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Help! (1965)


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#1 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 15 November 2015 - 01:17 AM

I just recently watched two movies that Richard Lester made back-to-back in 1964, released in 1965 -- "The Knack.. And How To Get It" and "Help!", both shot by David Watkin -- hist first two feature credits, after spending time making documentaries and shooting commercials with Lester.

 

"The Knack" was on a poor quality DVD but "Help!" is on blu-ray after a photochemical restoration done around 2007.

 

"Help!" is fascinating because of the much higher budget given to Watkin (compared to "The Knack"), someone with no real studio training (by which I mean that he did not work his way up in the British film industry like almost every other cinematographer at the time) and feeling no obligation to do anything in a traditional lighting style.  Day exteriors are mostly shot in available light, combined with bounces from white cards covering reflector boards and white sheets.  And considering that the film stock at the time was 50 ASA, stage sets were also mostly lit with softer light.  I saw a behind the scenes video that showed the greenbeds above the sets with big tungsten units being pointed down through large diffusion frames covering the ceiling.

 

The opening credits are images refilmed off of a projector screen (because the bad guys are watching a projected print) but you can see the softer lighting style right off the bat:

 

help1.jpg

 

In this angle, you can see the large frames of white diffusion lighting the stage from the performer's right:

 

help2.jpg

 

This is one of the sets lit with diffused white panels in the ceiling and off camera from the side:

 

help3.jpg

 

help4.jpg

 

Another location lit with a big soft source:

 

help5.jpg

 

The interior recording studio lit with a single overhead backlight:

 

help6.jpg

 

help7.jpg

 

As you can tell from these frames, there is very little of the common lighting styles of movies released in 1965, even considering that this movie is parodying the James Bond films of the time, which were lit in the more common hard-light style of the day.  You look at George Harrison's face in that tighter angle and he's only lit by the backlight bouncing back up into the shadows, which was almost unheard of back then.  


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#2 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 15 November 2015 - 01:37 AM

Interesting..I think the "revolution" in the brit film industry of the 60,s was influenced by the smaller camera,s.. co axial mags etc..and also,or maybe because of it .. the documentary directors Ken Loach etc. and so their camera people getting to shoot feature films.. and that whole  "realistic style" becoming a cinema style in itself.. same was happening in France.. Breathless ..

 

Still now the ex doc DP,s  Roger Deakins,Dick Pope ,Chris Menges ..Barry Ackroyd.. etc  probably have a different "take " on lighting,use of hand held.. and generally seem to want to do their own operating.. than someone who has come up from commercials and big features.. the less is more school.. 


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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 15 November 2015 - 02:22 AM

Sure, it's not hard to find British DP's who arrived in the 1970's or later who used soft light, whether they came from docs or commercials -- but Watkin was ahead of his time and found a lot of resistance to this approach before the 1970's.  Keep in mind that Ken Loach's "Kes" (shot by Chris Menges) was 1969. Even Mike Nichols on "Catch 22" (1970) was concerned about Watkin's unconventional attitudes towards lighting, i.e. his rejection of any classic notions of how actors should be lit.  

 

I'm not saying that Watkin was completely unique in the 1960's but he certainly was at the forefront in terms of the soft lighting.  Before him, the British New Wave films around 1959, 1960, were shot by people like Freddie Francis and Ozzie Morris in a mix of hard and soft light, usually in b&w (in fact, I think the soft lighting approach by Watkin for "The Knack" worked less well because b&w benefits from more contrast.)  

 

It would be hard to find many other examples of studio movies shot in 1964 that used large diffusion frames for a single-source look. "2001" did it, but it started shooting in December 1965.  Ozzie Morris was using space lights by the time of "The Taming of the Shrew" (1967) and "Oliver!" (1968) but again, this was after "Help!" (1965) and those movies still had harder lighting mixed into the soft lights.  Watkin was taking a lighting technique that he was using for commercials at the time and applying it to features.  Yes, coming out of documentaries also probably gave him a preference for minimal exterior lighting and simple bounce lighting of small interiors, but documentaries wouldn't have allowed him to pursue his idea of pushing powerful tungsten lamps through large walls of diffusion material.

 

Around the same time as "Help!" you had "Dr. Strangelove" (1964, so shot in 1963) using some similar techniques such as lighting whole sets with fluorescents or tungsten units faking fluorescent units, but in that case, Gilbert Taylor had the advantage of the greater ASA of b&w stocks.  (I'm guessing "Strangelove" was shot on something like Double-X, so you're talking about 160-200 ASA compared to 50 ASA for color negative at the time.)


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#4 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 15 November 2015 - 02:47 AM

oh yes.. dont get me wrong.. he was definitely one of the pioneers .. he even invented the Wendy light ..  which wouldn't have been used on a doc thats for sure ! .. sounds like he was a  pretty unconventional guy all round.. and fantastic DP.. 


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#5 John Holland

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Posted 15 November 2015 - 08:50 AM

"The Charge of the Light Brigade" 1967 is another fantastic example of David's years ahead of anyone else soft lighting .


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