Sunday, July 20, 2008

Richard Lester Was a Genius

Director Richard Lester was a genius.

Help! introduced a wry comedy of irony and understatement. The visual jokes used fast-cutting and weird juxtapositions that later influenced music videos. Video techniques used by Lester were proclaimed as new when they appeared in the visual feast of Michael Mann’s Miami Vice. As signified by the word vice in the title, by the 1980s, the innocent insouciance of the Beatles had morphed into the dangerous world of drug cartels and cynicism that remain hallmarks of our world.

Help! simultaneously is a send-up of the Eastern gurus seeking their fortunes in the West and the spy film genre. Looking back, the Cold War seems an age of innocence compared to the complicated world of suicide bombers and flu pandemics that threaten us today.

Watching a rerun of Help! on TV today, I was impressed by the joyful enthusiasm conveyed by the young lads from Liverpool. No wonder they took the world by storm. John, I know, would later battle depression and drug use. Two are dead, and one is now a peer of the kingdom. Those still alive are, like me, old.

Where has that irrepressible way of poking holes in all that is stuffy, hierarchical, and repressive gone? The world has become a serious place. The college students I meet are – depending on their particular make-up – angry and cynical or focused and motivated. But silly and foolish? No. The Joker and The Fool are gone from our midst in these harsh times.

The Beatlemania that engulfed the world in the first wave of worldwide media reach probably can never be again. The markets are now highly segmented, narrow, and divisive.

As I listened to the lyrics of the film’s title song, I also was impressed with the wisdom of words that now have quite different meanings to me.

When I was young – so much younger then than now – I never needed anybody’s help in anyway. Most of us come into the world helpless and leave it needing help. As a result:

But now I’m not so self-assured /My independence seems to fade

I’ve opened up the Door /Help me if You can, I’m feeling down

I do not often listen to the music from my past. A good time was had by all – at least, much of the time. I and the new mass mediated cultural world was a-borne-ing. But that sweet bird of youth has flown, to borrow Tennessee Williams’ phrase that perfectly captures my bittersweet feelings about that time and those places.

Wise Fools walked among us, and I am glad I was there.


Flatulous said...

I haven't seen "Help" but I did like Richard Lester's Three and Four Musketeers movies. Great cast.

Flatulous said...

I like U2's live cover of
"Help!" performed at the Amnesty International concert back in '86.

The Beatles' music was too upbeat and jovial to match the somber lyrics.