A DVD review of 'Help!' and a look at how kids are exposed to the music culture of previous generations
Welcome to Film Nerd 2.0.
For those of you who are new to this column, I'm raising two sons right now. The youngest is still a few months shy of his second birthday, and we really don't let him watch TV or movies, with rare exception. He's starting to ask, and a big part of that is because he desperately wants to be like his older brother, four-year-old Toshi. Toshi is a full-blown film nerd already, and that's not because I forced him to be... he's just always had an intense curiosity about what it is I do, and from the moment he saw his first movie, he's been just as hooked as I've been my whole life.
So instead of fighting him on it, I decided to embrace the idea and treat his education on pop culture with the same seriousness that I want to treat his education on all subjects. To that end, I've been putting together a casual syllabus, exposing him to classics from my formative years as a film nerd little by little, and sharing his reactions with you guys in these articles.
When the recent Beatles blitz began, my house was relatively hype-free. We didn't end up buying "Beatles Rock Band," even though I wanted to, because I didn't want to play it alone and the kids really aren't old enough for video gaming yet. So I sat that one out. And I didn't pounce immediately on the new CD remasters, although finally, a few months later, I picked up "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and the White Album one afternoon on an Amoeba run. Toshi was with me that particular day, and when we got in the car, I started to unwrap "Sgt. Pepper" before starting the car.
"What's that, daddy?"
"It's musica, bud. It's one of my favorite bands."
"What are they called?"
"Why are they the favorites?"
"I just think they make some of the best music. A few other people think so, too, I guess."
He asked if he could look at the liner notes while I drove home, and I turned the album up. Normally he's impatient with music he doesn't recognize, asking me to skip things or talking over it to drown out the music. With "Sgt. Pepper," though, there was just silence from the backseat until we got to the very end of that very long fadeout final chord, at which point, he just said one thing.
"Play it again."
Since then, he's gotten obsessed with those two CDs (three, technically, since the White Album is two discs), and he's started to memorize his favorite songs. There's nothing quite as sweet as listening to him bellow, "ALL THE CHILDREN SING!" during "The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill" or singing along with him to the chorus of "Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da" and feeling like Desmond Jones m'self. It amazes me how much he's taken to their work, but it shouldn't. After all, by the time I discovered The Beatles, they were already "oldies," and yet the music always seemed fresh and alive to me. The simple elegance of their songwriting and the undying power of their harmonies seems to keep them relevant.
When we were looking through my various books of DVDs so I could rewatch some of the titles I was considering for my 50 best films of the decade list, Toshi spotted a DVD that he pointed at, excited suddenly. "Hey, daddy, what's that?"
I'd honestly never considered showing him "Help!", even after he started asking me all about the band. But from the moment he saw that disc, Toshi was determined that he was going to see that movie. I finally made some time for him to sit down with me the next afternoon, and we put the film on in my office so we could crank it up. It had been a while since I'd seen the film, too, so rediscovering just how silly it is with him turned out to be a perfect way to spend a day.
And believe me... "Help!" is one silly, silly movie.
There's not a serious moment in Richard Lester's follow-up to "A Hard Day's Night," and in many ways, the film's a mess. It's disjointed, the acting is sloppy, and it's hard to argue that the script makes any coherent sense. That's not the point, though. At the time the film was made, The Beatles were megasuperstars, as famous as anyone on the planet, and the entire point was to build a movie around a bunch of new songs and some vacation spots the boys wanted to visit. A cult headed by the not-remotely-sinister Clang (Leo McKern) loses the ring that each of their human sacrifices is required to wear, and somehow, that same ring ends up on the finger of Ringo Starr. I can't imagine in our modern media age that anyone would build an entire film around a bunch of religious fantatics trying to kill a famous pop star, especially not a comedy starring actual pop stars, but that's what this is, and there's a benign amiable charm to the way the Beatles stroll through the film, unflustered by everything. Lester obviously learned a lot about each of their onscreen strengths and weaknesses with the first film (I love how there are constant musical callbacks to "A Hard Day's Night" hidden in the score to "Help!"), and he showcases each of them individually very well here.
I think that's one of the reasons Toshi ended up watching the film three times in five days. He's been curious about each of the individual Beatles, and watching the film, he finally got a handle on who each of them is. And after finishing that third viewing, he walked into my office. "Daddy, I know who the best Beatle is."
"Yeah. Ringo's the best one!"
"Ringo? Are you sure about that?"
"Yeah. He's cool, and he has all the rings on, and he plays the drums."
"He does play the drums. You're right."
"The drums are the coolest. If you play the drums, you're awesome."
"Ohhhh... I didn't know that."
"Daddy! Everyone knows that! Drummers make the best bands!"
Okay, then. Point taken. Toshi ended up using his Green Lantern ring as his very own Ringo ring so he could play The Beatles with his brother everywhere we went over the long holiday break, and he's started singing the song "Help!" all the time. His favorite scenes in the film include the revelation that the Beatles all share one long house with several front doors and the scene were Paul shrinks down to the size of a bug. But every single moment with Ringo works for him, and he's even cultivating his own very bad English accent so he can sound more like his newly-discovered hero.
What I love most about his reaction is how pure it is. He has no idea that there's any anti-Ringo sentiment out there, and I would never try to deflate him or his enthusiasm. He's asking now if we can watch "Yellow Submarine" and "A Hard Day's Night," but I'm going to space them out a bit so we don't burn through them all at once. In the meantime, there's a lot more of their music to expose him to, starting with "Octopus's Garden," which I have a feeling he's going to love.
After all, drummers make the best bands.
Film Nerd 2.0 is an irregular column, in every possible meaning of the word.
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