Gary James' Interview With The Photographer
Who Photographed The Beatles On The Set Of Help!
Sometimes you just can't help envying somebody. To this writer, photographer Emilio Lari landed a dream job. He photographed The Beatles on the set of their 1965 film Help!. And now he's sharing those photographs with the world in his book The Beatles, Photographs From The Set Of Help! (Rizzoli International Publications Inc.)
Q - The Beatles performed in Italy in 1965, didn't they?
A - They were in Rome at the Teatro Adriano in Plazza Cavour. I think they went to Milan too, but I'm not so sure about it.
Q - They drew a lot of people, did they?
A - It was filled up. Everybody tried to get in, but the Teatro wasn't so big. There were big crowds outside. I do remember it was impossible to get in because it was crowded like you couldn't imagine. They had an incredible success over here.
Q - Did you get to see them?
A - No, I didn't get to see them. I couldn't find a ticket. The theatre was about maybe 2,500 people. It was crowded. They had to call the police. Of course it was crowded everywhere they were going actually.
Q - Before you were on the set of Help!, you were on the set of A Hard Day's Night, weren't you?
A - Yes. I was on the set of one day I think, one or two days. I didn't believe they were anything exceptional at the time and so what I was doing was taking pictures while Richard Lester was directing the four guys. Watching through my camera only what Lester was doing and taking pictures of it. They were just around him, because I was more interested in the director at the time. I wasn't thinking that they were anything fantastic. I could never imagine they would ever have incredible success. But what happened is this, when I went to my address, they sold the photographs and they make too much money. I couldn't believe it. (laughs) I put my address on something special. That's how it happened. Richard Lester loved the photographs and somehow when he did Help! he called from the publishing department to go on the set again.
Q - To get on the set of A Hard Day's Night you did something that was rather bold.
A - Yes. I don't know exactly how it went because it happened fifty years ago, but I went to Richard Lester and he told me to call next day on the set. They were shooting at an underground British station. The name sounded French. My English was absolutely ridiculous at the time. I thought Lester was going on the set and I followed him. (laughs) I slept in the car and I followed him. I was twenty-one years old, so I could do those things. Now I wouldn't do things like that. I would be dead in the next morning. At the time I could sleep in the car and go on the set with him.
Q - The idea of knocking on Richard Lester's door was a bold idea. That was your idea, wasn't it?
A - Yeah. It was the only way to get over there. I said a bunch of lies to him. I don't even remember because so much time has passed. I said I was coming from Italy to take pictures of The Beatles from a very important magazine, which wasn't really a lie right away, but it was a bunch of lies I was saying, but I think he liked me. He started smiling and said I should go the next day, which was Sunday, to the Le Bon Station. He said that's tomorrow. When I came out I said where the hell is this Marie Le Bon Station. When I figured it out it was only two hundred yards from where I was living. (laughs) So I could easily go to bed a live nice.
Q - You took some incredibly beautiful pictures from the set of Help!. I've never seen anything like it before.
A - Oh, thank you.
Q - You shot thousands of photos. You could probably put out a sequel to this book.
A - I shot a lot of photographs more or less the same. I just picked out the best of everything and I put it together. But I didn't stay there very long. I think I stayed on Help! maybe three days together. One day outside, a couple of days inside.
Q - Before this book of yours, what did you do with those photos? Did you put them in a drawer?
A - No. I'll tell you what happened. At the time it wasn't so easy to sell one by one. They have to be all together, preferably with their instruments. Those were easy to sell. If you see the book you can tell I've been working, trying to catch their real life, not just the life of a Pop group. They were relaxing, laughing, smoking, drinking a cup of tea, running around. At the time they couldn't care less, the magazine. They needed to see them work together and play with their instruments and what they were wearing. They were a Pop group, not just one by one. So I put this material away for almost forty years. Ten, fifteen years ago I picked them up in a bank where I kept all the negatives and I start working with them. By that time they became so important. They were curious to know more about them.
Q - How is it that you were able to get so many close-up shots of The Beatles without getting in their way?
A - You could see the camera. The camera was making an incredible noise when it was running. Do you understand? There was no such thing as digital sound. Everything was stopped. So you could shoot. The cameras were making so much noise. At the time the movies were all dubbed, the music and everything. Most of the pictures I'd been taking were in between the shooting.
Q - You say there was a long time between takes. Why was that? Were they trying to get the camera angels just right? The lighting?
A - I suppose. I don't quite remember. When you do a shot you have to prepare for another one. There is at least a half hour of time before they're ready for the other shot. In this field (where The Beatles were) I was trying to shoot something. In some cases I did. But those things are not in the movie. Those are things that I decided to shoot. Some are in the movie, but not so much. Did you see Help!, the movie?
Q - Did I ever! I saw it many times.
A - You can tell the pictures haven't got anything to do with the movie. (laughs) I don't think so much of the movie is in those photographs. I don't remember the way I shoot. When I saw the movie I didn't understand what was going on because as I told you, my English was absolutely ridiculous.
Q - Did you see any kind of personality change in The Beatles between 1964 and 1965?
A - No, because they did those movies one after another. I think only a few months passed you know. Actually, I noticed at the time, they didn't even realize they were going to be what they became. As a matter of fact, John Lennon asked me what the hell I was going to do with those thousands and thousands of pictures I was taking of him. I looked at him and I smiled, like what the hell are you talking about? You don't know how important you are. They didn't realize at the time they were the most important group of the century.
Q - Of course, Help! was filmed before The Beatles sold out Shea Stadium in the Summer of 1965. But you realized how popular the group was at the time.
A - I'll tell you why. When my agent sold the reportage, I think they made between twenty to twenty-five thousand Pounds for the layout. Somebody made a book about the first movie of The Beatles. Then I realized they were important, but not because I imagined they were becoming what they became, but because the pictures were so valuable. I was a professional. I thought I was going to make the same kind of money with these pictures. They didn't know, but I knew. In the beginning at the La Bon Station on A Hard Day's Night, there were just the four guys running around. But around ten o'clock, eleven o'clock in the morning, a group of boys arrived, passed by the train station and recognized them. A half hour later there were more than ten thousand people tried to catch them, tried to get into the place. I remember they had to leave very quickly. Then I realized there was something strange happening because I never saw such a thing in my life. I never saw so many people to go after people that were just playing the guitar and drums. Actually, I didn't know anything about them. I never heard them play. I never saw them play. As a reporter, when you see that, that interests you automatically and you just start wondering.
Q - You're telling me you never heard The Beatles' records on the radio?
A - I never heard them. As a matter of fact, something very funny happened to me the week before. I was having a sandwich with my friend and a truck arrived and four guys with long hair started having the same thing, a sandwich. I thought they were The Beatles. I said, "Can I take some photos?" without asking are you The Beatles? They posed together, jumping. Then after one hour I was walking, I started wondering. The another truck arrived with another four guys with long hair that looked like The Beatles. (laughs) So I said, "Are you The Beatles?" They said, "No. No. We are not The Beatles. We wish we were, but we are not The Beatles." Later I knew about them. (The Beatles)
Q - Did you ever see The Beatles manager Brian Epstein on the set of either A Hard Day's Night or Help!?
A - Yes, I saw him. I saw him briefly. One afternoon he came and stayed for an hour. They discussed something, somewhere. He was a very charming person from what I knew, from what I remember. I don't know if I took a picture of him. I didn't know about Epstein. I remember I saw him, but I didn't realize he was the manager. He came much later than when I took those photographs.
Q - You went to the clubs in London in the mid-1960s. Did you see The Beatles in those clubs?
A - There was a club on top of a building in Soho. I saw Paul McCartney many, many times there, at least four times.
Q - Did you ever see any of the other British groups in the clubs, say The Rolling Stones?
A - I don't remember. I don't know anything about The Rolling Stones. Probably, but I'm not so sure about it. You must remember all this happened more than fifty year ago. (laughs)
Q - Did you ever photograph any other famous musicians?
A - No, because I started working in the movie business. I met practically everybody who became famous.
Q - Did I read somewhere online that you believe Paul McCartney died in an auto accident in 1966?
A - A few months ago somebody came to interview me and they produced some evidence that all this was true, evidence not 100% sure. But they told me so many things that I started wondering. But actually I don't believe it. It's very silly to believe that.
Q - After Help! you never stayed in touch with any of The Beatles, did you?
A - No. I never saw them anymore. After that, they became so important it was impossible to get near them. I tried because I was a photographer. I was a professional and I tried to make my living with photography. But it was too difficult, so I gave up right away.