No filmmaker captured with greater gusto or more dazzling technique the spirit and energy of Britain in the Swinging Sixties than Richard Lester. Ironically, he was an American, born in Philadelphia in 1932. A child prodigy, he enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania at age 15 and emerged with a degree in clinical psychology while still in his teens. He got his first break as a director after ascending the ranks of a local TV station, but sensing better opportunities abroad, he decamped to London. Soon Lester was putting his skills to use in the U.K.’s burgeoning TV industry, headlining the short-lived The Dick Lester Show, a variety program with surreal touches reminiscent of BBC radio’s The Goon Show. He so impressed Goon alum Peter Sellers that he was chosen to direct a series of reunion specials and, eventually, the 1959 short The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film, which opened the door to features. Catching the zeitgeist, never more so than in his collaborations with The Beatles, he found visual and rhythmic analogues to the iconoclastic anti-establishment mood of the moment. Absurdist humor, accelerated motion, application of vérité shooting methods, and flashy, innovative editing were among the chief characteristics of his style, but it was his mastery of craft and unfailing ingenuity that ensured he would outlast the cultural revolution.
In This Series
Positioning absurd Monty Python–esque sketches amid a post-apocalyptic landscape, The Bed Sitting Room was Lester’s greatest professional setback but now stands as perhaps his most audacious experiment.
Intro by actor Michael C. Gwynne at the 9:15 screening on 8/11
A decade after George Roy Hill’s classic Western comedy Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Lester helmed this underrated prequel, which chronicles the wild youths and historic meeting of cinema’s most genial outlaws.
A classic love triangle in the Casablanca vein, Cuba charts the intersecting fortunes of a British mercenary (a magnetic Sean Connery), his old flame (Brooke Adams), and her husband (Chris Sarandon) as revolution ferments.
Tracing the second half of Alexandre Dumas’s novel, The Four Musketeers pits the quartet against the scheming Milady de Winter (Faye Dunaway). Michael York, Richard Chamberlain, Oliver Reed, and Frank Finlay remain unsurpassed as the chivalrous swordsmen—roles at one time earmarked for The Beatles!
Zero Mostel handpicked Lester to re-create his stage triumph, a frenetic farce set in ancient Rome, featuring a quorum of scene-stealers extraordinaire that includes the director’s idol, Buster Keaton, in a farewell turn.
Called “the Citizen Kane of jukebox musicals” by Andrew Sarris, The Beatles’ debut feature is madcap fun incarnate, integrating an array of techniques and indulging the Fab Four’s anarchic humor. Screening with: The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film (Richard Lester & Peter Sellers, 11m).
Rarely screened, this wacky, surreal vehicle for The Beatles draws inspiration from Lester’s background in advertising, with clever, colorful gags in rapid succession.
Lester’s first foray into social satire channels his early irreverence into a pointed critique of the British military mindset and class snobbery, featuring a can’t-miss turn by John Lennon as cynical Cockney gunner Gripweed.
A tighter and generally superior addition to the ’70s all-star disaster cycle, Juggernaut tracks the efforts of a bomb-defusing team and Scotland Yard to prevent the sinking of a luxury ocean liner. With Richard Harris, Anthony Hopkins, Omar Sharif, and Ian Holm.
An exuberant romp about a shy schoolteacher’s quest to learn how to score with women, The Knack… and How to Get It is a virtual panoply of Lester’s stylistic hallmarks that won him the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Featuring Michael Crawford, Ray Brooks, Rita Tushingham, and the screen debuts of Charlotte Rampling, Jacqueline Bisset, and Jane Birkin.
This stinging portrait of late-1960s America, where trends and mores change faster than people can adjust to them, marries Lester’s cinematic techniques with a study of discontent worthy of Antonioni, dazzlingly shot by Nicolas Roeg.
Returning to the well of inspiration, Lester picks up the legend of D’Artagnan and company two decades later as the Musketeers must surmount internal conflicts and the daughter of an old nemesis to save their beloved Queen. Not available on DVD! U.S. Premiere
Perhaps the richest of Lester’s revisionist fables, Robin and Marian mines the Robin Hood mythology for poignant reflections on the place of heroism in a pragmatic world. With Sean Connery in one of his most seasoned performances and Audrey Hepburn in her last great role.
A rakish soldier (Malcolm McDowell) is forced to impersonate a Danish prince and marry a duchess in the only adaptation to date of George MacDonald Fraser’s satiric Flashman novels.
Lester revived his reputation with this spirited hybrid of slapstick and satire, marked by rousing adventure, meticulous design, and an impeccable cast (including Charlton Heston, Faye Dunaway, Michael York, and Raquel Welch in the role of her career).
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