The Knack …and How to Get It (1965)

2009 #34
Richard Lester | 85 mins | download | 15

The Knack …and How to Get ItI’ve never actually seen a Richard Lester film before, and so spectacularly failed to put two-and-two together about who the director was and what else he’d done before I watched this. If I had, recent (at the time of viewing) reviews of the BFI’s release of Lester’s later The Bed Sitting Room (such as John Hodson’s or Clydefro Jones’) might’ve prepared me for what was to come.

As it was, all I had to go on was the DVD art (as used by iTunes — this was another 99p Film of the Week), the bright and breezy title, and that it stars Frank Spencer. From that you’d be forgiven (I hope) for thinking The Knack was a colourful Swinging Sixties sex-com romp. Upon watching it, however, it’s immediately clear it’s nothing of the sort: it begins with a dream/nightmare sequence, complete with horror-esque music, before settling into a style and rhythm more reminiscent of Breathless than Confessions of a Window Cleaner.

At least, it does for a bit. In fact, it does a lot of things for a bit: Carry On-level double entendres, intense thriller-like scenes, slapstick sequences, an occasional New Wave-esque light jazz score… If it were an American schoolchild The Knack would surely be diagnosed with ADD, flitting around from one style to another with no immediately obvious rhyme nor reason, except perhaps a desire to try out interesting things and see where they lead. This will undoubtedly put some people off — on another day, I might be included among them — but instead I found it quite intriguing.

Stuck in the middle of what could have been a slew of directorial flourishes, the cast are allowed to surprise with some layered performances. Michael Crawford more or less does an early version of Frank Spencer (in fairness, that’s perfect for the role), leaving him overshadowed by Ray Brooks as lothario Tolen and Donal Donnelly as the slightly kooky Tom. Both subvert their initial impressions: Donnelly’s oddness hides a perceptive intelligence, while Brooks’ suave lover hides a subtly unnerving, menacing, dominating sexual predator. Some of the time, anyway.

There’s no doubt that I’m severely under-qualified to pass any kind of serious judgement on The Knack (some would say any film, but there you go). I’ve not even mentioned Rita Tushingham (apparently something of a ’60s icon), or Ray McBride (who or what is he, and what is his relevance?), or that it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1965 (I do know what that is at least). A proper, informed judgement is therefore best left to those with a greater familiarity with Lester’s films (or at least his early work, before he went on to the likes of The Four Musketeers and Superman III). But to those equally as uninitiated as I, The Knack can be recommended as an unusual but surprising piece of work, full of things to pique one’s interest.

4 out of 5

The Lunch Date (1990)

2009 #9a
Adam Davidson | 10 mins | DVD

Short films are paid minimal attention by most people, but a good one can launch a career. Take this, for example, which won the Short Film Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1990 and the Oscar for Best Live Action Short in 1991. Writer/director Davidson may not have had a significant film career since, but he has directed episodes of Dexter, Deadwood, Grey’s Anatomy, Law & Order, Lie to Me, Lost, Rome, Shark, Six Feet Under, True Blood, and more. Not all great TV, true, but there are some outstanding series in there and it makes for an impressive CV.

If any short were to kick-start a career it would be The Lunch Date. As with many shorts, to attempt to describe the plot would be to give too much away, which would be a mistake because this is a beautifully shot (in grainy black & white) and performed tale with a distinct, yet subtle, character arc and an important, but not over-egged, moral message. There’s virtually no dialogue, everything conveyed by what Davidson does (and, importantly, doesn’t) show and the performances, particularly that of Scotty Bloch as the central Lady.

Some of the film’s power rests in a neat twist, cunningly obscured by intelligent blocking and timing of other plot elements. Personally I saw it coming, but that didn’t diminish its point. It’s also worth nothing that none of the twenty-or-so others I was watching with spotted the twist ahead of time and they all seemed to find it even more effective.

Why short films are ignored is a discussion for another time, but The Lunch Date is an outstanding example of why they shouldn’t be.

5 out of 5

The Lunch Date is available on the Cinema16: American Short Films DVD.

In 2013 it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.