The Beatles down the wormhole: prophecies of breaking up in the dreamworld of HELP!

Rev. July 28, 2015.

(Now) And now my life has changed in oh so many ways (My independence) My independence seems to vanish in the haze (But) But every now (Every now and then) and then I feel so insecure (I know that I) I know that I just need you like I’ve never done before

–HELP!

I have long suspected that the movie HELP laid down the framework or scaffolding for my “imaginary” ever after, but it now also strikes me as a prophecy of the future of the Beatles. In fact, we embraced and loved the movie, but with a lot of second thoughts and confusion, and a sense that something was getting out of control and falling apart. This note will make a few points to explain this. In Help!, the insular world that was all and only about The Beatles, in A Hard Day’s Night, was reversed, and the Beatles were cast back out into the big wide world and made to see if and how they fell. They complained in retrospect that they felt less in control of the movie, that Richard Lester told them less what was going on, and that is true, though that may have been a Lester tactic to keep them always off guard and at ease. There are also reports that they were, as Ringo was quoted as saying, having marijuana for breakfast and so high and in giggle mode all the time that filming the movie was fairly chaotic (there was one scene with famed Brit comic Frankie Howard (House in Nightmare Park) that had to be cut because the Beatles simply could not get it together). The entire “split” nature of their new world, the under-attack quality of the Beatles-in-the-world, was epitomized early by a wonderful recording scene, that then is no good because the recorder hears a buzz, and it is a buzzsaw undermining the archetypal iconic Ludwig drum set of Ringo, causing him to fall, like in a silent movie villain scenario, through the floor. This falling represents a dream world, above it, all is appearance

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In the structures of dreaming,  the Beatles would be placed as a kind of interconnected lattice, hanging in the world, but suspended too. The world they are thrown into is depicted as a wormhole distributed into a swiss cheese sort of network of holes all pulling them down. Indeed, the floor coming out under them happens in another scene. In that one Ringo is dropped down with the escaped tiger, who can be put to sleep with Beethoven, resulting in a comic anthem enjoined by all, to Paul’s funny singalong encouragement,

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And there is another hole too, in the temple resituated, by some miracle, to the Bahamas, entered into from a false front,

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This then allows for the Kali statue to end up on a beach in the Bahamas, no less,

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And if to comment on the surrealism of this displacement of the real into a world as imaginary wormhole whoosh of adventuring/dreaming, the movie pulls back to dedicate it all to the inventor of the sewing machine, which perhaps refers to Breton’s remark about surrealism (“a chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella”), or maybe to the stitched together nature of the proceedings. In any case, in the deadpan humor, which was part of the English side of the sense of the humor of the movies that we did not quite get (though, again, the word SINGER is placed above the four Beatles, in the embrace, visually, of Kali), situates it in an apparent new anythingcanhappen reality

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The epitome of the figures embodying adventurers, parodying the interpenetrable James Bond fantasy world world, was the swimmer of the English Channel, forever searching for the White Cliffs of Dover (bespeaking England’s declining place in the world). First, he appears in natural context, but then he pops up under the ice, after the explosion of the “fiendish thingee”, in Switzerland, and he also pops up at the very end, coming ashore in the Bahamas, the last gag of the movie, an emblem of the lostness of the Beatles in the wide world (here, John points the way)

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It is also to be noted that even Buckingham Palace was penetrated by outside invasion, as a hose comes through one of the pictures, and then invades and attacks them, while they are hold up. Here’s a nice shot of the Beatles sitting around between takes, on set, by Michael Peto

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To review dream structuring, in the entoptic representation of the world, all is cleanly abstract, compact, and relatively monotone-oriented, as the zigzag of a polygraph line, this sort of formalism penetrated AHDN. Then, in the lower, glass onion stage, there is  communication through abstract, usually graphic, symbol alone, represented by the iconography of the Beatles logo, the logo on the drums, the worship of their guitars, the graphic use of their haircuts, the mop tops, etc etc. But, then, with the Beatles, as a foursome, there was always the heavier, riskier element, the chandelier element, the lattice, and that would be the representation of the Beatles themselves in various jugate formations (to be studied in detail later) pressing against the world. My thesis here is that while the Beatles projected (through unconscious body language), an allforone togetherness in AHDN, in Help! their body language was entirely dislocated and turned inside out, and not in sync with each other anymore. Perhaps in order to outrun this, Lester and scriptwriters devised a scaffold of James Bond parody in which the story was precisely a self-reflexive commentary on coming apart, in constant attacks on the Beatles, so nobody would see that the Beatles were in fact coming apart at the seams. And this required a wormhole/downthedrain structure, constantly running down and away to absurdism. The wormhole vision of interconnectivity is a dream vision, and, measured against the demands of waking life, somewhat adolescent, as, for example, any geomyth which would connect peoples on the opposite side of the earth by means of an underground geological link, like I was told about Chinamen on the end of long roots in the garden, or Dr Seuss had a lot of those geomyths too, would be an example).

The response of the Beatles to the world that was attacking them was to obey their manager, even if he said the next recording session had to take place on the Salisbury plain, but then moreso to regroup by retreating into the defensive position of their jugate unity of four against the world. This was represented by the rather cute fact, that we all enjoyed, that though they had separate doors, they all chose to live together in a lavish four-partitioned but shared space,

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It is apparent even here, however, in this symbolic unity space, that there are divisions, in each space each Beatle indulges in a little personal fantasy, so George has the gardener on call residing in his bedroom, sitting on the floor, ready to trim when needed

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(I have not been able to identify that picture on the wall, an alien comic

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then John had his book, which he retreats to his belowfloor bed (again, an under the ground image) to indulge in, and Paul had his organ, which he hits up in an oompah sort of way, selfparodying his taste. It would appear that the vending machines, which we thought was a mighty cool idea, for a bachelor pad, was Ringo’s domain.  He was Mr. Pop, wanting to exploit pop culture. This whole set up, of what I would now call the inflorescence of personal territory, inside of or inturned from a larger quadrifrons jugate arrangement with the others, of course thrilled me because at the time I was living in a bedroom with two other brothers, including my twin, and the territorial wars were fiercely internecine, generating, in backtracking of the imagination, worlds within worlds, worlds under beds and in drawers, miniature keepsake paces or crawl spaces, defensively carved into the wider shared space. Thus, the Beatles solution for the same problem seemed like a fantasy, the overall effect of which was to further spread out the world they lived in

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But then of course that whole realm was itself attacked. Ringo almost lost a finger to the vending machine, there were armed terrorists coming through the window, the mad scientist shows up with a gun, and on and on. They were constantly under attack in their own home. Once again, the world was not going allow the Beatles be, it was tearing them apart. This shot is telling, because in the semiology of the use of furniture items as property in modern film I have since come to see that the turned over lamp, the knocked over lamp, even the tilted lamp is a universal sign of chaos, and here is a rather unique instance of a lamp on its side being used as a weapon against the mad scientist to chase him out. It is the Beatles besieged (Ringo had been splashed with red paint in order to be sacrificable to an arrow shot at that moment). (Not to address here the role of the purely allwhite apartment as a décor fantasy projecting innocence and childhood where it is being violated, a common trope even today in routine pornography–and Paul did appear Lilliputian naked in his all-white adventure on the floor)

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We sensed this, it was exciting, but, also, I believe, upsetting, disconcerting, a bit worrisome. In July, 1965, the world was changing, very quickly. This was more. Somehow, we loved the movie, at the same time we sensed this weird undertone of things coming apart. In AHDN, the Beatles were the world, and the world revolved around them. It was their world, “very English,” not a world we could enter, we were just looking over their shoulders. In this one, the world was wide open, and full of dangers (even if in fantasy form), and the Beatles were looking back over their shoulders at it. Moreover, this world was entirely an illusion, nothing but deceit and deception, it was a pretty grim message.

It is hard to recreate how we sensed this. But, the first thing is, as mentioned, the world was distributed as a series of wormholes down which they whooshed, through the false doors of which they zoomed from one part of it to the other, and many times being out of control. Chase scenes conveyed this. In AHDN the chase scenes involved girls chasing them, and the Beatles seemed to enjoy it as part of the ritual of being the Beatles (Ringo almost swaying in his running), their runaway moves seemed in control and humored by it all. Not here, their dodging from danger has about it a completely different body language, they are scrambling, as here (this is in the montage sequence of “more attacks in the weeks to follow”, in this case bagpipers suddenly spraying paint

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The movie put the Beatles in all sorts of situations in which they suddenly were just running for their lives, and all out of sorts, in their body language, all taken apart, as here (seeing the Beatles torn up like this had a superficial thrill to it too, I recollect only one 1964style scream during our opening-week screening of the movie, when the out of control handdryer in the men’s room ripped off Paul’s sleeve and George’s shirt,

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but in all of this, the action has gone spazcam, and the Beatles are no longer ‘acting the Beatles,’ they are four guys, who are not actors, being roughed up on camera

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As noted, Ringo and Paul have confirmed that for the most part they were stoned and giggling most of the time, while making the movie. This would account as well for the loosey-goosey improv nature of the proceedings, as well as its spaceyness, especially in the Bahamas sequences, which barely hold together as a movie. Some of the Ringo mask discovery sequences go to almost cinema verite in their roughness, on the beach and in the waves, it is chaos. (It’s also true that there was an odd need, in face of this improv reificiation, that is, being knocked out of Beatle character, to just be J, P, G and R as individuals, cameras running, trying to come up with something amusing, that they took up more hijinks and mugging for the camera, like people who don’t know what to do in front of the camera will do (a plague against representation now that we live in selfieworld). In my view it was at this point that both John and Ringo caught the mugforcamera bug in real life, and then they could not stop. This added to the chaoticness of the scenes, with John and Ringo mugging in the waves below. So, while in AHDN, the Beatles were corralled to play The Beatles, in Help! they were reified, improv’d and mugged, all out of sorts. For Lennon, in particular, this would become a form of acting out, a nervous tick that one imagines, after a certain point, he simply could not stop doing, as I have seen him do it to “goose” the moments in tapes of him in India, and even in his Jesus whites with Yoko landing in New York’s Laguardia. (I have not more deeply delved into the fact that at roughly the same time the actor Jack Nicholson began to ‘act’ by means of ‘acting out,’ and perfected his ‘acting out’ acting, based perhaps on the theme of “faking it” in Five Easy Pieces, that is, always mugging and making believe, in The Shining, 15 years later). ( this is another Grossman photo)

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Sometimes this was exciting, opening up the Beatles to new horizons, as in this sequence on the rocks in the Bahamas (but this graceful shot, seconds before John starts mugging), again, these nice pictures by Grossman

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But it is also true that during that sequence Paul was strumming a surreal replacement of a guitar, a standing (very sexy) girl with her arm out, wearing a bikini, also mugging for the cameras

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Here and elsewhere, we had the alienating sense that the Beatles had now broken out upon the wide world and were enjoying it in ways, very  grown up ways, that were beyond us and possibly served as fantasy formations and gameplans for us in the future. Maybe this was a good thing, maybe not: as this picture of Ringo with a lot 1965 girls in bikinis shows, gone are the page girls adoring the Beatles, here Ringo is adoring the greater bikinimania of 1965 (also by Grossman)

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The weirdest part of the arrangement of spaces in the movie was that in many places they forecast developments in future Beatle interests, that would over time separate them. We suspected, uneasily, that we were witnessing the first breakup of the Beatles, in Help!. I mean, why would they be screaming Help! if they did not want Help, if this was not a cry for Help, that their career and its pace was killing them. What this meant is that laid in as dream zones of deep REM sleep at the bottom of the network of wormholes, in the interconnecting fantasy world above, a deeper world, of  some new interests, was emerging.

The eastern elements of the movie surprised us, we had no idea who Kali was, or that India had any connection with Britain. The orientalism is there, but so is the mockery of it. But two things. I have noted that in AHDN the Beatles developed a tight formal means of representation of their foursomeness by means of quadrajugate picturings, and one of them involved punning in stopaction shots on Beatles as beetles, the insect oriented nature of their being (all this lattice level imagining).

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This involved a manyarmed sequence of stage set design, which I think carries that pun, that was then enlisted by Lester to give form to the fantasy musical sequence of Cant Buy Me Love.

But, then, here it is again, but it is externalized and exoticized into the dream world, it is pushed down to a surreal state, and to Kali, a killer goddess, who wants to kill the group, by killing Ringo. The hyper beetleness in the Beatles has morphed, by dreamwork, into a killer mother who wants them dead. That killer with her, we hardly noticed, exposed breasts, is also likely a conglomerate composite of the Beatles-eye-view being sick to death at all the screaming girls, screaming, by 65, just for the sake of screaming  (twelve hands here)

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And Kali (ten hands)

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It is unlikely that the Beatles consciously adopted this, often even in conscious life we act unconsciously. All I know is that the Beatles’ MO was running away from their fans, running ahead of us, making us catch up, it was a game of cat and mouse, and in time they came to also mock us and even make fun of us for our silliness—this would be an unconscious threshold point of that. Kali is also adored by cult members in strange, but wonderful gear, and there is human sacrifice, and of beautiful girls (another commentary on Beatlemania), (my favorite line in the whole movie is the young girl being bathed by her working class Anglo Indian mom, the morning after, lamenting, “coming home at all hours painted all colors!” )

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Years later, I strongly suspect I developed an attachment to then-contemporary Hammer movies of the time, which engage in colonialist orientalism, from The Serpent to The Wrong Box, as a way to have back, but on an adult turf, this fantasy vision of the world. It is also true that it was in a dream down this Eastern wormhole that George found meaning, as, even in the very opening twangs of Help, we hear the sitar, and the announcement– that early!–of the interest in the sitar by which George would take the guitar into a dream world, dramatically opening up the Beatles music. It was a strange foreshadowing, full of portent, for us, then.

Then, too, at one point, the Beatles inside the movie Help! actually dress up as an old time oompah band, to disguise themselves, and participate in a crashing sort of way in the events of the wide world. We see them go retro to antiquated form, foreshadowing their development of this idea, using alter ego formations to survive in the wormholed dream imaginary, in Sgt Pepper, three years later, (twice in the movie, also with Beethoven, they makes jokes at the expense of the Germans, a very 1960s thing, but telling—its possible we are looking at Paul have his idea for Sgt Pepper right in this photo)

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This masquerade as others would become the basis of most Beatle culturing over their remaining years. And it would become one the mainstays of constructive response to the self in the postmodern era, for an entire generation, lingering on in a way in art that I have liked, from Cindy Sherman to Karen Kliminik through Matthew Barney, all of which I think ultimately goes back to the parody of self in the mod popular art of Help!.

If, prior to then, in the lifecourse of Beatlemania, the Beatles existed inside the static-entoptic imagery phase, or then the icon-creating glass onion, with their foursomeness of course always weighing them to the lattice stage, Help! was the movie that let us fall asleep and begin to dream with the Beatles. With Help! we entered into a dreamworld representation of the world, an imaginary, so-called, which held fast for us most of the rest of our lives. Again, the wormhole is got to by way of a threshold and gateway, and then the world, rhizomatically, by a series of whooshes, whooshes down, and the resulting network of passageways all lead down to and drop through to the REM dream state. It is a low state of dreaming, it ought to be being woken up from in growing up, but in this the Beatles went down in, with Help!, and then lived in that zone, and we with them, and maybe we never did in fact grow up.

Postscript

Tieing this in, as Belting said we must, to personal exposure to the same, and my analysis of the movie as a script for life, my life corresponds logically to the rites of passage embedded in the movie by the fact that we happened to see the movie at the Riverside theater in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  It is on the right

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I have construed that situation psychogeographically, a theater, just over a bridge, over a river, leading into ‘downtown,’ the theater on the right, Gimbel’s on the left, and a vista of grown up life, as a key threshold in my life, entering upon a new phase, and here is where I saw Help! the imaginary filter or barrier that seemed to have had the effect of ensuring that, ever after, in my imaginative life, as I passed through that threshold, it was the filter through which I would see life, and the taste of that filter would persist in my taste for a certain kind of art or space. Thereafter, I would live in the world, but one formatted by a lattice of wormholes, full of secret, occult connectives, and be in effect too, not so much, as I always self-describe myself, a rolling stone, as that lost swimmer of the English channel coming up under the ice in the Alps, or the beach in the Bahamas, for George to silently point, thataway. In his pointing, and in so many other ways, Help! also served as the script that set the table for the final stage of the Beatles’ amazing career in the world—their retreat to the studio, to dream and to breaking up. But, that was in the future, in 1965, their second American tour was about to start, and that was the tour during which they would begin to hate being The Beatles.

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