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Richard Lester Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (1)  | Mini Bio (1)  | Trade Mark (1)  | Trivia (11)  | Personal Quotes (7)

Overview (1)

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

Mini Bio (1)

Richard Lester was one of the most influential directors of the 1960s, and continued his career into the 1970s and early '80s. He is best remembered for the two films he helmed starring The Beatles: A Hard Day's Night (1964) (1964) and Help! (1965) (1965), the frenetic cutting style of which was seen by many as the predecessor of the music video a generation later.

Lester had made his name with the Oscar-nominated short subject The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film (1959) that he made with "The Goon Show" veterans Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan. He then directed Sellers in The Mouse on the Moon (1963), which was produced by Walter Shenson. The Goons were a favorite of The Beatles, and when Shenson got the rights to make a movie with The Beatles, Lester seemed to be the ideal director for the project.

That project, "A Hard Day's Night", was not only a huge box-office hit but a major critical success as well. "Village Voice" movie critic Andrew Sarris, the American promoter of the "auteur theory" in America, described "A Hard Day's Night" as "the Citizen Kane (1941) of juke box musicals." Lester had arrived, and his next film, the Swinging Sixties yarn The Knack... and How to Get It (1965), won the Palme d'Or at the 1966 Cannes Film Festival. He also directed the wildly satirical How I Won the War (1967), which came a year after the huge success of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966), his adaptation of the smash Broadway play, which relied on the Keatonesque slapstick Lester had used so well in The Beatles films ("Forum" even featured Lester's hero Buster Keaton in a small but highly amusing role).

Aside from "A Hard Day's Night", the success of which relies as much on The Beatles themselves as auteurs (Lester claims that the script by Alun Owen was largely jettisoned during filming, and its scripted "quips" were replaced by the real things from The Beatles themselves), Lester's true '60s masterpiece is Petulia (1968) (1968). A corrosive look at the American upper-middle-class and the fragmentation of American society, "Petulia" is one of the great, if unheralded, American films. Propelled by the luminous presence of Julie Christie and the powerhouse performance of George C. Scott, "Petulia" was a success at the box office, although some critics were upset over the blackness of the comedy. It was to prove to be his last great film, as he stumbled soon after it was released. The Bed Sitting Room (1969), a Samuel Beckett-influenced satire based on a play (and script) by Spike Milligan co-starring Dudley Moore and Peter Cooke--from the smash revue "Beyond the Fringe"--was a resounding flop at the box office and among critics, and Lester found himself unemployable.

However, The Three Musketeers (1973), which he shot simultaneously with The Four Musketeers: Milady's Revenge (1974) for producer Ilya Salkind, resurrected his career. When the Salkinds (Ilya and his father Alexander Salkind) were in the midst of filming Superman (1978) simultaneously with its sequel, Lester was hired as a supervising producer, then took over the filming of the sequel, Superman II (1980), when original director Richard Donner was fired. The sequel was a financial and critical success (as much as comic book films were in the early 1980s), and he was hired to direct the far-less successful Superman III (1983).

At the end of the 1980s, Lester returned to the storyline that had revitalized his career back in the early 1970s, filming a second sequel to "The Three Musketeers." However, after his close friend, actor Roy Kinnear died during the shooting of The Return of the Musketeers (1989), Lester seemed to lose heart with the movie-making business. He has not directed another film.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Jon C. Hopwood (qv's & corrections by A. Nonymous)

Trade Mark (1)

Frequently has characters in the background making amusing comments about the main action.

Trivia (11)

He entered a university at 15 years old, and after receiving a degree in clinical psychology, he graduated at 19 years old.
Started his creative career as TV director at CBS' WCAU-TV station, Philadelphia
After the death of Roy Kinnear on the shooting of The Return of the Musketeers (1989), Lester decided to quit directing.
Biography in: John Wakeman, editor. "World Film Directors, Volume Two, 1945-1985". Pages 581-586. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1988.
Member of the jury at the Cannes Film Festival in 1966
While working on the parts of Superman (1978) that would be incorporated in the sequel Superman II (1980), cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth died unexpectedly on October 28, 1978. When Lester took over the directorial reins from Richard Donner, he decided to give the sequel a comic-book look rather than the stately, mythic look that Donner and Unsworth had crafted for the first movie, and intended for the sequel. He scrapped much of Unsworth's footage and hired British cameraman Robert Paynter, who had worked with potboiler director Michael Winner perfecting a style that complimented Winner's propensity for comic book-style violence. Lester was not sympathetic to the epic look that Donner had given the original "Superman", saying that he did not want to do "the David Lean thing". Lester decided on creating a comic book-style that would evoke Superman's roots in comic books. Lester deliberately wanted to break the stylistic "American epic" mold created by Donner and, with Paynter, set out to recreate the look and feel of a comic book. For this reason, Lester did not use his own long-time collaborator, lighting cameraman David Watkin, as Watkin's photographic style was too classical, and thus not adaptable to a comic book aesthetic. Working with Lester, Paynter and his camera operator Freddie Cooper developed a different type of framing from the original, but one that was ideal for their concept of a comic book film: They replaced Unsworth's gliding camera with horizontal panning and static framing to evoke comic books and comic strips, with their static frames that are crammed with people and objects. Similarly, the composition of shots the trio developed for "Superman II" had objects and people crammed into the frame. To further emphasize comic book composition, the action was photographed from one angle, to give the film a desired flatness (harkening back to the technique of the early sound era, Lester's films had always been shot with three cameras simultaneously filming the action all at one time, with two cameras for close-ups and one for the establishing shot).
Ironically, he claimed to have never even heard of the Superman character before being hired to work on the films due to comic books not being allowed in his house as a child. This led to many fans and critics suspecting and in some cases accusing Lester of not understanding and therefore not respecting the Superman character, especially judging by the satirical tone and ultimate box-office failure of Superman III (1983).
He was interviewed at great length by fellow director Steven Soderbergh for a book, "Getting Away With It", published in 1999. In it he revealed that Sean Connery had never spoken to him after the box-office failure of Cuba (1979); that he had lost confidence as a director following the death of his friend Roy Kinnear, although he did not believe that any negligence had caused it; and also, surprisingly, that he had never actually enjoyed being a film director, although he did enjoy the editing process.
Son of Elliott Lester.
His film-directing career consisted of bursts of concentrated activity punctuated by long lulls. Between 1962 and 1969, he directed nine feature films, and then none at all for five years. Between 1973 and 1976, he made six more films. In the next ten years, he made six more feature films, but, apart from a documentary film in 1991, he has made nothing since. During his spells of inactivity, he worked on a very large number of projects which never eventuated as actual movies, including, among many others: a version of Joseph Conrad's novel, "Victory" (scripted by Harold Pinter); a comedy about an actor in Stalinist Russia, based on the stories of Yuriy Krotkov and designed as a vehicle for Robin Williams; a film about a London schoolteacher to be entitled "Eff Off!"; a version of George Macdonald Fraser's first novel "Flashman" (he actually did make a film out of Fraser's first sequel to that book, "Royal Flash"); and a thriller called "Send Him Victorious", set mostly in Africa and due to star the intriguing combination of Jeanne Moreau and Sir Ralph Richardson. Lester tried to set this last project up several times, even using his money to finance its development - he actually went bankrupt (briefly) at one time.

Personal Quotes (7)

Filmmaking has become a kind of hysterical pregnancy.
If we can make films that are useful as well as entertaining, marvelous. But cinema must reflect the temper of the times. We must choose material not only on the basis of whether we feel deeply, but on whether or not anyone's bloody well going to see it.
Watching one's own work is painful. . . . It doesn't matter what the film is. In a way, films are all little tombstones laid end to end with a bit of filler tape holding them together.
[on George C. Scott] Intelligent, constructive, decent, professional. If there was a difference of opinion between us, we worked it out in five or ten minutes.
[on Petulia (1968)] I had a contract which I said I had final cut, total artistic control. Once we signed that, I don't think anyone really believed it. I think Warner Brothers [was] rather surprised with what they'd done. They said something like, "Yes, I know we signed it, but we didn't actually mean it." Too late.
[on filming the post-nuclear landscape in The Bed Sitting Room (1969)] The really awful thing is that we were able to film most of those things in England without having to fake it. All that garbage is real. A lot of it was filmed behind the Steel Corporation in Wales, and it really is a disgusting area. Endless piles of acid sludge and every tree is dead. And there's a place in Stoke where they've been throwing reject plates since the war and it has become a vast landscape of broken plates.
[on wandering around Europe in 1954] I played the piano at an army base outside of Paris. And I played the guitar in a café in the south of Spain. I didn't do it very often. The first time I did it for an evening, it was to get a free meal. And I'd also put a plate down beside me in which I'd put three of my own pesetas to encourage others to do likewise. I played folk songs and sang for the whole evening. After dinner, I went to pick up the plate and there were only two pesetas left. So I thought, "There isn't much future in this as a career." But I did have free food.

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