Richard Lester


(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

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Richard Lester si trasferì da Philadelphia negli anni '50 e iniziò a lavorare per la televisione e a una serie di intermezzi pubblicitari, grazie ai quali mise a punto uno stile frenetico e surreale, vivace e spigliato. It's Trad, Dad! (1961) is a comedy about a couple of husband and wife who fight to bring jazz to a small town.

Lester directed the sci-fi parody The Mouse in the Moon (1963), an adaptation of Leonard Wibberley's novel "The Mouse on the Moon" that served as the sequel of Jack Arnold's The Mouse That Raged (1959), a funny comedy for about one hour with a terrible ending.

A tiny kingdom in the middle of Europe is in trouble because its only export, wine, has become an explosive item: the bottles explode when they are uncorked. This greatly annoys the prime minister, who was dreaming of installing modern plumbing in his mansion and instead faces bankruptcy. The prime minister proposes a plan to rescue the country: ask the USA for funding to contribute to their space race against the Soviet Union. The USA accepts, and in fact doubles the amount, because it serves its propaganda purposes. The prime minister rejoices with the motto "peace, prosperity and plumbing" and welcomes the return of his son, the naive Vincent, from college. The lad dreams of becoming an astronaut. In order to match the generosity of the USA, the Soviet Union gifts a rocket to the kingdom. The one and only scientist of the kingdom accidentally discovers that a fantastic fuel can be distilled from the explosive wine of the kingdom. Unbeknownst to the prime minister, the scientist begins to train Vincent to become an astronaut for real. The British, meanwhile, suspect that the USA has a secret plan for giving money to the kingdom, and send a secret agent to investigate, Maurice. Maurice is no inept that he is quickly discovered by the scientist and Vincent. He is also a vile man who, thinking that the kingdom will execute him, begs for his life and offers to reveal all the secrets of Britain. However the scientist and Vincent are not interested in the secrets of Britain, and in fact have no problem revealing their own secret to Maurice, so they tell him how they plan to send the rocket to the Moon using wine as an atomic fuel. Then they let Maurice go. Maurice, of course, thinks this is all a ridiculous farce and informs Britain that there is nothing to fear. The scientist and Vincent inform their prime minister of the episode, and the prime minister (who is enjoying his new bath-tub with warm water thanks to the newly-installed plumbing) fears that the whole world will learn that the project is a hoax and therefore the USA, embarrassed in front of the whole world, will want the money back. Vincent and the scientist try to explain that they intend to really launch the rocket, but the prime minister too thinks it's just a hoax. Nonetheless the prime minister plans to fool the USA by engineering a fake launch with much fanfare. In fact he invites the USA, the Soviet Union and Britain to witness the historical event. The scientist and Vincent board the rocket (placed on top of the tower of the royal castle) in front of the distinguished and very skeptical guests, who have been amused by the tour of the rocket (the scientist decorated it like a charming European home). The rocket instead takes off successfully, causing the prime minister to have a heart attack. While the scientist and Vincent kill the time playing chess, the USA and the Soviet Union rush their own rockets to the launching pad, determined to get to the Moon before the kingdom's astronauts. Vincent the scientist beat the competition and land first. Then they welcome the USA and the Soviet spacecrafts. Vincent has already claimed ownership of the Moon and Vincent behaves like an immigration official interviewing foreign visitors. Then the scientist and Vincent offer a dinner to the astronauts of the two countries. Since everybody's radios are broken, nobody on Earth knows what happened. The astronauts realize that the first to return to Earth will obtain the most publicity. The USA and Soviet crews try to rush back but their spacecrafts crash on take-off. The kingdom is celebrating the funerals of the two daring astronauts, presumed dead in space, when their spacecraft appears in the sky. Vincent and the scientist have given a ride to the unfortunate astronauts of the two superpowers. The moment they land, the diplomats start a fight to claim who reached the Moon first. si rivelò con A Hard Day's Night (1963), e Help (1965), opere che, sfruttando il giovanilismo esuberante dei Beatles, si trasformarono in caroselli surreali a ritmo serrato di gag verbali e visive. Il dinamismo caricaturale di Lester riesce a fondere due tradizioni della risata diversissime come quella del compassato e ponderato nonsense britannico e quella della frenetica e fragorosa slapstich americana. La dispersione della trama in episodi periferici, ciascuno una sophisticated comedy in miniatura, si presta a celebrare e dissacrare un luogo comune della mitologia della swinging London. Commedia dell'arte e teatro dell'assurdo rovesciano la struttura del musical americano. Sulla struttura del film esercitano un'influenza determinante invece i fumetti, la pubblicità, e i film hollywoodiani di serie B.

The Knack (1965), loosely based on the play by Ann Jellicoe, si avvicinò al cinema verità nel narrare le avventure sentimentali di due ragazzi innamorati della stessa ragazza.

Girls making themselves beautiful. Colin is a frustrated schoolteacher who wants a girl, jealous of his womanizing housemate Tolen. Nancy is a plain-looking girl who gets off the train in a big station and wonders around the big city looking for a guesthouse. Colin is begging Tolen to teach him how to score with girls. They have a third room to rent out and Tolen is suggesting to rent it to his friend Rory, another womanizer. But Colin has enough of one womanizer in the house driving him crazy with jealousy. In the meantime a young man, Tom, has simply walked into the free room and started painting it bright white. Nancy is still looking for her guesthouse, and during her odyssey she meets both gentlemen and jerks. Determined to buy a larger bed for his forthcoming sexual exploits, Colin follows Tom to a junkyard. Nancy ends up at the same junkyard, still looking for her guesthouse. They walk back together to the house, and Nancy is introduced to the madness of the three housemates in the empty bright white room. She happily goes along with their nonsense until Tolen arrives. She is repulsed and scared by him, but can't resist him. They take off on Tolen's motorcycle. Colin is jealous. Tom tells Colin to chase them. The two run after the motorcycle in a comic chase. Tolen takes Nancy to a park, where she feels threatened. He is not even advancing towards her but she has a hysterical fit (that looks a lot like an orgasm) and faints. Tom and Colin arrive. Nancy wakes up and accuses Tolen of rape. They walk back to the house. She keeps saying "rape" to everybody (even to an old lady who replies "not today, thank you"). She is clearly traumatized by the thought of rape. She walks into Tolen's room and undresses, still repeating "rape". In order to heal her, Colin suggests that Tolen rapes her for real. Tolen does not feel like, and eventually Nancy changes version of the facts: now it's Colin who raped her. Tolen leaves the house shocked and humiliated. Tom goes back to painting his room. Colin and Nancy take a walk outside, hand in hand. Old people criticize the fact that they are moving in together without being married, and Tolen joins the chorus. Lester devised several tricks to emphasize the generational gap and the changing times. For example, elderly people continuously comment on what the young people do. Sometimes they criticize the young, sometimes they provide a comic counterpoint. He also blended the nonchalant nihilism of the French nouvelle vague, the hysterical style of television advertising, the spontaneity of the "candid camera" and the semi-demented stance of the swinging London.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966), un musical di Sondheim ambientato nella Roma decadente, diede libero sfogo alla farsa più paradossale e goliardica.

Protagonista è uno schiavo scaltro e bugiardo che aiuta il figlio del padrone ad avvicinare la schava-prostituta ancora vergine di cui è ancora innamorato, ma il padre del giovane se ne invaghisce e il feroce capitano che l'ha comprata la reclama; lo schiavo tenta di evitare con ogni trucco che la vergine cada nelle mani del bruto, e al tempo stesso vuole per se una sensuale schiava muta. Di avventura in avventura lo schiavo e la muta riescono a salvare il giovane, che si era offerto ai gladiatori per morire, il quale a sua volta salva la sua amata, che si era offerta in sacrificio alle vestali. Grande inseguimento generale per i boschi. Il capitano cattura tutti e si aggiunge a sposare la vergine e a giustiziare gli altri quando arriva l'anziano Keaton che riconosce nel capitano e nella vergine i suoi due figli perduti. Lo scipito giovane può sposare la vergine. How I Won the War (1967) is a martial comedy that reaffirmed the influence of the Marx Brothers over the influence of the Ealing comedies. Parody and chaos turn war into a circus of demented and delusional characters whose goal is to perform a brutal task with dignity and honor, not to use common sense. There isn't much of a plot, though. These are mostly loosely tied musichall skits. Many jokes fall flat, many are too childish to be funny, and several dialogues are cryptic (probably because they reference contemporary British matters that only someone living then and there could understand). Ultimately, it is a not an "anti-war" movie but rather a parody of anti-war movies, and therefore an anti-anti-war movie. Its main target actually appears to be the British aristocracy: pompous, self-righteous and so obsessed with discipline, honor and pride. All in all, a rather tedious experience. The film is ostensibly the memoir of a Lieutenant Goodbody, starting with his training. When he is appointed in charge of a platoon, his men roll their eyes. Their mission is to set a cricket pitch in the middle of the Sahara desert. The ragtag group ranges from a no-nonsense sergeant (the only one who seems to know what a war is) to a deranged self-appointed general. He manages to fall into water when they are landing in North Africa and then wanders among the dunes until his men find him again. He issues the wrong signal that causes their own air force to bomb his platoon. That's just the beginning: his soldiers die one by one, mostly due to his inept decisions. One of them begins the movie saying that he died in North Africa, and just keeps repeating it until it happens. When the moment of battle finally comes, the soldiers chorally repeat robotically their commander's orders like a Greek choir. When he attracts a British warplane by waving the wrong flag and his men have to shoot down the friendly plane, he gives a congratulatory speech to his men, and the sergeant is tempted to shoot him right there. After an epic battle the survivors of the platoon complete their mission (set the cricket pitch) and find their chronic deserter dressed in a Nazi uniform. The lieutenant chats with a Nazi officer, who is indifferent to the million of people killed by his regime, and realizes that it is the first time in the film that he feels like talking to somebody. The lieutenant too doesn't feel bad about his men who died. The Nazi officer tells him that he (the lieutenant) is a fascist. Meanwhile his epics moves to Europe, where the last of his men die. He negotiates with the Nazi officer about a bridge over a strategic river, a bridge that the Nazi is about to blow up, and eventually gets the Nazi to concede the bridge. But the Nazi too becomes a victim of the lieutenant's stupidity (run over by the first tank that crosses the bridge). The men of his platoon who died in the mission walk over the bridge chatting about their future. Now that the war is over the deserter (in a suit and tie) chats amicably with the lieutenant about his guilt. The lieutenant claims that he won the war.

Petulia (1968) applica lo spirito dissacratorio di quel cinema beat alla drammatica condizione femminile. Petulia (Christie) è infatti una donna stravagante e spregiudicata, vittima di un marito infantile e violento; la relazione con un medico divorziato viene brutalmente ripresa da questi, e l'adultera, resasi conto di non poter contare sull'amante, accetta di tornare dal consorte a compiere il suo dovere di riproduzione. La commedia sofisticata al servizio della denuncia sociale. Il film e` un capolavoro postmoderno.

The Bed Sitting Room (1969) is an adaptation of the farce by Spike Milligan and John Antrobus (1963).

The world has become a giant junkyard. A man (Frank Thornton) gets out of his improvised hut, announces himself as the BBC and walks to a broken tv set (or, better, just the screen of it). He sticks his head into it and starts the "broadcast" by recalling his viewers (just one person sitting on a broken sofa) what happened. Three or four years earlier the world was annihilated by World War III, a nuclear war that lasted for two minutes and twenty-eight seconds. There are isolated survivors in the junkyard. Notably, a lord is convinced of turning into a bed-sitting room because of the nuclear radiations. The subway is still running. Penelope (Rita Tushingham), a young woman who is 17-month pregnant, lives in a train with her parents. However, they don't seem to be in control of the train, as the man is stranded at a station when the train starts running by itself. When he boards the train again, he finds his daughter making love with a young stranger. The family and the young man visit the ruins, and it feels like a family picnic. The police still exist, but hardly what they used to be: an inspector and a sergeant (Dudley Moore) hover over the ruins in a wheel-less car attached to a balloon. Most institutions (such as the BBC, the fire department and the government itself) are reduced to just one person. The health care system is just one nutty male nurse, dressed like a woman. Odd encounters continue but Penelope is the only woman in that age group. Penelope's mother is mutating into a cupboard and the widower is given a death certificate. Penelope's father decides to marry her to an old captain, but he is impotent and so she makes love with her boyfriend Alan again. She finally gives birth to the baby, who is a monster. The lord mutates into a bed-sitting room. Her mutates into a parrot. His own daughter does not hesitate to cook him for dinner. Penelope's baby dies, but she gives birth to another one, and this time it's a normal child. A messenger comes from the sky to announce that the problems related to the radioactive cloud are coming to an end and better days lie ahead. Penelope, Alan and her child can walk towards green fields.

Juggernaut (1974) segna un'inopinata adesione al cinema catastrofico di Hollywood.

Un terrorista ha nascosto delle bombe su un transatlantico e chiede un forte riscatto, ma un geniale artificiere raggiunge la nave e dopo una estenuante ricerca riesce a disinnescare tutti gli ordigni. L'artificiere e il terrorista sono però dei tipi singolari, entrambi in qualche modo simbolo della crisi dell'individualismo e dei valori eroici. Tornato in Inghilterra, Lester gira due revisioni personali di classici dell'infanzia e del feuilleton.

The Three Musketeers (1974) ce li descrive incivili cafoni rissosi.

Tarantino on The Three Musketeers:

I think the Three Musketeers is one of the single greatest epics made in the 70s. ...The thing that really kind of blows you away is that these two movies have probably the best slapstick ever put on film since Buster Keaton.

Robin and Marion (1976) ci consegna invece gli anni del crepuscolo del celebre eroe di Sherwood.

Robin Hood, reduce da tante battaglie con nostalgie, vent'anni dopo fra i vecchi amici e il vecchio amore che ritrova in un'abbazia. Riprendono le lotte con il malvagio sceriffo, e questa volta Robin vince per sempre il suo ultimo duello. Ma per Robin e Marian è la fine malinconica di una vita sprecata: ferito a morte, trova soltanto la forza di scagliare l'ultima freccia in cielo. Amarezza e tenerezza perturbano il buio scapigliato di Lester.

Royal Flash (1976) ritorna al divertimento puro, con una facile satira della corte austriaca e dissacrazione del mito di Lola Montez.

Ritz (1976), commedia di omosessuali.

Cuba (1979) ripropone la situazione di Robin and Marian in un contesto opposto: un mercenario assoldato dal generale Batista ritorna alle armi e ritrova una vecchia fiamma, sullo sfondo dei costumi corrotti di un regime di macchiette demenziali.

Butch and Sundance (1979) opera un'altra grottesca ricostruzione storica e un'altra demistificazione. I due eroi western vengono colti vent'anni prima, all'epoca dei primi furtarelli adolescenziali. L'iconografia western viene così rivista nell'ottica di due eroi scalcagnati.

Superman 2 (1981) mescola tutti i generi in cui Lester si è cimentato producendo una colossale parodia di stereotipi; ancora più comico e inconcluso è Superman III (1983).

Finders Keepers (1983) è una grandiosa commedia di inseguimenti alla Keaton. Una coppia svaligia un appartamento, nasconde il bottino in un feretro e, lui fugge in treno, lei in un bus di suore. Sul treno viaggiano altri anomali passeggeri: il manager di una squadra femminile, un'attrice fallita, un rapitore, un'ereditiera sua vittima, il sindaco corrotto di un piccolo paese, suo nipote disertore, vari agenti federali e un bigliettaio totalmente ebete, etc, etc, tutti aggrovigliati in un caos di colpi di scena, culminante in una resurrezione.

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(Copyright © 2010 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )