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Now and Then: Richard Lester (1967)


Main image of Now and Then: Richard Lester (1967)
3 November 1967
16mm, colour, 17 mins
Production CompanyAdanac Productions
ProducersBernard Braden
 Barbara Kelly
PhotographyRichard Bayley

Bernard Braden interviews the American-born director in the wake of his 1967 film How I Won The War.

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Filmed a couple of weeks after the British and American premieres of How I Won the War (1967), Bernard Braden's interview with Richard Lester is an eloquent and engaged discussion about film art, politics and comedy. As with many of the interviews in the abandoned Now and Then series, Braden manages to capture both the moment and the man in a short space of time, though his approach here deviates a little from that employed elsewhere. Unlike many of the 330 other interviews, immediate current affairs are not really touched upon, though How I Won the War's antagonistic position - it was once described by Lester as "an anti-anti-war film" - inevitably leads to a mention of Vietnam. Instead, Braden pushes Lester on the contemporary world in general, revealing his sharp intelligence, creative confidence and political awareness in the process.

Lester got into television production at an early age and was directing at 20. Born in Philadelphia, he began working in the UK in the mid-1950s, directing low budget drama for the Danziger brothers before working on several of the Goons' television shows. In 1960 he directed Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers in the Oscar-nominated short that would launch his film career, The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film. His association with British comedy brought him to the attention of The Beatles, who offered him A Hard Day's Night (1964) and, later, Help! (1965). Together, these films established Lester as very much in tune with the 1960s zeitgeist, a precarious accolade that he resisted. As he complains to Braden, the age of his audience remains 22 yet each year he gets older.

Braden interviewed Lester while he was in pre-production on Petulia (US, 1967), his first American-funded feature. This was followed by The Bed Sitting Room (1969), an inspired adaptation of John Antrobus and Spike Milligan's satirical play. The film was a box office disappointment which some have argued led Lester to a change in direction. He continued to have significant hits - most notably The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974) - but the social commentary in his 1960s work gave way to broader comedy and a less nuanced style in the 1970s. He continued to make films with significant cultural meaning, though by the 1980s this had morphed into corporate impact through the blockbuster sequels Superman II and Superman III (1980, 1983).

Dylan Cave

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Video Clips
Complete unedited interview (17:46)
Lester, Richard (1932-)
Now and Then (1967-68)