Sunday 29 July 2012

The Knack... And How To Get It

For Knack’s Sake

The Knack... And How To Get It
UK 1965
Directed by Richard Lester
MGM Region 2

Wow. What a great film.

I haven’t seen this in maybe 25 to 30 years and seem to remember thinking it was just, okay, at the time. But I’ve always quite liked the music in this one so, when the opportunity arose to grab the DVD cheap, I thought I’d give it another go. I’m really glad I did because... well, The Knack... And How To Get It is more than just... “okay.”

Seen now, probably correctly, as one of the key films in the British New Wave, Lester shot the film in stark black and white following a similar treatment on the film he made prior to this, A Hard Day’s Night, featuring The Beatles (he would switch to colour for his second film with them, Help!). Based on the successful play by Ann Jellicoe (I’m guessing the fact that it was written from a woman’s point of view can help ward of accusations of rampant sexism and misogyny... at least to an extent), I can’t honestly imagine how this movie could be sourced from a theatrical production, truth be told, since Lester frees the camera from “inside locations” for a good deal of the movie. I’m guessing many things were added but the spirit of the play was kept in tact, which allows Lester to explore a more dynamic environment for the four main characters.

And of course, being as you are immediately entering the surreal and visually witty world which typically characterises this directors early work, when I say a “dynamic environment”, I’m talking about the environment of the editing room and the way the director plays around with the whole syntax of the cinema. It might seem old hat to some nowadays (although I suspect if you leave a teenager in a cinema with this film today they will get a little confused and disorientated) but this was the spirit of the time and you can feel this playfulness of exploration of the form seeping through every frame of celluloid.

The plot is simple. Colin (MIchael Crawford) lives with a lodger, Tolen (played by Ray Brooks) who has many sexual conquests a day... indeed the credits sequence features fifty to a hundred women lining up in a massive queue through Colin’s house, all dressed exactly as Tolen likes them, so Colin can’t even get out of his room a lot of the time (such starlets as Charlotte Rampling, Jane Birkin and Jaqueline Bisset all count The Knack as their first movie appearance). Right after this credit sequence, backed up by John Barry’s superb, jazzy score, Colin finally snaps and rents out another room. A new lodger, Tom (Donal Donnelly), arrives and paints his new room white while Rita Tushingham’s character Nancy Jones wanders around the streets of London for the first half an hour of the movie going through little comic sequences as she looks for the YWCA. She then meets up with Colin and Tom as they are buying a big four poster bed from a scrap yard. The three go on bed related adventures through London as they push, pull, tow and even float the bed back to Colin’s residence, where Nancy has an unfortunate set of experiences with Tolen before she gets her own back on the male chauvinistic attitudes on display by crying “Rape”... but in a delightfully comic way that perhaps only Rita Tushingham could make work.

The film is surreal (Michael Crawford immediately breaks “The Fourth Wall” with his first line to the audience, right after the credits) and the dialogue is beautifully witty. Various montages of public opinion related mostly to on screen incidents are aired on the soundtrack (a lot of the soundtrack, including some of the actors actual lines in some instances, seems added in post production with no lip synch allowance), perhaps echoing the same spiritual function that John Dos Passos used for his newsreel sequences in his series of novels which comprise his USA Trilogy... but perhaps filtered through some of Michael Moorcock’s techniques for his original Jerry Cornelius novels.

The mood is generally light and fluffy throughout and Lester uses unexpected jump cuts, repeat shots, sped up and slowed down film and the like throughout the course of the movie to weave together something not unlike a Marx Brothers comedy, but with less plot and with the medium becoming the jokes just as much as the on-screen action and the written word. Lots of the comedy sequences are pure slapstick, before that became a dirty word, and the joy at which the humour in this film is celebrated through the camera is infectious and addictive. And all throughout, of course, we have long sequences with no music playing suddenly interrupted by John Barry’s audacious and fresh sounding (even by today’s standards) melodic outbursts.

The film won the Palme D’Or the year it played there and, frankly, rightly so. This movie is amazing and I’m surprised I was so on-the-fence about it when I were a “growing lad”. I could watch it again right now, it’s that charming. Absolutely nothing other than a firm recommendation from me here. Go and grab it quick from Amazon or somewhere while it’s so cheap!

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