Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Kino Lorber Studio Classics - HOW I WON THE WAR and THE KNACK..AND HOW TO GET IT on Blu-ray ""

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Kino Lorber Studio Classics - HOW I WON THE WAR and THE KNACK..AND HOW TO GET IT on Blu-ray

I I think it was Steven Soderbergh who first turned me onto Lester and how his unorthodox, fractured narrative storytelling style was a very invigorating and memorable thing. Unlike Godard, he used some cinematic techniques in a bit of a deeper way and it ended up making his films more engaging. Not to say that A HARD DAY'S NIGHT isn't cut from a slightly similar cloth as BREATHLESS, but they are still quite different (though it would seem Godard could easily have influenced Lester). Both filmmakers made movies that were irreverent in comparison to many of their contemporaries. The sense of questioning authority and challenging the status quo would seem woven into the very fabric of the films of both men. One interesting thing to me is that Lester mainly worked with studio money behind him. For the kind of films he made, that was pretty unique even in the 1960s. I think it's quite neat as well that the aforementioned Soderbergh shows signs of some Lester influence throughout a lot of his own work. Apparently though, even amidst a career of littered with unique films, A HARD DAY'S NIGHT was something of an anomaly. This quote from Lester himself would indicate that:
"Hard Day's Night was one of those great films that will never happen again to anyone in their lifetime. UA were in profit before we'd even finished shooting - The advance sales on the album - the film was out before the album was out - was more than it cost UA to make the film."

I think that the first Lester film I might have seen was PETULIA, which I know Soderbergh is a fan of. I came to that film through Danny Peary and his Cult Movies books. It was certainly a movie that demonstrated what a cult movie could be, with it's fractured narrative and offbeat characters. That film led me to THE KNACK, which I found to be energetic and vibrant swinging 60s movie with a much different point of view than a lot of the "Angry Young Man" British films of that period that I had seen prior. THE KNACK is still a unique and often breezy little film about guy and gal relations in London around this time. 
I was struck immediately by HOW I WON THE WAR from the very opening where Michael Crawford (who I only knew previously as CONDORMAN) addresses the camera while standing on a roatating inflatable yellow raft. He effectively "steals" the narrative from a group of his men who were beginning to break the fourth wall and talk about themselves. Crawford declares that this is the story of how he won the war, and that he will be our guide through this - his personal memoir. This signaled the beginning of an oddball and self aware farce of a military movie that is really not like too many other films I've ever seen. The narrative jumps around on time and space, within a single given scene and its own reflexivity is being continuously demonstrated throughout. One scene that begins in an officer's bunker, hops to a later training sequence and then hops back to the bunker again, but as the scene closes, it is revealed to be taking place on a stage and the curtain closes to end things. From there, the story proceeds more in a somewhat linear fashion, but the regular fourth wall breaking continues throughout. It is a farce indeed, but an intelligent and silly one nonetheless. Many people might have been of course drawn to this movie because of John Lennon being cast in it and that is fitting somehow as it is slightly in line with A HARD DAY'S NIGHT, though it's not quite as light as that and is a bit more offbeat and experimental in its approach to the satire that Lester is going for. Watch for the bad guy from RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK who gets the medallion burned into his hand as one of Crawford's men.
Back to THE KNACK, in contrast to HOW I WON THE WAR, it is shot in lovely black and white as opposed to color and it opens stylishly as well with a dream sequence. Like WAR, that sequence closes with Michael Crawford addressing  camera. He denounces said dream sequence as such and continues on. THE KNACK was Lester's follow up to A HARD DAY'S NIGHT and it feels of a similar fabric, though much more earnest. This is mostly due to its nebbishy main character (Crawford) who has had enough of missing out on the sexual revolution (he's been dates with two girls in two years) whilst his womanizing roommate Tolen has visits from multiple ladies on a daily basis. So the nebbish asks Tolen to show him the ways of getting with the gals (the proverbial "knack" as it were). So there you have the setup for the modern sex comedy (which this film is kind of a grandfather to), but then another girl (Rita Tushingham) gets thrown into the mix. Nebbish meets her whilst acquiring a new bed (from a junkyard by the way). He and the girl hit it off, but things get complicated when she's introduced to Tolen. For a movie based on a stage play, Lester keeps it from feeling that way with lots of energetic and New Wave-y editing and galavanting about the city. Add the wonderfully jazzy score by the great John Barry and the whole things goes down smoothly and enjoyably. Despite it having preceded the wave of sex comedies of 80s by close to two decades, THE KNACK has more pep and more heart than most of them.
Both discs include Allan Arkush's Trailers from Hell for THE KNACK and John Landis' for THE BED SITTING ROOM (also a Lester film - also on Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics).
Buy HOW I WON THE WAR on Blu-ray here:
and THE KNACK... AND HOW TO GET IT on Blu-ray here:

1 comment:

beamish13 said...

The Knack... and The Bed Sitting Room are two all-time favorites. So fresh and hilarious, yet incredibly thought-provoking as well