Lester, Richard

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LESTER, Richard

Nationality: American. Born: Philadelphia, 19 January 1932. Education: William Penn Charter School, Germanstown, Pennsylvania; University of Pennsylvania, B.S. in Clinical Psychology, 1951. Family: Married dancer and choreographer Deirdre Vivian Smith, 1956, one son, one daughter. Career: Music editor, assistant director, then director, CBS-TV, Philadelphia, 1951–54; director and composer, ITV, London, 1955–57, then producer, 1958; director, Courtyard Films, Ltd., from 1967; also composer, musician, and, from 1960, director of TV commercials. Awards: Palme d'Or, Cannes Festival, for The Knack, 1965; Gandhi Peace Prize, Berlin Festival, for The Bed Sitting Room, 1969. Address: c/o Twickenham Studios, St. Margarets, Middlesex, England.

Films as Director:


The Running, Jumping, and Standing Still Film (+ ph, mu, co-ed)


It's Trad, Dad (Ring-a-Ding Rhythm)


The Mouse on the Moon


A Hard Day's Night


The Knack—and How to Get It; Help!


A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum


Mondo Teeno (Teenage Rebellion) (doc) (co-d); How I Wonthe War (+ pr)




The Bed Sitting Room (+ co-pr)


The Three Musketeers (The Queen's Diamonds); Juggernaut


The Four Musketeers (The Revenge of Milady); Royal Flash


Robin and Marian (+ co-pr); The Ritz


Butch and Sundance: The Early Days; Cuba


Superman II (U.S. release 1981)


Superman III


Finders Keepers (+ exec pr)


Return of the Musketeers


Get Back (doc)

Other Films:


Richard Lester! (Cochran—doc) (as himself)


By LESTER: book—

Beatles at the Movies, with Roy Carr, New York, 1996.

By LESTER: articles—

"In Search of the Right Knack," in Films and Filming (London), July 1965.

"Lunch with Lester," with George Bluestone, in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Summer 1966.

"Richard Lester and the Art of Comedy," in Film (London), Spring 1967.

Interview with Ian Cameron and Mark Shivas, in Movie (London), Winter 1968/69.

"What I Learned from Commercials," in Action (Los Angeles), January/February 1969.

"Running, Jumping, and Standing Still: An Interview with Richard Lester," with Joseph McBride, in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1973.

"The Pleasure in the Terror of the Game," interview with Gordon Gow, in Films and Filming (London), October 1974.

"Richard Lester: Doing the Best He Can," interview with Gerald Pratley, in Film (London), February 1975.

"Deux Entretiens avec Richard Lester," with Michel Ciment, in Positif (Paris), November 1975.

Interview with J. Brosnan, in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1983.

Interview with E. Vincent, in Cinématographe (Paris), July/August 1986.

On LESTER: books—

Rosenfeldt, Diane, Richard Lester: A Guide to References andResources, Boston, 1978.

Sinyard, Neil, The Films of Richard Lester, London, 1985.

Yule, Andrew and Paul McCartney, Richard Lester and the Beatles:A Complete Biography of the Man Who Directed A Hard Day'sNight, New York, 1995.

On LESTER: articles—

"Richard Lester," in New Yorker, 28 October 1967.

Gelmis, Joseph, "Richard Lester," in The Film Director as Superstar, Garden City, New York, 1970.

Kantor, Bernard, and others, editors, "Richard Lester," in Directorsat Work, New York, 1970.

McBride, Joseph, "Richard Lester," in International Film Guide1975, London, 1974.

Monaco, James, "Some Late Clues to the Lester Direction," in FilmComment (New York), May 1974.

Armes, Roy, "The Return of Richard Lester," in London Magazine, December/January 1974/75.

Thomas, Bob, "Richard Lester: Robin and Marian," in Action (Los Angeles), November/December 1975.

Maillet, D., "Richard Lester," in Cinématographe (Paris), March 1977.

Lefèvre, R., "Richard Lester: Un odyssée en apesanteur," in Revuedu Cinéma (Paris), February 1983.

"Richard Lester," in Film Dope (London), September 1986.

Hanke, Ken, "The British Film Invasion of the 1960s," in Films inReview (New York), April 1989.

Savage, Joh, "Snapshots of the Sixties," in Sight and Sound (London), May 1993.

Mangodt, Daniel, "John Barry," in Soundtrack!, June 1996.

Hampton, Howard, "Scorpio Descending. In Search of Rock Cinema," in Film Comment (New York), March-April 1997.

* * *

It is ironic that A Hard Days Night, the one film guaranteed to ensure Richard Lester his place in cinema history, should in many ways reflect his weaknesses rather than his strengths. If the film successfully captures the socio-historical phenomenon that was the Beatles at the beginning of their superstardom, it is as much due to Alun Owen's "day in the life"-style script, which provides the ideal complement to (and restraint on) Lester's anarchic mixture of absurd/surreal humour, accelerated motion, and cinema verité, to name but a few ingredients. Lester made a mark on cinema through his innovative utilisation of the techniques of television advertisements and pop shows. His inability to entirely dispense with these methods, regardless of the subject matter to which they were applied, wrecked too many of his later projects.

The Knack stands as a supreme example of style (or styles) obliterating content. Bleached imagery, choruses of schoolboys reciting the litany of the "knack," disapproving members of the older generation talking straight to the camera, seem randomly assembled to no apparent end. Worse is the lack of taste. Can the sight of Rita Tushingham running down a street crying "rape" to an assortment of indifferent individuals have ever seemed funny? How I Won the War fails along similar lines. Realistic battlefields and bloodshed clash with a ridiculous plot (soldiers sent to construct a cricket pitch on enemy territory) and characters who are peculiar rather than likeable. One does not doubt Lester's sincerity in his aim of making his audience ashamed of watching men die for their entertainment, but his lack of judgement is disconcerting. Even the more controlled Petulia is afflicted by a surfeit of flashbacks and flashforwards, its often intriguing examination of unhappy relationships in an out-of-control society weighed down by a relentless determination to Say Something Important. All this is a far cry from the skillfully orchestrated physical comedy of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum or the opening section of Superman III, both free from a desire to preach.

Where Lester's major strength as a director lies is in his ability to produce personal works within the confines of an established genre, such as the swashbuckler (The Three Musketeers/The Four Musketeers), the western (Butch and Sundance: The Early Days), and the fantasy (Superman II). If we wish to seek out underlying themes in his work these later films provide fertile ground (the mythical hero surrendering his power for human love in Superman II, Robin Hood attempting to regain his heroic status in a world no longer interested in heroes in Robin and Marian) while avoiding the collapse into uneasy self-importance or significance suffered by earlier work. Occasional lapses into heavy-handedness (the priest blessing the cannons for use in a religious war while muttering to himself in Latin in The Four Musketeers, the overly bloody beating inflicted on the mortal Clark Kent in Superman II) can be discounted as minor flaws.

It is this talent for creating something original out of conventional material that gives Lester his distinction, rather than his misguided, if bold attempts at "serious" comedy (with all the accompanying cinematic tricks which ultimately produce only weariness in the viewer). Though it may seem paradoxical, Lester is a director who needs a firm foundation to work from before his imagination can be let loose. Sadly, he has had little opportunity to demonstrate this since the high-profile Superman films, following the misfiring farce Finders Keepers with two slightly threadbare attempts at recapturing former glories. Return of the Musketeers appears to have been illfated from the start, with the accidental death of Lester regular Roy Kinnear during filming. Moments of inspired action and slapstick could not disguise an overall feeling of deja vu (the film went straight to cable television in the United States). Get Back amounts to little more than an adequate, if staid record of Paul McCartney's 1989–90 world tour, though Lester's use of footage from the Beatles' heyday serves as a poignant reminder of both the overall 1960s cultural explosion and his own emergence as one of the cinema's most outlandish frontrunners.

—Daniel O'Brien