Beatles film shows its true colours
Help! is restored to its Sixties glory - with a little assistance from a red phone box and £700,000
Vanessa Thorpe, arts and media correspondent
Sunday November 25, 2007
Meticulous restoration projects are usually reserved for artifacts from high culture: a damaged Michelangelo figure, for example, or one of the handful of oils by Vermeer. Yet one of the most careful and expensive conservation projects of recent years has been devoted to returning a popular British film to its rightful glory.
The original, vibrant colours of the 1965 Beatles' film Help! are to be brought to the public eye once again tonight when a revitalised version is screened for the first time. The results of 11 months of work may surprise those who think they can remember what the 1960s looked like. At a cost of £700,000, the company the Beatles founded, Apple Corps, has given Help! an almost eerily fresh and contemporary look.
Hidden details and forgotten visual jokes have emerged from the shadows of a film which is still credited with inventing the music video. A restoration team working in London and California has cleaned 40 years of dirt and scratches from every frame and the colour distortion has been corrected.
The key to unlocking the true tones of the original footage was the British pillar box. Once those who were working on the faded and broken celluloid reels had found scenes including a post box and a traditional red telephone kiosk they were able to use the shade as a template for the level of colour. 'A pillar box doesn't change colour. We all know that. It was bright red then and it is bright red now,' said film restorer Claire Ferguson. 'We knew from looking at this and from looking at the de-graded grey of the policemen's helmets in the film, which should be pure black, that the rest of the colour had to be adjusted to fit.'
The overall effect is a much lighter, more glamorous film. The spectacular costumes worn by actress Eleanor Bron, which include a striking pink leather trouser suit, are also shown to renewed effect. 'You don't often work on something with this level of attention to detail or that budget,' said Ferguson. 'We have worked out that something like 13 million individual spots of dirt have been taken away, but all the time the team had to walk the line between allowing the real colours to show through and not making it look unreal. I would say it now looks very much as it did when it was premiered at Leicester Square.'
Ringo Starr was shown the restored film in Los Angeles a week ago. 'I really remember Help! with lots of joy,' he told The Observer. 'Our attitude was that we're making our second movie and it's in colour - wow! The film has been cleaned up and re-graded so the colour looks beautiful.'
Help! followed closely on the heels of their first film, A Hard Day's Night, made in black and white. Both made history by going into profit before they opened in the cinemas because of the success of their soundtrack albums. Both were directed by Richard Lester and share plots that revolve around Ringo, the best actor of the four Beatles.
Starr puts much of the enduring appeal of the film down to the talent of its director. 'Dick was great because we really loved his humour and he enjoyed ours,' he said. 'He knew how to make a movie and we just knew how to be four lads from Liverpool doing our stuff. And he surrounded us with all those great actors - Leo McKern, Eleanor Bron, Victor Spinetti, Roy Kinnear - which really helped us.'
Director Martin Scorsese, a big fan of the 'deadpan humour' of the film, has also hailed the re-release. 'With Help! Lester went even further with editing and camera movement than he had with A Hard Day's Night.'
The scenes shot in the Alps to the backing of 'Ticket to Ride' are widely hailed as the reference point for all music videos since. Lester once received a formal notice from MTV telling him that he was seen as the natural father of the form. Lester is recorded as writing back immediately to request a blood test.
The director said this month that he and the writers wanted to call the film Help, but another film already existed with the same title. The addition of the exclamation mark meant the band were legally free to use the name and John Lennon and Paul McCartney set about writing a title song. 'That afternoon, John and Paul borrowed the studio piano and started work. By the next morning, they played the finished song to us and recorded it the next night,' said Lester.
The 75 year old co-creator of the Superman film franchise, was born in America, but has lived in England since 1955 and has 'a British passport, a British wife, British children.'
This year he said: 'Now, I don't want to make another film in the slightest. Forty years is enough.'
Apple Corps is about to start the slow restoration process of the Beatles' 1967 film, Magical Mystery Tour, but no date has been set for its release.