Director’s Chair Introduction: Richard Lester

by Tony Cogan · July 30, 2018 · Director's Chair · 3 Comments

Deadline: 1st September 2018

Send Entries To: [email protected]

Hello everyone, it’s time to announce who the director will be for August’s Director’s Chair. Considering how there have been a few re-releases of films involving the music of The Beatles this year, the 50th anniversary re-release of Yellow Submarine and the recent re-release of Across the Universe, I thought it was time to look at the director who is credited as the father of the music video and contributed to the long lasting pop culture legacy of The Beatles, Richard Lester.

Now Lester got his start in American TV, working loads of backstage jobs and quickly rising up to become a director due to his skillset. As a TV director he mostly did work on Westerns and detective shows until a variety show he produced caught the attention of Peter Sellers, who enlisted Lester to bring The Goon Show over to America, which ended up being a hit and led to a string of shows and short films Lester made with Sellers and Spike Milligan. Lester’s work with Milligan and Sellers, mainly a short film they made called The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film, ended up being loved by The Beatles, John Lennon in particular, and when the band were contracted to make a film to promote their new album, they chose Lester as director, resulting in A Hard Day’s Night.

Given the low budget that Lester was given, the creative camera work he had to use to get around the budget, along with bringing over the comedy skills he honed with Sellers and Lester, led to a new visual style being created for films based around music, which is often credited as being the forerunner for the modern music video. The success of A Hard Day’s Night further led to some of the quintessential films of the ‘Swinging Sixties,’ which Lester was involved with, mainly The Knack … And How to Get It, which won Lester the Palme D’Or at Cannes, and Help!, the second film he made with The Beatles, with a greater budget, more drug taking on set and a more over-the-top tone. The stress The Beatles felt during the filming of Help! ultimately led to them being hesitant to act in any more films together, although they were under contract for 3 films, which ultimately led to the documentary Let It Be.

Following on from his work with The Beatles (including How I Won the War, co-staring John Lennon), Lester went on to work on a variety of films, before starting a working relationship with the Salkind’s with The Three Musketeers. Originally intended to star The Beatles as the Musketeers (one of a few larger scale projects The Beatles were linked with, including them wanting to star in an adaptation of Lord of the Rings directed by Stanley Kubrick), The Beatles never ended up being attached, but Lester was, intending to direct a three hour adaptation of the book. However, the Salkind’s, in order not to miss the release date because of the lengthy production, split the film into two, without telling any of the cast or crew until an advanced screening. The actions of the Salkind’s later led to the Screen Actor’s Guild introducing the Salkind’s Clause due to lawsuits filed by the cast and crew, who were only contracted for one film, which made it so an actor’s contract had to stipulate how many films they were contracted for.

Lester continued his working relationship with the Salkind’s with the Superman films. Due to arguments between the Salkind’s and Richard Donner over the lengthy production of Superman, Lester was hired as an uncredited intermediary, with Lester convincing Donner to temporarily halt production on Superman 2, which was being filmed at the same time as Superman, to focus on getting Superman finished. Once Superman 2 went back into production, Donner was replaced with Lester for reasons that still aren’t fully known, even though Donner had completed a substantial amount of footage. There were difficulties resulting from Lester replacing Donner, mainly that creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz and editor Stuart Baird refused to return out of solidarity with Donner, along with Gene Hackman who played Lex Luthor, refusing to return for the re-shoots due to commitments with Reds, resulting in a body double needing to be used and Marlon Brando suing the Salkind’s over profits from the first film, leading to the inclusion of Susannah York as Lara Lor-Van. This, along with budgetary reasons, led to key scenes filmed by Donner being included in the film, with the amount of footage Donner filmed being substantial enough for the release of Superman 2: The Richard Donner Cut in 2006, which included the footage Marlon Brando filmed for Donner. Lester ultimately made Superman 3 fully on his own, which was a critical disaster and the last Superman film before the Salkind’s sold the rights to Menaham Golan and Yoram Globus of Cannon, which led to Superman 4: The Quest for Peace.

Following his work on the Superman films, Lester reunited the cast of The Three Musketeers to make The Return of the Musketeers, loosely based on Alexandre Dumas’ sequel to The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years Later. However, tragedy struck the set of the film when Roy Kinnear, a frequent collaborator and close friend with Lester, was killed in a horse riding accident. The loss of such a close friend led to Lester retiring from directing, only returning behind the camera to reunite with Paul McCartney to direct the concert film Get Back.

Lester’s work has been the subject of reappraisal over the years, from the aforementioned respect he’s received as the father of the music video for his work on A Hard Day’s Night, to being the subject of Steven Soderbergh’s book, Getting Away With It, with Soderbergh leading the call for Lester to get more recognition.

Now as a reminder, I am looking for any features/reviews/podcasts you’ve done on the films of Richard Lester. Below is a reminder of his films.

  • It’s Trad, Dad
  • The Mouse on the Moon
  • A Hard Day’s Night
  • The Knack … And How to Get It
  • Help!
  • A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
  • How I Won the War
  • Petulia
  • The Bed-Sitting Room
  • The Three Musketeers
  • Juggernaught
  • The Four Musketeers
  • Royal Flash
  • Robin and Marian
  • The Ritz
  • Butch and Sundance: The Early Days
  • Cuba
  • Superman 2
  • Superman 3
  • Finders Keepers
  • The Return of the Musketeers
  • Get Back

Thanks for reading this and I look forward to reading whatever you send me.