special ring in order to perform a human sacrifice, a ring that resides on drummer Ringo Starr’s finger. The resultant chases ¾ through Swiss ski hills and Bahaman beaches — have everything to do with putting the ever-charming Beatles in picturesque circumstances and having them be charming. Songs break out on ski slopes and wind-swept fields, and in their free-form absurdity and staging, Lester invents the music video form. Now restored to its eye-popping visual glory (Hard Day’s Night was doc-appropriate black and white), Help! looks and sounds fantastic in this two-disc DVD reissue. The second disc of extras falls into two camps: then ("making of,” a missing scene) and now (reminiscences, the restoration process). It’s good stuff, though if any film screams out for an informative, appreciative commentary it’s Help! It’s not the most in-depth presentation for people already immersed in Beatles lore; in that case, the stunning look and sound of the film after all these years is the revelation. Plus: trailers, 1965 radio spots. (Apple/EMI)